Back to blogging

It has been nine years since I updated my “About Weblogs” backgrounder page, the first draft of which was a page on a now-defunct server for a class at Emerson College in 2000.

The blogging server where I maintained that page from 2002 to 2009 went out of business, so I moved the page to my frozen-in-time “oldblog” folder.

But blogging itself has not been frozen, and early blogger Dave Winer has suggested I update my definition, just as he did recently. Here’s Dave’s “I know what a blog is,” expanding on his “unedited voice of a person” definition.

Winer’s software “Manila” and “Radio Userland” were two of the early blog-publishing systems I used, along with Trellix and Blogger, after writing blog-style Web pages in plain HTML. To me, these “edit in your browser” programs, which automated the last-page-in date-stamped diary format, were the real definition of blogging a dozen years ago. Now, the same systems can be used to create other kinds of websites, which was the point of this WordPress “Not a Blog” demo I did for students a few years ago.

My old-time-radio friend Jimbo uses Blogger for sites that go far beyond traditional “blog posts” to become encyclopedic resources of a very special kind, like his “Vic & Sade” opus at vicandsade.blogspot.com

So if the software no longer defines “blogging,” what does?

Here’s what my AP Stylebook says:

20140627-113404-41644035.jpg

Notice that it doesn’t mention whether a blog has one voice, many voices, or if it can be the collaborative/communal voice of writers and editors working together. The Stylebook seems mostly focused on the length (“short”) of published items and a “usually (but not always)” reverse-chronological diary-style entries. The “but not always” would have to be added to “short” too, in order to include the work of admitted bloggers like NYU professor Jay Rosen’s pressthink.org and some of my longer items, including this one — or my last exploration of a 1940s Superman adventure.

This new interest in “what is a blog?” arose after The New York Times announced that it is cutting back on the publications it referred to as blogs, as distinct from the items it calls “news” or “opinion columns.” The lines between are probably a blur to folks who only read the Times online.

I don’t see a clear “About Times Blogs” explanation of how edited or collaborative they were, although what the Times has been calling blogs have been in latest-item-on-top order, had associated RSS and Twitter feeds, and apparently had a less formal tone than stories or columns intended for the print edition of the newspaper. Was “this is not going to be in print” the main Times definition of “blog”? Maybe.

You can find what’s left of the Times blogs at blogs.nytimes.com or
www.nytimes.com/interactive/blogs/directory.html

For many readers, seeing a blog-like page format may imply that the named author has total control of the words and opinions on that page. At the same time, seeing a gothic “The New York Times” logo on the page (or a “nytimes.com” in the address) may imply that the contents were subject to some level of editing. Actually, readers would be well-served by an “about” page that explained all the things “editing” can mean today — from help defining an assignment to revision issues of focus, length, consistent style (The Times has its own Stylebook), fact-checking, and copy editing for grammar and spelling.

Even the most personal of op-edit opinion columns get some editing. You can be pretty sure a page one story has had many more levels. The Public Editor column helps readers sort out those oversight issues from time to time, but even there you will find both “columns” and “blog posts.”:

topics.nytimes.com/top/opinion/thepubliceditor

publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com

The difference? Her “about” panel is about frequency, not copy editing:

“Margaret Sullivan is the fifth public editor appointed by The New York Times. She writes about the Times and its journalism in a frequent blog – the Public Editor’s Journal — and in a twice-monthly print column in the Sunday Review section…”

For my own general definition, I’ll stick with being mushy and reporting the shifting usage of the word “blog.” Some sites that call themselves blogs appear to have more than one author, or at least editing help. Sometimes I wish I did. For my own blogs, I try to explain what I’m doing on a prominently linked “about” page.

Some blogs also may have internal rules about never changing an old post. I don’t have that rule here or at my book-in-progress blog about old-time radio’s dramatic portrayals of journalists, jheroes.com. I revise; my About page says so. If I see a misspelling or broken link on something weeks old, I’ll fix it. If I make substantial changes — add more links or pictures or change my mind about something — I’ll add a note of some kind.

[Note: I rarely use the iPad WordPress app that I used to post the first draft of this item. I may come back to it to improve the formatting with a full-featured editor.]

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.

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Posted in Blogging, Newspapers
2 comments on “Back to blogging
  1. Gary Schirr says:

    Welcome back Bob!
    The blogosphere missed you….

    • Bob Stepno says:

      Thanks Gary! Actually, I haven’t been gone and don’t know that I’ll be adding to my three main blogs any more often than I have been, although I’ll probably add another blog for my fall course.
      A longer headline title would have been “Back to (the business of defining) ‘blogging’ (vs. ‘journalism”) in response to a Twitter exchange with the always interesting blogger Dave Winer.” But that would have been verbose, even for me. 🙂

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