Filed under: notes

Grand Pause: A Letter to Readers of The True Crime Weblog

Dear True Crime Weblog Readers,

In classical music, a “Grand Pause” is a particular type of pause within a musical selection. The length of a “G. P.” is left to the discretion of the performer or conductor. The music will continue, but depending on the musician’s sense of timing, you may think for a moment that everything has stopped.

This blog is going into “Grand Pause” mode. It will remain here, as is, and comments will be monitored and moderated. After this post, though, there will only be one other entry made — an announcement, of sorts — and then there will be no new posts in The True Crime Weblog for quite some time to come.

The guys at CrimeRant.com, authors Gregg Olsen and M. William Phelps, recently retired from blogging. Not writing, just blogging. I’m not doing that. Not at all. I wish I could tell you what’s up, but I’m saving that for the “one other” entry referenced above. Suffice it to say, I may just be doing the opposite of Gregg and Matt. I just won’t be doing it here.

Only two of my own blogs will be updated regularly, even daily, after The True Crime Weblog is on long-term hiatus:

http://randomlunaticnews.com: My personal weblog. Nothing will change there. If you’re one of the few people who read my writing even when it isn’t crime-related, you can go there to see what’s up. Don’t look for any true crime-related posts, most of the time.

http://anomalyreport.com/: I only edit this site. It’s based on user-submitted true stories of the supernatural and paranormal. Most of the time, it’s very easy to run. Depending on the number of user submissions, it is updated daily or every other day.

I am sorry to be so cryptic, but that’s the way it is, at the moment. The long and short of it is this: I’m not done with this true crime thing yet, not by a long shot. When it’s time to talk about what I’m doing, you will be the first to know.

Stick with me. Hopefully, the best is yet to come.

Steve

p. s. — I’ll still be hanging around Michael Ian Black’s blog and helping him with it whenever he needs. Seriously, if you need a break from true crime and just want a laugh, you need to go there.

EDITED TO ADD…

I don’t know what I was thinking. In a sense, this blog won’t go completely silent after all. I have a number of people lined up for guest posts. All of those will be published here once they’ve been received and edited. If you’re one of those guest bloggers, don’t worry — you’re still a go.

Random Plug for my Random Blog

Some Questions For Michael Ian Black, Pt. 1.”

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting brief Q & A sessions between me and Michael Ian Black in my personal weblog, Random Lunatic News. The link at the top of this message goes to part 1, where I was happy to find that my questions and my prep surprised him. It’s really just a kind of slow-motion interview, in part because I want to be sure I don’t ask the guy the same stupid questions everyone else does. So far, so good.

A short break…

I’m going to take a brief summer break from updating this blog. I will still provide commentary for the duration of the Entwistle Case, and you’ll be able to find that here.

Random Lunatic News will still be updated every day, likely more than once a day. The Anomaly Report is going well, so far — it’s only been live for 6 days or so, and already receives 2-3 submissions a day and more than 200 hits a day. The quantity and quality of submissions received has surprised me — I hope folks keep it up. I only edit what I get, but it’s some of the most bloggy fun I’ve had — in relation to a blog I’ve created — in ages. Professional work will continue, of course, and I’ll post about that at Random Lunatic News. If I have any “announcements” to make about a new article or a new gig, you will read about it there.

I’ll still track comments here and respond in the comments on various entries whenever necessary. I may come off hiatus for this blog if something really interesting or intense comes up, but for the moment I want to pare down my unpaid blogging duties; the very nature of Tumblr’s set-up makes both my Tumblr-hosted sites, Random Lunatic News and Anomaly Report, exceptionally easy to maintain and update.

If I am not updating those sites or doing professional work, I will be reading. Already this summer I’ve finished Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box and Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman, just to name a couple of recently acquired books on my buckling shelves.

If you have questions or comments, you can always contact me through this page, if needed.

The Anomaly Report (non-crime post)

Okay, so the other day I wrote this and published it on my tumblelog, Random Lunatic News: “An idea.” In that post I said the following:

My idea is for a Tumblelog with a design similar to I am Neurotic, with an e-mail address and form for submissions from readers, but ask instead for stories of the strange. Not regurgitated urban legends, but family stories of the strange and unexplained: your granny’s tale of the lady in the hoopskirt; your grandpa’s encounter with the orange flying thing. Most families have these. Sometimes they are b.s. — but some families treasure these tales.

Well, dammit, I went ahead and did it: The Anomaly Report.

I won’t be writing the entries for that site — you will. I will be the site editor. The Anomaly Report will be a repository, a compendium of peoples’ spooky campfire stories, sleepover tales, family ghost stories, family mysteries. Like posts found on PostSecret or I am Neurotic, the contributions will be anonymous. A legal disclaimer will be placed on the site just to make that is clear.

