Interview - James Russell

Interview: James Russell, Editor, Founder & Blogger, Hot Buttered Death:
September 2003

Media Man Australia continues to explore the often misunderstood world of blogging.

James Russel is one of Australia's most notable and respected bloggers.

In this interesting, reveling interview, James discusses his career, blogging and how this fits in with the current news media business.

Please advise of the main websites and bloggers that you have created, and that you contribute to?

Previous websites:

The Pillow Book Of James George White Russell (1998-2001)

Tonight We Sleep In Separate Ditches (2000)

Authentic Frontier Gibberish (2000-2001)

The Black Room (2001-2002)

From late 1998 to 2001 I maintained part of the Sydney Boys High School Old Boys Union website but that stopped after a change in management.

In 2000 I was involved in a film-related project called Screenfile that never got off the ground. I'm currently listed as a contributor to Blogcritics

but haven't actually posted anything in over a month and am thinking of letting my contributorship lapse.

Otherwise, Hot Buttered Death is pretty much my only Internet outlet at the moment.

What's your background?

First generation Australian, of Scottish ancestry.

Born in 1974. Educated variously at Matraville Primary School (where I was Dux of the school, 1986), Sydney Boys High School, University of New South Wales (achieving at length a double major: BA Hons. in Film Studies; BA in History),

Petersham TAFE (where I failed to complete the Certificate II in Community Radio Broadcasting) and Sydney Institute of Technology (where I'm in the finishing stages of the Diploma in Library and Information Services).

Did high school work experience at my local credit union, which was robbed on the last day I was there (not by me, I hasten to add).

Other work experience includes being a shop assistant at the Salvation Army op shop in Maroubra Junction, a clerical assistant at Waverley Cemetery, and packing medications for delivery to sundry old folks' homes at Botany Pharmacy. The cemetery job is the only one I look back at with any fondness; the other two were frankly low points in my life.

In 1999 I joined Sydney community radio station 2SER, since which time I've been a co-presenter on the program Celluloid Dreams. Interviews I've done for the program have included Gary Doust (filmmaker, co-founder of Popcorn Taxi), Julien Temple (director of The Filth and the Fury, Absolute Beginners, etc), Peter Castaldi (critic) and Adrian Belic (producer of Genghis Blues).

What are your aims and objectives?

Fairly prosaic ones, I fear. The most basic one is to find employment of some sort, to which end I've been doing the library course at Ultimo (currently on placement at the ABC Sound and Reference Library).

Breaking into radio (i.e. at a level other than the community level I'm currently at) is also something I'm interested in, although whether I want to go as high as commercial radio is something I'm not sure of. I suspect I'd be happier on the ABC.

At some point in the long term I'd like to get a book published, although that'll require some overhauling of my prose style, particularly if I do something fictional. I used to write short stories a fair bit, but became fairly disillusioned with the stuff I'd written a couple of years ago and haven't succeeded at writing anything like that since.

What motivates you?

The basic desire to inflict my opinions on other people. I am a firm believer in the principle that other people have a right to know what I think. They don't have to agree, they just have to listen to me (he said with a smile). On a slightly higher level, I've always been motivated by the desire for knowledge. I look on practically everything I read or watch or listen to as being educational in some way or other.

What are you best well known for?

Within that segment of the world's population that reads my blog, I'm probably best known for the strangeness of the links that I provide. When I started blogging, I saw hundreds of other bloggers doing political stuff, and although I do political comments now and then, it's not what I'm really interested in doing; there are hundreds of other people out there who know more about it than me, and they may as well do it. I'm more interested in the odd stuff, the freaks, the barnyard oddities, the acts of human strangeness, the weird things that happen on a daily basis. The world and everyone in it is, I think, far stranger than the strict rationalists give it credit for being. I didn't see many blogs doing that sort of thing, so I decided to do that with mine instead. If I'm well known for anything, I'm probably well known for that. Otherwise, I've been recognised in public by exactly one person on account of the radio show.

What does a good blog consist of?

