Who’s Behind Local Blogs

By Kiyoshi Martinez

Online, he’s known by his handle, Prairie Biker and publishes the blog “Lone Tree on the Prairie,” featuring inside jokes between him and friends, and creative writing based on parts of his life. But today, Prairie Biker, known in the real world as Matthew Peek, drudges through boot-deep snow in his Air Force camouflage pants to hunt for pheasants.

“If you see my blog, it’s really different than other people’s,” Peek said, whose blog is at lonetreeontheprarie.blogspot.com. “It’s not a diary of my life. I’m not going to tell you the personal details of my life. Who cares?”

In his personal life, Peek translates Spanish and does freelance writing. He also repairs motorbikes and hunts with his English springer spaniel, Wishbone, who follows him through the snow, smelling fresh pheasant tracks on private, wooded property east of Rantoul. But online, he prefers to entertain.

“Somebody’s got to be the class clown,” he said. “Might as well be me.”

Peek is one member of a larger community of Champaign-Urbana bloggers who discuss topics as varied as the personalities of the bloggers themselves. None of the bloggers had a similar reason for starting, just a reason to start writing.

“It’s best to just quote Atrios (a well-known blog): ‘Because it’s a lot more satisfying than yelling at the TV or the computer screen,'” Kyle Bergan, senior in LAS, said about why he started his own blog, “Running from the Thought Police,” which he started during finals week during his freshman year at the University.

Bergan is a pre-med student who enjoys reading about Middle Earth and Hogwarts and playing video games during his free time. He discusses mostly politics in his blog, at thesquire.blogspot.com, but he has also written about religion and more recently intelligent design and transportation safety on campus – after the death of Sarah Channick.

“For blogging, it’s either something that upsets me, therefore I feel the need to write about it, or something I think is cool, and therefore I think that other people should see that,” Bergan said.

Keeping readership interested in a blog requires constant posting and updating, which is something Sean McDevitt understands. McDevitt writes his blog “Swimming in Champaign,” which focuses mostly on pop-culture and entertainment at seanmcdevitt.blogspot.com.

“I usually work ahead a day or so when I’m just posting about pop-culture, politics or sports in its varied forms,” McDevitt said in an e-mail exchange. “I try to have about four new posts each day – sometimes more, sometimes less. It’s just an arbitrary goal.”

McDevitt started blogging to post content about what he thought was interesting or cool and also provide him with an outlet for writing essays, reviews and commentary.

He also uses his blog to promote a comic book he is working on, called “Slip Kid.”

“I believe having a blog makes it easier for readers to connect with the creative team,” McDevitt said. “It makes it easier for creators to interact with the audience.”

While most bloggers are content to stay on their online forum, Matthew Gladney has expanded from blogging to writing for the alternative newsweekly, The Hub. Both are completely different experiences for him.

“There’s word limits,” he said. “There’s deadlines. Most of the time I’m not writing about something I choose to write about. None of that has been the case when I write on my blog.”

Gladney considers his blog at itsmattsworld.blogspot.com to be a political blog, but admits he’s pretty open about writing about his life as well.

“Some of the political blogs I read, some of the best posts are when they do personal posts,” Gladney said.

But some bloggers question their place in the mainstream media.

“I think (the media) laugh at bloggers, and I think they should,” Peek said. “How much real reporting is going on there? How much real news writing is going on there?”

McDevitt believes that the traditional media will always have the upper hand with the majority of the population because they understand traditional media formats, such as newspapers, magazines, television and radio.

“Traditional media probably doesn’t fear bloggers so much as they fear Internet news sites that have stories, pictures, even video available much faster than traditional media,” McDevitt said. “What I see in 20 years is people turning to the Web first to find out about large-scale events, with Web surfers finding commentary immediately from bloggers sites that cater to their interests.”

Gladney sees the media and bloggers as one in the same.

“They are both simply reporting (the news),” Gladney said. “All they’re doing is talking about what newsmakers have done and they just do it in different ways.”