Check out and spread it around, if you find it interesting. Use either the submission form or the e-mail I’ve set aside to use there; be assured if you use the latter your name and e-mail address will remain confidential.

Make your story as brief as possible, but make it fun. If it is truly spooky, make readers feel that.

I won’t pretend that every single submission will make it — especially if it gets popular (who knows if that will happen or not), but most will, especially at first. I’ll also vet submissions to see if they’re just variations on urban legends or cut & paste jobs from another site.

Readers of this blog need to know that this isn’t an alternative to anything else I write, and certainly not a replacement. It’s really not like blogging at all, especially since I will be more editor than writer. You can disregard it completely and stick to what you’re used to, if you like.

I’m looking forward to seeing what kinds of spooky things may haunt you all. It should be fun.

Not remotely true crime related, just cool

(There was a longer entry up here, but it was too long for what it was, so I decided to post a modified version of what I first published at Random Lunatic News.)

I have good reason to pimp Michael Ian Black’s blog, even to readers of this site. The screenwriter/actor/comedian is a very funny man, but he also shows excellent judgment; I now assist Mr. Black in occasionally putting shit up on said blog. He’d recently posted an entry asking for someone to volunteer to do that, and I responded. (Okay, I’m kidding a little on his judgment. I had to go read even more of his online writing to see if there was any sign of substance abuse or mental defect after he e-mailed me in answer to my comment on his blog post, offering my ninja blogging skills. He’s clean.)

I had to re-learn some stuff I’d forgotten about the Typepad blog publishing program, but it wasn’t too hard once I got the overall lay of the land. I have created 3 banners for Mr. Black’s book, My Custom Van, which goes on sale in bookstores everywhere July 15, 2008. The least cluttered, hopefully final version of the banner is what you see there now.

Whatever you do, visit Michael Ian Black’s blog and enjoy, if you dare. We all need a break from the crime stories, sometimes.

(To clarify — Michael said he was fine with me letting people know I was helping him out. Just to be sure I didn’t overstep, I asked him if he wanted me to keep any assistance on his blog confidential, and he said no. I’m pretty sure one reason he asked his readers for volunteers for this occasional help is the fact that the guy is on the road a lot, doing his stand-up routine. In July he’ll be on the road promoting his book. Only so many hours in the day.)

<script charset=”utf-8″ type=”text/javascript” src=”http://ws.amazon.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&amp;MarketPlace=US&amp;ID=V20070822/US/crius-20/8001/99949435-9877-4e27-9202-febbadb7aeb0″> </script> <noscript>Amazon.com Widgets</noscript>

Downtime

I didn’t intend to put this blog on a brief hiatus, but it kind of happened anyway. I’ve been dealing with a health issue (nothing I can’t handle) and it’s made it difficult for me to do paying work or just plain, everyday blogging.

I have been updating my tumblelogs:

Tumblelogs (also called tumblogs, even tlogs — how you pronounce the last one is a mystery to me) look like a relatively new thing, but they really harken back to what blogging was like when barely anyone even knew what a weblog was — no sidebars, no long-form, magazine-style articles. Just links, brief comments, etc. Matt Drudge has never liked the term blog, but his site is a great example of what blogs once looked like. (I’m surprised I’ve been on the Web long enough to know this. Weird.)

Think of this blog as music composed on staff paper, crafted by hand at the piano, and the tumblelogs as improvisations, riffing. Tumblelogs don’t even have to have comment sections. I chose to add commenting to the Crime Tumblelog, but for the moment I’m leaving it off the RandomLunaticNews log — not too many readers, and they can just e-mail me if they have something to say.

Tumblelogs are ridiculously easy to use, and that’s another reason I’ve been updating those sites — I can do it quickly. I can update from my phone and pretty much as I surf the Web. I’ve just about made the Random Lunatic tlog my main personal, non-crime blog, but I won’t do that with the Crime Tumblelog.

I’ve been able to develop new ideas with the tumblelog format, which has been pleasing, because I’ve had some days recently when I felt like my brain wasn’t working all that well. If you check out the archives of the Crime Tumblelog, you’ll see what I mean — I did a whole series of riffs on mugshots last month. It may have been silly, but I enjoyed the heck out of it. At least one post here on The True Crime Weblog was first created on the Crime Tumblelog. Then I realized it was better suited to this site — I deleted the Tumblelog entry and re-posted it here. I may do that a lot, so if you want to get some idea as to my editorial process, check both.

