A Blogger is Just a Writer with a Cooler Name

Why Blogging vs. Traditional Media Has Been Oversold

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I've been thinking of what I am -- about what any media person in the digital age is -- since having coffee last week with a 30-something newspaper editor who bemoaned the fact that newspapers keep on setting up blogs as these separate, exotic add-ons to their Web sites, instead of integrating blogging into their usual newsgathering operations. There's simply no good reason to segregate the functions, he insisted.

And it occurred to me that there is no such thing as blogging. There is no such thing as a blogger. Blogging is just writing -- writing using a particularly efficient type of publishing technology. Even though I tend to first use Microsoft Word on the way to being published, I am not, say, a Worder or Wordder.

It's just software, people! The underlying creative/media function remains exactly the same.

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, blogsearch.google.com, 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.

So why does the idea of the blogger as The Other continue to persist? Because many bloggers, of course, like the idea of being all alterna; it's a point of pride, a tenet of the "blog community" (whatever that is), that bloggers are superior to the musty, lumbering, out-of-touch traditional media. And for traditional-media types, blog/blogging/bloggers are variants of a sort of linguistic armor -- labels that allow old-school-ists to convince themselves that they are the true professionals, and they needn't radically alter the way they work (i.e., work way faster, interact constantly with readers, be vastly more voracious, etc.) to compete with the amateurs, the arrivistes.

Of course, the false dichotomy gives rise to internal inconsistencies -- like at The New York Times, which is acting like David Carr is one thing (he's a columnist!) when he's doing his Monday media business column and another thing (he's a blogger!) when he's doing his Oscar-season dispatches under The Carpetbagger rubric on NYTimes.com, even though both are edited by a Times editor before being published. (By the way, why isn't The Carpetbagger called The Carrpetbagger?) Those who remember David's spirited, nearly instantaneous media reporting at Inside.com know that he was "blogging" way before there were blogs. (A historical note: I was a columnist for Inside; David and I never worked together directly, though we shared editors.)

A lot of the tendency to draw lines internally, I think, has to do with the fact that most old-school publishing organizations with online components invested heavily in the '90s in then-state-of-the-art, but now-cumbersome online publishing systems, which are functionally very different from more nimble blogging software solutions. But over the next few years those legacy systems will be phased out and everyone publishing online will be using some form of what's now commonly thought of as blogging software.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: In the very near future, there are only going to be two types of media people: those who can reliably work and publish (or broadcast) incredibly fast, and those ... who can't.

The Media Guy's column appears weekly on AdAge.com and in the print edition of Advertising Age. E-mail him at dumenco@gmail.com

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