Thank You

Many thanks guys for helping Beirut Spring get the “Lebanon’s Best News Blog” award. I am very thankful for your votes, but more importantly, I am thankful for your continued readership and feedback..

SMA Beirut Award for best news blog

Blogging…and a Pivot

It took a while to admit it, but now I guess the denial is over: I am no longer someone who blogs often about Lebanese politics. This post is about why it happened and what happens next.

I first want to say that Beirut Spring is not dead. This will always be the place where I sound off and think about issues I feel strongly about. But lately I’ve noticed that the things I get worked out about, the things that I usually write posts about, are becoming less and less about Lebanese politics. This blog was born out of anger and passion in February 2005, but it grew and thrived because I found the sports of Lebanese politics intellectually stimulating. The crazy mix of Machiavellian cynicism, treachery and tribal alliances caused some people to despair, but for me it was the source of profound fascination. No longer. It’s still fascinating. I still am interested in Lebanese politics, but I am no longer interested in writing about it.

But this is the best time to start blogging about Lebanese politics

Indeed it is. We are on a cusp of major regional realignments and major changes are upon us. As a matter of fact, more blogs on Lebanese politics are being born everyday (examples here, here and here). But I have to be honest with myself. I am more interested in other things these days, notably Tech news and its own fascinating game of thrones. I knew something was wrong when I realized that I spend more of my leisure time reading Techmeme than Naharnet

What now?

If you’re a person who has the habit of browsing to beirutspring.com every day (and I still see hundreds of you despite the low frequency of posts), may I suggest that you switch instead to Lebanese Blogs (lebaneseblogs.com) as a habit. It is a small website I put together for browsing the latest posts from my blog and from blogs I have chosen myself. It is mobile friendly and easy to browse, bookmark it now!

The reason I put this together is that I realized that many bloggers don’t write very often, but when they do, they usually have great things to say. Another option for you to try is The Beirut Dashboard (beirutspring.info), also something I wrote in my diminishing spare time:

I’m happy to get feedback about these project anytime

Crickets?

As I said, this blog is not dead, and it will remain my main vehicle for expression. But the pace of posts will be more relaxed, the topics will be more personal and more about Lebanon in general than Lebanese politics, and perhaps I’ll yap a bit more about Tech. As always, thanks for reading.

❊ Should We Verify Before We Share?

– The news is not always clear-cut –

Over the weekend, I posted a link to a website that was supposedly the personal website of Asma el Assad, the wife of Bashar el Assad, the Syrian dictator. The site was seemingly hacked to make it look like an admission of guilt by the Syrian first lady. As it turned out and as I made clear in the update, this was a hoax.

A few days ago, a supposed collective statement by Palestinian intellectuals condemning the Syrian regime and declaring: “not in our names”, was also making the rounds on social media. That too may turn out to be false..

The Syrian regime is a monster that is killing its own people. But does that justify spreading lies (or, as is more likely, planted stories designed specifically as propaganda link-baits )? Old school journalists who have been warning for a while from “internet news” are feeling vindicated. They will remind us that only verified news deserve to be spread. But are things so clear-cut?

I would say that no, they’re not. Unlike print media which is forever committed to paper, the internet has an instantaneous feedback and self-correction mechanism. The truth will float to the top and the rumors will get buried (witness the updates to the stories above). Bloggers like me don’t have editors and fact-checkers, but we have engaged readers who will immediately point out errors and mistakes (and trust me, I even have grammar and spelling police at my heels). Besides, even old fashion media and venerable journalists know that the truth is the first victim in a war.

Like in “real” journalism, reputation matters for online purveyors and sharers of news. Ultimately, readers will divide websites, twitter accounts and facebook friends into three categories:

  • Those who outright make up news and intentionally spread rumors that fit political agendas (eg. Beirut Observer)
  • Honest people who contribute in spreading rumors but are too “lazy” to update when inconvenient facts emerge
  • Those who contribute in spreading rumors but who really care about the truth, even if it’s inconvenient, so they post updates, apologies and retractions in the same location of the original post.

I believe it’s ok for conscientious bloggers and online sharers to aim to belong to the third group. We’re not supposed to be thorough to the point of paralysis. There will always be a place for the fact checkers and venerable outlets that will only publish established facts.

A Note About Ads

In the last couple of days, many of you have noticed (I hope), that I am now displaying ads on Beirut Spring. In this post, I’ll quickly explain why I think this is a good step and why I think you should do the same if you have a blog.

At a certain point, when a blog starts getting a healthy amount of loyal readers and traffic, 2 things start to happen:

  1. PR agencies and business owners start sending you daily emails with requests disguised as “something you might be interested in sharing with your readers”, in the hope of getting free publicity
  2. Your hosting company –ie the place where your blog is stored and served to the world– starts telling you that you need to upgrade to the “professional” plan because you’re using up too much resources (code for high traffic).