The pace should pick up here shortly. I’m not considering any changes to this blog’s appearance, but I must admit I’m growing frustrated with the Haloscan commenting system. This is very difficult to deal with, because reader feedback on comment functionality means a lot, and I am fully aware that many readers love Haloscan. It is much more stable than it used to be (I first tried Haloscan years ago, and it was pretty terrible) and very straightforward.

It isn’t half as good as the commenting system that comes bundled with WordPress, though, and that’s caused me some headaches. I hate trolling, and on some blog entries, I get a ton of it. If I continue to get a lot of trolling, I may have to institute a new commenting system that gives me much more control over who can and cannot leave a comment on a post.

I didn’t intend to write this much, so let me just say again that the posting frequency will go back up in the coming days. Thank you, as always, for reading and participating.

TrueCrimeMagazine.com: What do I do?

All the content that was formerly at CrimeBlog.US — including comments from readers — is now at TrueCrimeMagazine.com. There’s a couple of extra posts there, made since I began using that URL, detailing a couple of my favorite historic true crime stories, too.

As some regular readers might know, that site is currently not being updated, partly because I don’t usually have the time. This nags at me, because I own the space, and because even without my paying the site much attention, it still can get up to 1,000 visitors a day. Bloggers and webmasters can tell you that typically, a site that’s not updated is a site that loses visitors. TrueCrimeMagzine/CrimeBlog.US simply didn’t lose that many, which does make me kind of proud.

Today one idea for further use of TrueCrimeMagazine.com occurred to me — I would make the site a repository from here on out for only what I thought was the best stuff I or any contributor had to offer. With the writers’ permission, for instance, I might post Seamus McGraw’s recent, stunning guest entry, “The Executioners’ Song.” I’d also add Larkin Vonalt’s excellent piece published earlier today, “The End of the World.” I’d add entries of my own that I feel really live up to the standards I set for myself.

In addition to that, I might put out a new call for submissions — from journalists who want to flex some crime writing muscle but can’t find a paying taker for the story, for instance.

Those are just stubs of ideas, though. This post is to ask for reader recommendations, suggestions. Leave them in the comments, or send me a brief message through the contact form, including your correct e-mail address (brief for the first message because there is a character limit in the contact form’s text box). I’ll write you back and you can give me your feedback via regular e-mail, then.

New Stuff — The True Crime Weblog Board and Tumblr

I wanted to introduce readers to some works in progress. It’s important that I make it clear that the following two features are experiments and not stuff I’ve set in stone. There are several reasons I’m calling them experiments at the moment — one is my own ability to keep up with them, depending on my health and/or professional workload.

Another reason it’s important to note the ‘work in progress’ nature of these sites is reader confusion. Whenever I do something new, there are inevitably a number of people who react with something like panic, or at least confusion. I know this is mostly my fault, but to some degree it’s a problem with people just not liking change.

I have to admit, that’s always confused me, and at first, it annoyed me. Then I realized that for some folks, this site is a daily destination, and when I muck with it, it messes with their groove. That’s a nice thing for a blogger, though — realizing you have regulars.

Anyway, because the sites I’m about to link are experiments, you must NOT consider them new destinations in lieu of reading The True Crime Weblog. If there is ever a new destination where my energies will be focused, I’ll let readers know in no uncertain terms.

You should still come to this site for in-depth treatments of crimes in the news. Especially now, because I’m adding some excellent new contributors.

Okay — the new stuff.