Depends very much on the individual blog. Whatever the blog be about, I think the most you can ask for is that it be informative, interesting, correctly spelled, and reasonably legible.

I like to get a sense of the blogger's personality. And if you're going to be abusive on a regular basis, try and be funny with it; there's nothing more tedious than extended stretches of humourless vitriol.

What should a good website consist of?

As above, it depends on the individual site and what its purpose is. I'd expect a website for a rock band
to have sound samples, for example. Again, be informative, interesting, correctly spelled and reasonably legible. And try making it look nice. You can do that without having to spend thousands of dollars on software to do so.

What are the advantages of the new era in publishing?

Immediacy. You can get something out there straight away without having to wait for a publisher's approval. When I was still writing stories, the Internet meant I didn't have to wait ages for them to be published. I could have a story or an essay up on my website within minutes of finishing it; all it took was a few minutes to add the HTML tags to the text to make it Net-ready, then fire up the FTP program to add the thing to the site. Now, of course, blogging means I don't even have to do that; I just have to type text into a box and the software automates the publishing process.

Do you know of a way to make a good living from online media publishing?

Does anyone?

What's the biggest misconception about bloggers?

One held by some bloggers: that bloggers are somehow more powerful than mainstream media and will one day displace them. I can't see it happening. Apparently there was a survey carried out recently, according to which only seventeen percent of those surveyed said they had even heard of blogs, and only five percent said they read them on a regular basis. I don't know if those figures are representative or not, but if they are then it should give bloggers a bit of a wake-up.

I think bloggers can have some influence over blog readers; unfortunately, blog readers probably constitute an extremely small proportion of the reading public at large, and the vast majority of news consumers will be getting their news instead from the "old" sources-newspapers, TV, radio-all of which have a vastly greater circulation and reach than what bloggers do.

Blogging is new and fresh and exciting and all that, but its power extends only so far.

How did you learn to create such an awesome blog?

Years of practice from maintaining other sites. Also, observing what other blogs do, seeing where others get their news from, and gradually building up my own little network of news sources.

What are the best and worst aspects of TAFE?

The good thing about TAFE is that it offers tertiary education to pretty much all comers and is geared
towards practical ends.The bad thing kind of follows on from that, in that

1) most of the stuff you learn in class can probably be taught as well if not better in the workplace, and

2) the content of the courses-or at least the courses I've done-is, to some extent, "written down" to the lowest common denominator.

Now, obviously in any group you're going to get people who grasp the subject easily and people who have more difficulty with it.

And TAFE is geared more to the needs of the latter than the former, so that if (like me) you're one of those people who doesn't have undue problems with the topic, it has the potential to be somewhat dull and not very stimulating or challenging.

There's one class where the teacher has actually used me as a guinea pig (her words) to make sure her own answers to the exercises she sets us are correct. And I've sprung her a few times as well, too.

What are your current projects?

Hot Buttered Death. And finishing my studies at TAFE. Also, I've been picked as a judge in the Kaleidoscope Short Film Festival, the finals of which take place from the 10th to the 14th of November. I should be getting the tape with the shortlisted entrants sometime in the next two or three weeks.

What other media attention have you garnered, and what for?

None personally. I've had one request for an interview which I agreed to, but the interviewer never got back to me. Celluloid Dreams got a brief mention in the Sydney Morning Herald a few months ago, George Palathingal picked it for placement in the TV/radio guide bit as one of the day's highlights.

Unfortunately I don't remember exactly when it was, but it was sometime earlier this year.

What else should we know about you?

That my diet is primarily carnivorous, that I've seen around two thousand films, that I have an innate distrust of all politicians, that I was once a production assistant on an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, that I can use my toes to pick up solid objects weighing up to two kilograms, and that I have a fondness for black clothing. That's probably as much as people need to know.


Editors note: An interesting, in depth interview. MMA's Greg Tingle can relate to this dude! Shame our blogger rather sucks, but perhaps James and his blogging mates can help us out sometimes to get our blog up to speed. We have not heard the last of Mr. Hot Buttered Death.


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