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?

Gawker. Click image to expand.
The beta version of Gawker's new design.

Soon, Gawker will no longer be a blog. The same goes for other sites in the Gawker network—Deadspin, Gizmodo, Jezebel, Lifehacker, et al. There won't be any change in their editorial missions: Gawker won't drop its gossipy tone, Gizmodo will never hesitate to tell you about the secret iPhone it found in a bar, and Lifehacker will continue to offer tips on how to turn your PC into a Mac. The difference is that when these sites publish their scoops, they won't be doing so in a "blog" format—that is, as a reverse-chronological, scrollable index of posts. Instead, Gawker and co. will transform into something more akin to conventional Web magazines.

To see what Gawker and its sisters will look like, replace the www in the URL with beta—e.g., beta.gawker.com. The front page will be dominated by a large image and headline from the site's most popular post, and a list of other headlines will sit along the right side. You'll be able to navigate the entire site at a glance, no scrolling required.

While this might sound like a small change, Gawker is often credited with legitimizing blogging as journalism. If Gawker is not, technically, a "blog," then what is? Gawker honcho Nick Denton seems to wonder the same thing; in a recent New Yorker profile, he says that the redesign will "probably be seen as the end of the blog."

Not so fast, Nick! While Gawker is dropping the blog format, sites of magazines like Wired and The Atlantic are embracing it. (At both outlets, all articles, other than those that first appeared in print, are published in a blog-like format.) Or check out Newsweek, whose home page lists headlines and snippets in reverse-chronological order, just like at your friend's Blogger site.

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The design shifts—with blogs looking more like magazines, and magazines looking more like blogs—aren't just superficial. These changes in presentation are collapsing all distinctions between "blog posts" and "articles." Over the last few days I contacted various bloggers and editors at big sites around the Web to ask how they define each term. The answers I got were surprisingly diverse—while each of these organizations has its own rules for what it calls a "blog post" and an "article," the rules aren't at all consistent across newsrooms. What's more, the lines are blurring—blog posts are looking more like articles, and articles are looking more like blog posts.

So what's the difference—what's a blog post, what's an article, and does it make any difference vis-à-vis how you navigate the Web? "I say this with all possible deference: Who cares?" wrote Joel Johnson, the Gizmodo blogger, when I approached him with such questions. Scott Rosenberg, author of Say Everything, a history of blogging, echoes this point: "Just as journalists think readers have a deep awareness of distinctions like 'hard news piece' vs. 'feature' vs. 'news analysis,' we think they understand or care about the line between 'article' and 'blog post.' But they're just reading what we're writing for them and responding. It's our hang-up, not theirs."

Still, to the reporters and editors who produce these pieces, these labels often carry great weight. Writers online are sensitive to old, cheap stereotypes regarding their professionalism—"young men sitting in their mother's basements and ranting," as Andrew Marr, the former political director of the BBC put it recently. While blogs aren't treated so dismissively these days, perceived misuse of the terms "blog post" and "article" can still inflame journalistic class consciousness. The other day, the New York Times' David Brooks referred admiringly to Nathan Heller's Slate article about The Social Network. But Brooks didn't call Heller's piece an "article." Instead, he pointed to Heller's "intelligent blog post." Is it possible that the Times columnist used "blog post" as a subtle denigration—a way to downplay the fact that Heller had made Brooks' argument first?

I'm going to give Brooks the benefit of the doubt and say probably not. (I wasn't able to reach him for comment.) A lot of times this sort of confusion carries no greater meaning. Readers often mistake my blog posts for articles and vice versa; "Farhad Manjoo is the worst blogger at Slate!" is not an unusual comment in these pages. (I'm the worst columnist, thank you very much.)

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