  1. http://truecrimeweblog.freeforums.org/The True Crime Weblog Message Board. I set up this classic forum/message board/what have you with a particular set of readers in mind — those who like to utterly dissect a subject, chew the fat about it, parse each detail. I also think a message board presents a nice opportunity for some folks to do something like blog about a particular issue themselves. Because when you leave a comment on a blog post on any weblog anywhere, you are NOT BLOGGING. A message board, however, can provide a somewhat blog-like environment. I consider forums/boards to be more like a community than a weblog (there are notable exceptions, the left-wing Daily Kos, a weblog, also functions like a chaotic message board). If we keep the board, I can see it morphing into a platform for generating story ideas for this blog, as well as research and discussion. One forum I set up as soon as I got the thing is already fairly active. If interest and membership grows, we’ll add more forums devoted solely to one case. For now, if you want to use it, you need to register. Then, if there is a crime in the news you want to discuss, you can start here. Ideas for permanent forums on the board can be generated from the “general” crime news thread. Any simple questions about the board, you can post ’em in the comments on this entry. I am the admin for the board — I’ve already made a steady, stalwart poster from open threads here about Meredith Kercher, Skeptical Bystander, a moderator.
  2. http://truecrime.tumblr.com/The True Crime Tumblr. Okay, my new true crime tumbleblog is bound to confuse people, because it basically looks just like a blog. A really stripped-down blog. No sidebar. No links to other blogs. But if you really examine tumbleblogs, they aren’t like a classic weblog at all. One key way a tumbleblog may differ from a site like the one you’re reading now is not obvious to the reader at all — tumbleblogs are designed to be published on the fly. I can basically publish links, posts, photos, audio, whatever, as I surf. That’s not the case with the blog you’re reading right now — when I sit down to do something for this blog, or for my professional work at Radar, it’s a project, and my main focus. An in-depth entry can take hours to create. Still, why the tumbleblog? Well, when I realized how easy it is to use, I began using it as a kind of online notepad. What you’ll read there are short, quick takes by me on crimes in the news today, yesterday, whenever. I don’t edit much, and I try to cover a lot. While I try to use a more formal voice when I blog here, you’re getting a straight shot at the True Crime Tumblr. I’ve added a comment function to the tumbleblog as well. Look at the difference between this blog and the tumbleblog as being the difference between a composed piece of music and a riff. I’m just riffing with the tumblr. It’s pretty fun for me as a blogger, incredibly easy to do, and surprisingly non-time-consuming.

If any of the above has confused you, befuddled you, well — don’t worry about it. Just stick with this site. I should note though — if you check out TrueCrimeMagazine.com — the site that now holds all the content from CrimeBlog.US — you will see that the main page is a feed-through of the True Crime Tumblr. To find entries you’ve read in the past at True Crime Magazine, just use that site’s search page, which is powered by Google. Everything that was on CrimeBlog.US is still there, as is the content I’ve added since I changed URLs.

Wanna Blog About Crime?

(NOTE, 4/11/08: I’m going to keep this post at the top of the blog’s main page for a few days. Scroll down to see any new entries.)

For a lot of reasons, most of them positive, I would like to have some co-bloggers on this site.

There are already a few other folks listed as authors for The True Crime Weblog, but they are friends who have access if they need it, and they all have their own fish to fry elsewhere. I’ve never expected any blogging from them in this space, and have rarely asked them to do anything here.

So I’m putting out a call for contributors to this blog, but this call for new writers is very different from any I’ve made before.

Here’s much of what I’m seeking in bullet list format:

  • First and foremost, you must write well. Excellent spelling, subject-verb agreement, good grammar in general — they matter. So do pacing, voice, and cadence.
  • That said, you will need to set your ego aside to some degree and understand that I always reserve the right to edit submissions to this blog. I don’t care if you’ve got 5 books on the market, I still may tweak what you give me. Part of me hates to be this way, but when I had contributors to my blog in the past I didn’t make this explicit and regretted that.
  • You need to understand that this isn’t a paying gig. Most blogging isn’t, unless it’s supported by a media company or publisher.
  • I really want a contributor who understands that sometimes the mainstream media gets basic facts about a case wrong. Be ready to fact-check your mainstream sources.
  • Know how to dig deeper. Be able to fact-check yourself. Sometimes that’s as simple as using basic logic and strong web research techniques.
  • About web research techniques — if you think Google is the only search engine and the AP is the only wire service out there, don’t bother looking into becoming a contributor here.
  • If you trust everything you find via Google, don’t bother.
  • If you have no idea what Google Groups or the Usenet are, don’t bother seeking a spot as a contributor to this blog.
  • If your interest in true crime has more to do with the horror and gore aspect of the subject, we probably won’t get along.
  • I shouldn’t have to put this here, but I’ve learned that people can have surprising holes in their knowledge — so, please have some basic knowledge of html. Know how to link other sites.
  • If your interest in true crime is somehow bound up with a political agenda, I don’t want to hear from you. I don’t mind if you vote Democrat or Republican — I’ve voted both since I turned 18. I do mind if you constantly seek out stories that slant towards one set of beliefs or another and want to post them here. A true crime blog is a terrible place to try and create a bully pulpit, so don’t even bother. If you think you know my politics from reading this blog, consider the following — a little judicious searching of the blogosphere will reveal right wing blogs who have labeled me a loony liberal for something I posted here and at least one left-wing feminist blog that was convinced I was some sort of pocket Hitler. I’m proud of the fact that no one really knows my politics.
  • I really don’t mind if you have a blog of your own and think contributing to this one may be a good way to promote that blog. That’s fine. But please be on the up-and-up.
  • Pursuant to the preceding bullet point: YOU MUST BE WILLING TO USE YOUR OWN NAME OR A PSEUDONYM THAT SOUNDS LIKE A REAL NAME. I won’t post any entries here from ‘happypuppy69’ or ‘ferretwarrior5000.’ I really prefer real names, but completely understand the need for some anonymity, on occasion.
  • But — and this is a big one — you must be willing to let me know your real name. It’s a trust issue, and I won’t budge on it.
  • To contribute to this blog, you must be willing to post 3-5 entries a week. Think about that — it’s more work than you may realize.
  • You must be willing to interact with the people who leave comments on this site. I used to hesitate to leave comments on my own posts, but now I just dive right in. I’d like contributors to be okay with doing the same.
  • Another imperative — I admit this is a pet peeve, but I think it’s a logical one — KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ACTUAL BLOGGING AND LEAVING COMMENTS ON A BLOG. I’m not going to take up space listing the differences here, but they are many. Leaving a comment on a post is not blogging. I like all the ‘usual suspects’ who make comments on various posts here, but they aren’t contributors. They can write 10,000 word screeds on anything they like in a comments section — they’re still not writing a blog entry.