By creating an advertising package which I think is very attractive to advertisers without being annoying to readers, I think I can solve both problems simultaneously:

  • I will have a standard response to publicity solicitors “If you want I have a nice and affordable advertising package”
  • An income that is just enough to cover hosting fees 1

I am glad that I don’t need the money, but I don’t want to think of Beirut Spring as another costly habit. I already have coffee for that.

I want to sincerely thank those who have already started supporting Beirut Spring with their ads. If you too are interested in targeting my smart, rich and good looking readers, there’s still one more slot available for the next few weeks. Get in touch to book it now.

Update: Fellow blogger Tarek is convinced I’ll be rich soon. Here’s why he thinks so.


Footnotes:

  1. Please don’t feel compelled to propose cheap hosting solutions or hosting it yourself for me. I’m happy where I am and this is less about money and more about the principle of the blog supporting itself

 

Why I Blog in English

One of the questions I’m asked most is: “Why do you blog in English?”. The previous post on Arabic reminded me that I never really explained here why I don’t blog in Arabic. A few months ago, a reporter from SMEX asked me that same question and I emailed him a detailed reply. For some reason, he didn’t get to publish his article, so I’m going to publish the (edited) exchange below:

—–

Q: 

I am currently working on a piece for our website about prominent Arab bloggers who write in English, as opposed to Arabic, and their reasons for doing so. I follow your blog [...] and was hoping that you would be able to provide me with some insight as to why you’ve chosen to publish your blog in English.  [...] Do you have a particular audience in mind that you hope to reach through English, or do you find Arabic somehow limiting?

A:

When I first started my blog back in 2005, I chose English for mainly a practical reason: My education in AUB meant that I had plenty of reports to submit in English, which resulted in me getting touch-typing skills (I only had to submit two Arabic type-written reports in the course of 6 years in AUB, and I simply paid someone else to type them for me). This meant that for me, typing a paragraph in Arabic will take thirty minutes, but typing in Latin characters will take less than one minute.

Then there’s the foreign connection. After launching Beirut Spring, I was initially surprised, then thrilled at the attention I got from International readers and media. I became the proverbial bridge to the outside world and that gave me a sense of purpose that up to now helps motivate me.

Despite the above, I have recently tried to expand my readership and launch a blog in Arabic. I was ready to teach myself typing in Arabic, and even considered using transliteration services like Yamli.com. But I kept bumping into technical walls. Working with Arabic online is very challenging. As a test, try to copy and paste any arabic text online and you’ll run into weird difficulties (Arabic letters are contextual, meaning the same letter is displayed differently depending on its position in the sentence. In addition to that, Arabic characters are RTL (right to left), but special characters ( ; : ” ! %$ ..etc) are LTR (left to right). If a special character is present in an Arabic paragraph, selecting that paragraph for editing or copying becomes impossible).

I am aware that other bloggers do use Arabic ( Imad bazzi of trella.org and Hummus Nation come to mind), but have you noticed that they rarely include quotes in their posts? My kind of blogging involves a lot of pull-quotes and references to public statements. I am yet to find a way to make that practical or even feasible.

My audience is a combination of foreign Journalists, Lebanese (expatriates and those living in Lebanon) who, like me are more comfortable in expressing themselves in English, and curious passer-bys who are visiting Lebanon and want to know more about the country)

Related: Hi-Kifak-ça-va pride. Why the Lebanese don’t need to protect the Arabic Language.
And:
The Arabic language is coming of age.

Nasri Atallah Writes Book Based on His Blog

One of my favorite Lebanese bloggers will be releasing a book very soon. If you’re looking for one book to read about Lebanese society, that would be it. Nasri makes sharp observations and renders them in highly engaging, entertaining and funny prose.

I’m looking forward to reading it.

PS: Please Nasri let it be available in the Kindle store.

Update: Make sure you read Samir Atallah’s take on the book. The well-known columnist is the father of Nasri.

Even in Lebanon, Online Negative PR is Starting To Bite

While mainstream media is busy criticizing Mr. Saad Hariri’s “Amateurism” for engaging with his supporters on Twitter, here’s a little story that reminds everyone why we should take such things a bit more seriously.

A few days ago, an average Lebanese guy took a picture in a movie theater in Beirut. He blogged about it, and three days later, the Washington Post is calling the Lebanese embassy in Washington and asking for an explanation.

Playing smarty pants with existing laws and exercising discretion on whether or not they’re enforced is silly. Bad laws should go away for good and idiotic censorship should stop once and for all.

You never know when a camera is around the corner and your embarrassment becomes a global sensation.