The Humble Trackback

In Print - the article You never know where an innocent link is going to land you. In my case it has landed me with a glow of self importance and a bruised hip, the latter being more related to the former than you might at first glance expect.

I woke up late this morning to a slightly buggy Twitter (get that fixed please, I’m hanging onto my sanity by some very ragged fingernails and tweeting with people is turning into a minor, but important, compulsion that is keeping me going) informing me I was in the Guardian today.

Before I go further with the main points of this post, it is time to digress slightly and talk once again about my broken body. Thanks to a bad back, I have tried pretty much every ergonomic seating option in the book, with varying degrees of success. The latest, thanks in no small part to boredom, depression, and random IM conversations, is a large, blue, bouncy gym ball. The blue bit is not important beyond helping you get a vivid mental image – the bouncy (and large) parts are.

The theory goes that sitting on the bouncy ball will (1) keep me from slouching and (2) keep me moving a little bit. Keeping moving stops the back muscles seizing up and helps to strengthen the stomach muscles at the same time. Just think, I could be blogging myself to washboard abs right now! On top of all that it is just so much fun to be sitting at your computer, idly bouncing whilst you wait for a page to load.

There is, however, a slight problem with using big, blue, bouncy balls instead of a proper seat – it is very easy to fall off them when you are shocked.

I was shocked this morning, so I am now nursing what is promising to be a rather spectacular bruise on my hip incurred when I saw Bill’s, and other, tweets, tried to jump up in surprise, got my legs caught under the desk, and ended up flat on my back on the floor. Luckily I had just finished my morning cup of tea, or it could have been so much worse and led to me trying to recoup the cost of a new keyboard from the Guardian.

I brought my copy of the Guardian and sat back at my desk with slight butterflies in my tummy to see what all the fuss was about. Why was I in the Guardian? I was pretty certain I hadn’t spoken to any journalists lately, and my life, whilst many things, is not particularly worthy of being in print. I smoothed the crackly pages out. I thumbed through the sections till I got the “Technology” pullout. I took a deep breath and turned to page four. I scanned across the page and there, in the middle right, it said “” next to words I had written.

In a national newspaper, there is a link to my little blog!!! And words I had written!!!!!

The actual bit of writing itself, an excerpt from this roast, is not one I am particularly proud of. It is a few sentences I threw together because I was compiling the roast whilst in a particularly black mood, needed to introduce a link to an article in the Guardian Tech section that had made me go “hmmmm”, and I couldn’t find my inspiration or originality with a GPS locator.

We will gloss over my displeasure at my literary short comings and temporarily turn a blind eye to the fact this was printed without my knowledge, and just bask in the fact that someone up there in the Guardian thinks I am worthy of being printed in a real, honest to deity-of-choice, newspaper.

Twice. (Yes, some vanity searching turned up a previous mention).

That is twice that my words have been deemed good enough to waste ink and paper on. Wow. Heady times for Bright Meadow and CLK!

Why is this looping me out, making me giggle with girlish glee, and fall off my bouncy ball in equal measure? Firstly, because it is so unexpected. I throw links about like they are close-to-date candy at a Cadburys discount store and I do not expect anything in return. I just want people to read, share and enjoy/be irritated/made to think by the things I find each week. The Sunday Roasts started because I kept missing people off the emails I would send when I found something, and then grew because I love the interaction and discussion they always prompt. You never know where a link is going to land you.

After the surprise, it is making me think yet again about the “you never know who is reading” aspect of blogging and the internet. I know when someone links to me, I will follow that link back out of curiosity. I just never seem to think that it might be possible that it works in reverse too. Add to that, how many people are going to be linking to a (for example) Guardian article at any given time? Yes, there will be software whirring in the background, collating those inbound links, but somewhere along the way a human has to get involved and go “that comment there, let’s reprint it”. Moose got all excited that perhaps I have a secret cadre of fans in press offices around the world, eagerly waiting for the next pearls of wisdom to drop from my blog. Never one to enjoy bubble-bursting, I did have to point out the unlikelyhood of this, and explain the whole trackback/automated software thing.

Not that it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that I have a secret cadre of fans in press offices around the world, but, well, they haven’t made their presence known to date.

