Thursday, January 19, 2006

When a Writer isn't a Blogger

Was Simon Dumenco--"The Media Guy" at AdAge--suffering from a case of sour grapes when he wrote A Blogger is Just A Writer With A Cooler Name? Did he, perhaps, lose out on a hot chick to the scruffy dude who said he was a blogger?? And I wonder how Simon would feel if we all stopped calling him a columnist and called him *just* a writer with a fat pretentious title and a regular salary.

Seriously, though-- Dumenco is one in a long line of "journalists" (who the heck knows where he went to school) who feel some sort of compulsion to tell the rest of us who bloggers are and what bloggers are about--that blogging is just about the software and the distinction between writers and bloggers is all an artificial construct. According to Dumenco:
OK, you might argue, blogging is aesthetically a different beast -- it's instantaneous media. (Well, since the dawn of the 24-hour news cycle, pretty much all media has had to learn how to be instantaneous.) It's unpolished. (The best blogs I read are as sophisticated as anything old-school media publishes.) It's voice-y. (The best old-school media I read tends to be voice-y.) It's about opinion, not reporting. (The best reporting to come out of MacWorld in San Francisco last week was published on blogs.) It's, well, often sloppy and reckless (and Judy Miller wasn't?).

OK, then, you might further argue, the Internet itself treats blogs as structurally distinct things. Well, sure, there are blog-specific search engines (Technorati, Icerocket,, etc.), but the lines between blog and non-blog content are rapidly dissolving. Traditional news organizations and blogs often get seemingly equal weight as news sources in Google News. And just last week, I found out about Sprint's West Coast fiber optic network outage from the new Gmail Web Clip ticker that sits atop my e-mail inbox -- and the clip came from a blog, not a traditional news organization.

More importantly, though, I wonder who it is--other than bloggers--that Dumenco considers writers. He paints a broad stroke with his title, but narrows the focus of the term in his text to journalists--very bad form! Guess he doesn't consider folks who scribble on legal pads, and sometimes call themselves writers, to be writers. Probably also doesn't consider all those folks who pen and publish fiction to be writers either. (he also has the audacity to talk about "the best bloggers"--oh, who might that be? Obviously, the A-list. That's only one kind of blogger, too.)

So, I feel it's something of my own duty, being both a bona fide blogger as well as a bona fide published writer, to delineate some of the differences between bloggers and writers that he appears to overlook in favor of some tired, journalistic blogger-hating rhetoric:

Writers deal with Editors. Bloggers deal with Comments. Okay, Simon, I'm sure you could say this is splitting hairs, but these are two different/ Edtiors, as you are probably aware, comment--but they comment in an effort to fix your stuff. Editors comment on your spelling and grammar and wordchoice and fix your tone so your piece fits right with their publication or makes sure you conform to APA or Chicago. People who leave comments for Bloggers don't give a darned, and many don't know, about APA or Chicago rules. Commenters are more concerned with conversing with the blogger (or sometimes other commenters)--with refuting or supporting what the blogger says. Bloggers can get defensive with Comments and still publish. Writers can't necessarily get defensive with Editors or their piece could get 86'ed and they labelled "difficult to work with."

Writing is static media. Blogging is social media When someone writes a story or an article, it is meant simply to convey information. The person isn't looking to get direct feedback. They might, but that really isn't the intention. Blogging isn't static. Once again, bloggers get direct feedback. They sometimes even change a post. A writer can write one article, get it published in a magazine, and that's it. A writer can sit around for another month or longer before another article comes out, can sweat over the process for months, and still have readers. A blogger not only has to eventually interact with others, but also has to keep writing on a regular basis or people forget you were ever there.

Writers write in paragraphs. Some Bloggers don't write in complete sentences. Writers don't aggregate. They fashion coherent thoughts into paragraphs. Lots of paragraphs. Some bloggers simply aggregate and their thoughts are pretty scatalogical. They want their blogs to be places where people can find links to stories about stuff. They want to be considered good providers of information--not quick-thinking, profound pundits. Writers want to be considered more than information providers--they want to have style and have a craft.

Writers can use more than 400 words per piece. Bloggers who do that risk not getting read. Writers can have lots of words--anywhere between 400 and 2500 or more depending on the piece. Some writers can't express themselves in less. Bloggers have to be quick or risk boring their readers. I risk boring readers. So does one of the smartest long-entry bloggers out there, Jay Rosen, who doesn't seem to mind the delineation between blogger and writer (but might prefer I call him journalist.)

Some Writers never, or can't blog. Some Bloggers don't, or can't write Some bloggers would never, ever think of writing articles. Some writers would never, ever think of blogging. It's a risk/reward thing. Some bloggers hate the idea of being edited. Some writers can't get past the editor in their heads long enough to blog.

Not all Writers are Media people. Not all Bloggers are Media people either. This harkens back to the old Dave Winer whine "all bloggers are journalists." Tell the girls and guys of or Livejournal that they're media people and some would probably freak. Just because someone is a journaller doesn't mean he or she is a journalist-- I don't think it needs an explanation, and it certainly isn't splitting hairs. Loads of journalists don't keep journals either. Then again, the idea of who a media person is all depends on the definition of media. If media is defined as a mode of artistic expression, mainly self-expression, then by golly! all bloggers and journalists and scribblers on legal pads are all the same! I'm sure there's a ton of journalists, and published writers, and published poets, and columnists who might have a very big bone to pick with that one...

So, unless Simon Dumenco is willing give up being called a columnist, occasionally not think in paragraphs, cut down on his wordiness, and take a direct comment or two, without censoring people who disagree with him, he may want to re-think how he uses the terms blogger and writer. Because as it stands now, he may know something about the latter, in the journalistic sense, but he really hasn't shown he knows all that much about the former.

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Anonymous said...

And I wonder how Simon would feel if we all stopped calling him a columnist and called him *just* a writer with a fat pretentious title and a regular salary.

Anonymous said...

Oops I was so busy laughing that I forgot to say - that's perfect! We should definitely start doing this.

Read This said...

I have to disagree with some of it...bloggers are exactly like writers. Most writers are unpaid, unappreciated, and unwanted. Most bloggers are the same way. Most writers write to escape whatever inner demons they have, so do bloggers. Bloggers might be the minor leagues of writing, the training ground for the next generation of unread writers. I'm guessing most of the great writers of the past would have blogged, would you imagine the blog of Edgar Allen Poe?