Blogs and Web magazines are looking more and more alike. What's the difference?

Innovation, the Internet, gadgets, and more.
Oct. 15 2010 6:43 PM

This Is Not a Blog Post

Blogs and Web magazines are looking more and more alike. What's the difference?

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Still, I heard from other media folks who consider "blog post" to be insulting terminology in certain circumstances. Anna Holmes, the founding editor of Jezebel (she stepped down from the editorship this past June), says that she sorts posts on the site into two mental categories. Pieces that are primarily "reactions to something that already existed in the media or on the Internet"—the bulk of Jezebel content in its early days—are "blog posts." But Jezebel also publishes many essays that are not riffs on outside material. These weightier, original pieces aren't set off in any special graphical way on the site, but Holmes still thinks of them as articles, not blog posts.

Often, Holmes says, readers and others in the media would refer to these longer stories as "blog posts," and that term didn't sit well with her. Holmes cites a widely read piece last June by Irin Carmon on why female staffers of The Daily Show felt "marginalized" on the set. "If someone would have referred to that story as a 'blog post,' I would have been annoyed," Holmes says. "I wouldn't necessarily have been annoyed enough to say something, but I would have grumbled about it to Irin, because it would have lessened the work she did." She adds that she wishes it weren't this way: "Blog posts tend to be underrated. 'Blog' shouldn't be a pejorative. But the word always seemed to be dismissive, especially among old-school media types."

The anxiety over what to call "writing that lives on the Web" stems in part from changes in publishing technology. Over the last few years many online magazines and newspapers have ditched their lumbering, expensive "content management systems" for quicker, more flexible blogging software. The fact that you use blogging software, though, doesn't mean that you consider yourself a blog. Bob Cohn, the editorial director of Atlantic Digital, says that he calls everything on his site a "post." But Evan Hansen, executive editor of Wired.com, says that he doesn't use "blog post" to refer to most of the pieces on Danger Room, Epicenter, and Threat Level—sections of Wired.com that are labeled as "blogs" on the home page. Because these stories are reported and edited, he thinks they're articles—even though to all of us, they look like blog posts.

If all blog posts are morphing into articles, and all articles are morphing into blog posts, you might wonder which form is winning out. The question is particularly interesting considering the impending death of print. At some point in the future, date TBD, the New York Times will stop printing a newspaper. What will we call it then? Will stories on its site be "blog posts"?

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I doubt it. I'd venture that Gawker's redesign is a harbinger of a coming shift. Even though tradition-laden outfits like The Atlantic have adopted the blogging format, these blogs aren't the kind of DIY ventures that we might've seen as recently as five years ago. Nearly all journalistic blogs—even Gawker's—are thoroughly professional. They engage in reporting, they've got layers of editors, and they're aimed at satisfying a target audience in order to gain traffic. They're called blogs, but they're really trafficking in articles.

Scott Rosenberg points out that this has little bearing on whether "blogs" remain a popular feature on the Internet; lots of ordinary, nonmedia people will continue to blog as a "labor of love." That may be true, but we're still in the midst of an important shift in the way the news business works. When I asked Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds how he defines blogging, he said the most important thing was "the lack of an institutional voice." Whatever software it uses, he added, "I don't think the NYT will ever really be a blog, in that sense."

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Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.

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