I am also pondering why being in a physical newspaper, even in such a small way, should be making me and those around me feel so proud? (My dad has already asked for a copy so he can frame it and brag to all and sundry, god help us all). Why should paper and ink confer more status than, say, digital columns? Things I have said have been mentioned on a couple of “other people are saying this…” sections of national and international sites. That made me go “cool”, but nothing more. This is making me go “holy hand grenades!”

Is it because, when it comes down to it, print media is physical and therefore tangible? The internet for all its wonders is ephemeral, transient, fleeting, and often times lacking in any form of editorial control. To be in newsprint; a decision was made to put those words, in that section, on that page. And then there is the reach of a physical newspaper – yes, lots of people get their news online (RSS anyone?) but significantly more flip through a newspaper each day.

Lastly, lets go back to the whole “without my knowledge” thing. The following thoughts are wooly and could go either way, because I myself feel very wooly on this topic and could go either way.

It is not a big piece, I know that. My work is currently vaguely covered by a Creative Commons license which states I am happy for reuse of my work so long as it is attributed (as this is). I might be rethinking the wisdom of this, but right now it stands. It is in the “letters” page of the paper, which is traditionally where the average person gets to have their say. All groovy. I have not been quoted out of context or vast swathes of my work reprinted without my permission.

But I never said I wanted my comments in a national paper. Yes, I commented on the Guardian article the first time around, but I made those comments on my own website. Yes, my words are in the public domain but, again, they are on my own blog. If I hadn’t included that trackback, they would be none the wiser on my opinion.

Would I be happier if they had asked my permission before printing the excerpt? Yes. Would I have given permission if they had asked? Almost certainly – if I publish it on Bright Meadow then I stand by it and, context depending, I see no reason why my work could not be reprinted. Do I expect to be asked each and every time and is it reasonable to expect this? Now there you have me. Part of me is going “of course they should damn well ask, I work hard on this blog!”. The other side of me is going “they’re not going to ask, they will just use a piece that doesn’t require them to chase – it’s not like bloggers are exactly hard to find or chary of giving their opinion”. Which way should it be? That I have no answer for.

To take the Guardian’s own phrase, “Comment is Free” – but you can never be sure where it will get you. In my case, it has already landed me in the letters page of a national newspaper without my knowledge. Where else will it end?

5 thoughts on “The Humble Trackback

  1. I think the idea of being in the newspaper is so impressive because of the validation involved — that someone important thought your words good enough, interesting enough, to be included in the newspaper. After all, the newspaper is put out by a big establishment, and therefore it (and the people picking and choosing content) must be important. It’s like the whole breakfast-table discussion in Terry Pratchett’s The Truth — the boarding house folk figured that there must be really important people deciding what was good enough for Ank-Morpork’s newspaper — it couldn’t be everyday ordinary people.

    Hmm. I think perhaps I lost track of my point… it made sense in my head! Seriously, though, it’s really cool that you were in the paper. Congratulations!

  2. “This is making me go “holy hand grenades!””
    Because you’ve been secretly watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail?

    As a society we’re still trying to work out the place of electronic media with our traditional paper methods.
    Today at work I had a discussion about whether we could destroy finance files earlier than their legal retention period if we had them electronically (scanned). The legal position, particularly with scanned files as evidence in a court of law, is still not clear, and yet we increase our electronic lives more and more each day. How many office workers out there haven’t heard about that mythical utopia – the paperless office?

    I don’t know why, and I don’t know what to do about it, but there’s a difference between tracking back to your blog on the Guardian website and saying you commented on their story, and printing it in the physical newspaper.

    Of course claiming it’s ‘letter’ does mean they don’t have to pay you anything for it!

  3. Pretty cool you were in the Guardian (my paper of choice!). As for Creative Commons, once you’ve licensed something under it you can’t change it to an All Rights Reserved copyright but you could put future posts under an All Rights Reserved licence

  4. Thank you for your congratulations everyone 🙂

    And Joe – that’s an interesting point about not being able to change a CC licence. I’ll have to have a look into it a bit more I think.

  5. Pingback: Bright Meadow » Bright Meadow in the Guardian Pie

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