I first heard about the death of feminist poet Adrienne Rich on twitter through the feed of cultural aggregation site Flavorwire:
The way that Rich’s death broke tells us some interesting things about the way news circulates in the new online news ecology.
The Flavorpill tweet took me to a brief in their books blog which sourced the news to a brief in the LA Times book blog, Jacket Copy. The purpose of both these posts was as an initial marker of the story. The LA Times report was a short, straight, summary report of her significant achievements with a note about some of the controversial elements such as her refusal of President Clinton’s offer of a major award. It noted that a full appreciation would follow in the La Times obit section. Flavorpill also provided a short summary of her life but significantly they added one other element:
Since the news broke, fans have been tweeting her poem “For the Dead,” which seems as fitting a way to remember this remarkable and iconoclastic writer as any.
Here Flavorfill both noted the reaction in the social media world as well as linked to an online version of one of Rich’s poems. When I first read the reports I tweeted a very simple announcement:
I then used part of her poem “For the dead” to tweet again, a more emotional response to her passing
This tweet was picked up by one of my followers and retweeted to her followers:
Both Flavorwire and Jacket Copy produced short reports to ensure that they quickly posted the significant news of Rich’s death and both publications followed up later with more extensive appreciations. Their follow-up articles reflect their relative purposes and styles. The La Times official obituary is one of the most detailed pieces on the her death and is written in the traditional obituary style which seeks to respectfully sum up a life. Flavorfill is a blog about culture which seeks to link to interesting events and tends on the web, they produced a guide to “The essential Adrienne Rich” which provided short introductions to six of her most significant books.
Interestingly the New York Times arts blog, Culture Beat, also took this approach, they were a bit later than the LA Times blog, but they produced a more detailed set of links to the Times reviews of some of Rich’s significant works. This points to the different ways that blogs are used in tandem with traditional articles by mainstream media organisations. While the LA Times used it’s blog to quickly bookmark a significant event, the New York Time’s used its blog as a window into its archive of stories on Rich’s life and career. Both followed up with long, detailed, traditional obits.
Rich was a beloved figure in the feminist movement and so it is not surprising that many women have blogged about her death and this shows how news circulates in specific ways within subcultures on the web. One of the first blog posts I read showed up in a general google news search I did as soon as I read of her passing:
Like many women of my generation I read Of Woman Born in college. Though having children was the last thing on my mind back in the 1990s, I was oddly relieved to find a feminist writing about motherhood. This was not a hot topic in the feminism of my youth. Motherhood was almost too messy and complicated to deal with. Mostly it just wasn’t brought up. We could take back the night. We could break the glass ceiling but how could we possibly talk about making babies in a positive way? Weren’t we trying to escape this role? Flee our wretched biology? Not be defined by our wombs? Or tits and asses? Our parts?
I will always be grateful to Adrienne Rich for going into that messy topic and making me feel and understand things I needed to feel and understand about my body and my . “Not biology,” she once wrote, “but ignorance of ourselves, has been the key to our powerlessness.”
This post by “Ceridwen” (a blogger I had never read before) is on a blog devoted to Pregnancy and brings a personal reflective tone to the appreciations of Rich’s life and influence. Ceridwen is not constrained by the conventions of traditional news reporting and simply ends her post with a series of some of her favourite Rich quotes.
The women’s blogging community BlogHer also quickly covered Rich’s death with a post from their executive editor Julie Ros Godar. Godar’s post links to the LA Times initial blog report and therefore does not repeat much basic information about Rich. This is for two reasons, Godar might assume that her community of women readers might already know the basic Rich story and if not she assume’s they can follow the link. This embodies Jeff Jarvis’s basic motto of web writing “Do what you do bets and link to the rest”. What Godar does supply, that is missing in other reports, are links to YouTube videos of Rich reading her own poems and this shows blogging’s propensity to use multimedia content. The voice of a poet is incredibly important and this is an excellent use of the YouTube archive and I am surprised more sites did not do this.
Note how in this post I have tackled a very specific subject: the way different media – particular social media and blogs – covered Rich’s death and the way this influenced the circulation of this news. This is a very different and much more analytic post to my initial example (note here how I link back to my own previous post) which merely linked to a few different reports. The only significant comment of my own in the initial report was noting the way the non-US Irish Times report was more forthright in naming Rich’s “socialist” politics. Both these styles are OK in the mix of posts on an academic blog but this more analytic post is a more significant contribution because it has an originally developed argument. It is also a good example of using multiple different media in a post from embedded tweets to video. See this post on how to embed tweets into your posts.