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Weblogs and Journalism. Posted on 09/17/2002.

This evening I attended a panel discussion on "Weblogs: Challenging Mass Media and Society", sponsored by UC Berkeley's School of Journalism.

I don't think I've ever prattled on this particular topic before, so I thought I'd got some thoughts out while still fresh-ish.

The panel was Okay. Really hadn't said much that hadn't been said before in similar contexts.

The person who got it most, in my mind, was Scott Rosenberg. He was possibly the first "journalist" to write about weblogs, and definitely the first to do so intelligently. Scott "gets" the formal quality of weblogs, which surprisingly few do. In these kinds of discussions, the question, "Are weblogs journalism?" inevitably comes up, demonstrating how people confuse form and content. Weblogs are a form (not a medium... the Web is a medium), and journalism is a practice. Journalism can be practiced in many media and forms. The two are, at best orthogonal. One definitely doesn't replace the other.

Scott pointed out how weblogs are something that, simply, couldn't appear in any other medium, and that's what makes them special. Andrew Dillon posited that home pages were the first uniquely digital genre, and I would argue that weblogs are the second.

For what it's worth, I've learned that I find discussions of the "impact" of weblogs on journalism kind of non-starters. There's inevitably a tension or dichotomy set up that I don't believe is really there.

Over dinner afterward, panel moderator Paul Grabowicz noted the irony of how the professional (and perhaps bitter) journalists were more than willing to call all manner of weblogs "journalism", whereas the two bloggers (that would be Rebecca and Meg) held the practice of journalism to a standard far higher than most weblogs achieved.


10 comments so far. Add a comment.

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Um, even after several years of this weblogging thing, I still don't get it. Weblogs as the "second uniquley digital genre"? Huh?

Maybe I'm dense, but aren't weblogs still web pages? I don't think weblogs deserve a "genre" of activity. I read Rosenberg's article and I don't think anything about it is particularly special. He says so himself, in a way: weblogs aren't new. Some web pages are diaries, some are commerce sites, some are reference sites, some are sites that catalog links to other things (weblogs). So what?
Posted by tim @ 09/18/2002 09:35 AM PST [link to this comment]

"Scott "gets" the formal quality of weblogs..." Okay, but I read his article and I still don't "get" it. Everything has a form, but there is nothing formal about the personal web pages that prolifetate on the Internet. They are, to me, individual (except where derivative), formless and chaotic. And generally useless. The only blogging that works for me are search engines that help me find products to buy or hard information to apply to situations as needed.

Nor is a digitalic web page anything more unique to human experience than the personally published newsletters, pamphlets and flyers that succeeded the traveling poets and troubadors of yore in expressing and disseminating their ideas and feelings to the public at large and long before the advent of electronic media.

And isn't e-mail either the real Number One or Number Two digital genre?
Posted by BJMe @ 09/18/2002 01:09 PM PST [link to this comment]

The person who got it most, in my mind, was Scott Rosenberg. He was possibly the first "journalist" to write about weblogs, and definitely the first to do so intelligently.

Is that a sly jab at the Sullivan/Anderson
Are Weblogs Changing Our Culture? exchange in Slate?
Posted by Gene @ 09/19/2002 09:13 AM PST [link to this comment]

For the record, the point you credit to Rosenberg about how weblogs couldn't exist in any other medium was lifted pretty much word for word from The Weblog Handbook, which you would be well served to read.
Posted by jjg @ 09/19/2002 02:13 PM PST [link to this comment]

There was only a homepage field on this form and I put my wee blog there - hope that's OK. ::'/

My comments on this entry can be read at my site.

Not sure I'm convinced Rosenberg didn't formulate his description of weblogs independently, though if the wording matches something in the book, that would be interesting. I believe the book is dedicated to the commenter.

Is there prior history indicated that peterme hasn't read the book? Is the post elsewhere in these discussion records about a book called BLOG about coining the meme (I think with New Riders) for real or a spoof?
Posted by xian @ 09/19/2002 04:35 PM PST [link to this comment]

If memory serves, Rosenberg started with the phrase "weblogs are native to the Web" and then proceeded to recount, pretty much point by point, the section of the same name from Chapter 1 of Rebecca's book. Don't get me wrong, I don't think Rosenberg did it deliberately; but the formulation was undeniably Rebecca's.

Peter and I work together, so I think I can be fairly confident in my assertion that he hasn't read the book. Or at least, I'd think I would have heard about it if he had.

And yes, that earlier comment regarding a book about the meme was a joke.
Posted by jjg @ 09/19/2002 04:51 PM PST [link to this comment]

I have not read Rebecca's book. To paraphrase Pee-Wee Herman, "I don't have to read the book. I lived it." (Though, I'm sure it's a good book, and I'm a fan of Rebecca's weblog history, it just one of those hours-in-the-day kind of things.)

The book called BLOG about coining the word is a (funny) joke on the part of a New Riders employee.

To Scott's credit, and not to take anything away from Rebecca, but that notion of weblogs as unable to appear in any other medium or are "native to the web" is not original to either of them. He's just the one who made the comment on the panel.

To Tim's point: weblogs are not "just" web pages. The essential element of a weblog is not the page, but the post. That's a key distinction.

To Gene's point: No. I haven't read that.

To my dad's point: Home pages are different than newsletters, pamphlets, or flyers. The most obvious way: their ability to link. Their less obvious way: the content *is* typically different. Home pages are not calling cards, nor are they marketing material. Traveling poets and troubadors published flyers in order to alert and sell their services. A calling card announced someone's arrival. But a home page is a different animal -- it's simply a representation of self online, often without any need to sell or announce... Home pages typically have pictures of the person, some biographical information, links to things that person likes, links to friends. Home pages are different than newsletters, because newsletters typically have a known audience, whereas a person writes a home page knowing it could be read by anyone. "Home pages" aren't necessarily about expressing ideas or feelings; they're more for creating an ersatz "you" that people can drop by a visit.
Posted by peterme @ 09/19/2002 04:57 PM PST [link to this comment]

Sorry, I guess I figured that, after saying you thought the panel "hadn't said much that hadn't been said before", you selected that point for special mention because it was new to you.

Oh yeah, all that stuff about false dichotomies and form vs. content vs. practice is in the book too.
Posted by jjg @ 09/19/2002 06:09 PM PST [link to this comment]

I wish I could say I *have* read Rebecca's book, but I haven't. I'd like to, one of these days. For the record, I wrote the following in May 2002 without ever having cracked open the review copy of "The Weblog Handbook" that still, alas, sits on my shelf: "They are a media life-form that is native to the Web, and they add something new to our mix, something valuable, something that couldn't have existed before the Web."

I wouldn't be surprised if Rebecca had arrived at a very similar point independently. I'd be surprised if there isn't "prior art" that predates both of our statements, since this is not a particularly obscure point. It's pretty fundamental, in fact, and I certainly wouldn't take or expect credit for it.

But as a writer I'm not too keen on people suggesting I've "lifted" anything "word for word." Which I've never done in my life.
Posted by Scott Rosenberg @ 09/20/2002 05:03 PM PST [link to this comment]

I'm sorry, Scott. My choice of wording was exceptionally (and, I would hope, uncharacteristically) poor. I did not intend to accuse you of plagiarism.

My comment was really directed at Peter -- that if this point really was new to him, it wouldn't have been if he had read the book.

For the record, I have been for many years (and remain) a huge Scott Rosenberg fan.
Posted by jjg @ 09/20/2002 06:53 PM PST [link to this comment]

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