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The High Standards of Blogging
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
It is for many in the established media. I remember (when I was in still in the established media myself) an MPA conference at which Ann Moore, then heading Time Inc., disparagingly dismissed “bloggers in their bathrobes.” The image has persisted among her peers. The other day I heard the editor of the Albany Times Union say that he’d only just come to revise his long-held opinion that bloggers were not real journalists. He seemed to be saying, a little grudgingly, that he now saw that some bloggers might be considered professionals.
I do not typically describe myself as a blogger. But many people would—and they label my Web sites as blogs. So when I muse on what a blogger is, I have to admit to a vested interest in the answer.
Apparently, the first blogger was a student called Justin Hall, and he first “posted” around 1994. Blogs were initially online diaries, and they quickly caught on, developing their own vocabulary such as “posts” rather than “articles,” along with their own publishing platforms such as Movable Type and new forms of audience engagement. After a peak around 2007, the number of new blogs launched in a single day has declined to a mere 50,000.
Clearly, many bloggers are amateurs or hobbyists. Many others are consummate professionals, in that they make a living from their blogs or are attempting to build businesses. As the Wikipedia entry on blogs says, the distinction between bloggers and the mass media is blurring.
I would describe myself as a media professional who is working through a different channel. And it is a channel that has important characteristics. The first and, perhaps, most important is that this channel—whatever you want to call it—has a very low barrier to entry. Fifteen years ago, if I had had a great idea for a magazine, it would most likely never see the light of day unless, by some near miracle, a major publishing company decided to back me. Now, if I have an idea for a new media property, I can find some open source content management system and, for very little money, have my own Web site.
Many people, including, I imagine, the editor of the Albany Times Union, would argue that this has lowered editorial standards. I believe that professional bloggers operate in a medium that requires them to work to standards that are as high as those in mainstream media—in some cases, much higher. Two characteristics of the first wave of blogs are responsible for this. One is that blogs are written in the first person; this is hangover from the days when they were online diaries.
And, interestingly, even though most blogs aren’t daily accounts of someone’s life, they continue to be written in the first person. It gives them a chatty, more personal style. One of the reasons I chose a blogging platform for my Web site is that it would force me to talk directly to the audience, rather than use the dispassionate reporting style that I was trained in. Writing in the first person makes you accountable for every word.
Secondly, blogs are structured to allow readers to make comments on every post. The audience isn’t shunted away to some message board, but can—right there below your article—talk back. If the blogger doesn’t meet their standards—and among loyal and passionate readers, they will be high standards—they’ll be the first to say so. Traditional media never did have that level of continuous and open scrutiny, and was the poorer for it.
I really believe that blogs (and for that matter tweets) are having a positive effect on media in general, bringing an open and personalized style to even some of the stodgiest institutions. The other day I was listening to the BBC World Service on the radio and was amused when the presenter introduced a news item with a little anecdote about her grandfather. What a very bloggy thing to do.
Minsider columnist Marta Wohrle is president of Accord Media and the publisher of Truth In Aging, among other digital content titles. Previously she was SVP, digital media, Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S., and director of Mercer Management Consulting.
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