Just so we’re totally clear, here’s a list of some of the things I would find unacceptable from a contributor to this blog:

  • Plagiarism — PLEASE understand what this is. This is a good overview. The blogosphere is full of it. It’s sometimes done by accident, but not often.
  • This is related to plagiarism — I find quoting entire news articles from traditional media sources thoroughly unacceptable. I used to be much more loose about this, but I think doing work as a paid journalist has changed how I feel about it. It isn’t precisely plagiarism because bloggers who will quote entire articles from newspapers may often link to the source. But it may well be copyright infringement. It’s pointless, to me. Either quote a paragraph and give a link or summarize and add in your own research.
  • Excessive Snark — Some crime stories invite sarcasm and dark humor. To me, those are usually as plain as the nose on my face. Most crime stories are a million miles from funny, though. If you want to post here, I need to be sure you know when it’s appropriate to snicker at what you’re discussing, and when it’s not. A big flaw I’ve found in some other parts of the blogosphere is how some people don’t seem to get that it just isn’t right to take a humorous stance towards certain stories. To see an example of a blog that’s nailed incorporating humor into a true-crime discussion, just check out CrimeRant.com. If you can’t do it like Gregg and Matt do it, then don’t even try.

The bullet lists above could go on quite a bit, but in the interest of brevity I’m stopping here.

I fear I’ve set the bar pretty high, but I’m searching for someone who will be committed to the blog and be able to bring in original, interesting content. I don’t think I need to be casual about that.

If you are interested, if you have further questions, please contact me via this page.

To be considered, you need only send me a link your own blog or send me a sample post via e-mail. Please don’t try to send the sample through my contact form — there is a character limit in the text box. Wait till you’ve heard back from me and send the sample post via e-mail.

I’ve disabled comments for this entry only to encourage communication via the contact form.

The True Crime Weblog in the Chicago Tribune

A few days ago I spoke with Chicago Tribune Internet Critic Steve Johnson about web sleuthing, specifically as it related to Steven Kazmierczak, the young man who killed several people on the campus of Northern Illinois University before committing suicide on February 14.

Click the following link to read Steve Johnson’s article:

Web sleuths track killer online.

One thing I said when I spoke with Steve bears repeating:

Although much of the Web sleuthing that goes on is very good, Huff raises an important point.

“For a magazine like I write for now, we’ve got fact checkers,” he said. “As annoying as the fact checking is, it’s saving your butt. Bloggers don’t have fact checkers.”

And another characteristic of the Web is that once bad information is out there, it, too, tends to stay out there, believed by at least some proportion of the people who miss subsequent attempts to correct it…

If you aren’t prepared to be wrong, to screw it up every now and then, you probably shouldn’t publish your sleuthing online — at least not under your own name. I still do it because I’ve learned how to get it right, 98% of the time. I have my screw-ups when it comes to blogging here, but they are usually minor and rare. And at Radar, I’m not the only one vetting my work.

I’m just saying that if you think this is interesting, you’re right. But be aware that it is rarely as simple as churning up interesting stuff on Google and posting that willy-nilly. Learn to be your own fact-checker, as best you can. I’ve built connections with other bloggers and some folks who are just plain old web sleuths, and we tend to keep each other in check, but I didn’t have that when I began — so the fact that I had a lot of good info to post about various stories when I began publishing a true crime blog was in part pure, dumb luck. I’d also made my worst boo-boos (linking a blog that was simply written by someone sharing a name with an accused killer, for example) before more than 80 people a day read my blog.

Steve Johnson also interviewed author Loren Coleman for the article. Coleman’s take on the piece and the subject at hand can be read here: “Websleuths & NIU.