Let me start with a quote from Kristine Lowe's very recommendable article "How blogs transformed and challenged mainstream media coverage of the credit crisis" (found via Benteka on Twitter):
"[T]he vast majority of bloggers are private persons who start blogging for personal reasons. That means there are no time limits, no word limits and rarely any close ties to sources or public relations operators to pay heed to. This may also be a key to why specialist blogs often offer more thorough, in-depth coverage of issues."One of the the most important characteristics of this blog, I have noticed, is the lack of close ties to sources. The sources I usually use are either original documents, public news sources, or content provided by persons who I mostly know through blogging or the use of Twitter. What is common to all these is that they are inherently public, although they might in many cases not be very visible to a wider audience.
So although some of the sources are based on social ties, they are still based on publicly visible relations, most of which are even grounded on the explicit open exchange of information or discussiosn about issues of joint interest between bloggers or Twitterers. Referring to such kind of information - even in a critical way - is an expected and well-established behaviour that characterises the spirit of the blogosphere/twittersphere.
What I experienced in Brussels is that while talking to people, while entering the "informality sphere", you get access to information that are not or only vaguely public. However, as a blogger used to publish most of what he finds interesting I realised that I lack the grid to classify which kind of information I may regard as public and which have to be kept as background knowledge.
Can you quote sources when you receive information through real-life social relations, and do I have to make it explicit before talking to somebody that anything said could find itself in my blog? Can I publish hearsay, or do I need to cross-check it journalistically? How does talking about what you heard in a not explicitly public meeting influence the future relation to the persons you were talking to?
Let me give you a true example:
I was in a bar speaking with journalists. A Commissioner enters, joins the round, and is then interviewed by one journalist, who is writing down the answers into his notebook. At some point, the journalist asks a question that the Commissioner does not want to answer. The journalists puts away his notebook, and the Commissioner is then answering the question, assuming that it is not quoted then.
The answer to this question would have been quite interesting for readers of this blog, but standing there I was not sure whether the two others were actually aware of the fact that I might have other standards than they assumed. Do I put away the notebook in my brain, too, or can I write it down virtually to make it public later on?
I was not sure whether writing about the situation would in some ways interfere with the work of the journalist, whether it would violate the (assumed) informality of the situation, and whether writing about it would influence the future behaviour of both, the journalist and the Commissioner, regarding third persons or even regarding the exchange of information among themselves.
And there were more situations in which I got to know extremely interesting things that I would like to write about but where I realise that the social nature of the information is somehow making me feel uncomfortable to blog about it.
What I conclude from my days in Brussels is that being in the bubble exposes you to much better information than you might ever find in public sources (including social media). However, getting this kind of information is not necessarily making your blogging better, because it is much more difficult to judge how to publish this kind of information compared to re-publishing what is already public.
I had the impression that blogging feels less transparent when you don't write about interesting things you get to know. But I realised that I still cannot write about everything, especially not as long as it is not absolutely clear that I regard everything I hear as public. And the latter might rather scare off those sources that could provide the most interesting information, reducing the added value of the presence in the bubble, at least for the blogging process.
Altogether, I think that there is a real advantage of not having close social relations to sources, of relying on public documentations, because you cannot spoil these. This seems to contradict what Mathew describes as the added value of the "European Offline Public Space", but being in the bubble and interacting with people in the city incorporates you into the "informality sphere" - and when being a part of it you might quickly lose your distance that is so desperately needed to critically follow the process, because very few people actually seem to do this in Brussels.