Over the past few years, I’ve been privileged to attend a dozen or more editorial summits for many different publications in a variety of disciplines — animal, vegetable, and mineral. I’ve been asked on most occasions to talk about new publishing technologies. Each event has had at least one thing in common — one or more vociferous journal or book editors who think blogs are beneath contempt. Judging from their comments and criticisms, blog content is questionable, blog authors are indulging in mental onanism, and the genre itself is marginal at best.
It’s clear at these meetings that this vocal group is not the majority. Many editors are interested, curious, and open. Even at that, since I work hard at this blog, it still makes me a little defensive.
Like Rodney Dangerfield, it sometimes seems that blogs get no respect.
More than one Scholarly Kitchen blogger has had ideas lifted from the blog and reused in more traditional scholarly communications without citation or acknowledgment. If these ideas had been printed, I think that wouldn’t have occurred. Ironically, most blogs are deadly diligent about citing their sources because the technology for citation — i.e., linking — is built in, and the editorial expectation around blogs is that if you are able to point to something, you’d better do it, or a comment will quickly bring you down to Earth with a link, hot as a smoking gun.
Luckily, I’m able to respond to the doubters with a list of achievements any editor of any publication, traditional or non-traditional, would likely be proud of — the Scholarly Kitchen unearthed a scandal serious enough to force an editor to resign; we’ve been nominated for a prestigious award and beat some very strong competition; our reputation for “telling it like it is” has people correcting their behavior themselves with just an inquiry from us; we’ve garnered high-impact essays at the expense of other outlets; our contributors and commentators are in a class by themselves; and so much more.
At the same time, blogging itself has matured throughout the publishing world to become a huge part of editorial activities at all levels, from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal to the Atlantic. Independent blogs and blog networks like TMZ and Gawker and Mashable and ScienceBlogs have risen to prominence, broken news, endured scandals, changed editors, redesigned, expanded, and so forth — you know, all those things traditional publications do. Blog news platforms like the Huffington Post and the Daily Beast are ascending while traditional news outlets struggle.
Maybe it’s the lousy comments on blogs that make them so suspect? Unless it’s a poorly moderated blog, the facts don’t match the stereotype. The comments on this blog are very often the most interesting part. In fact, sites that allow comments usually find this to be the case, as readers identify items the writer missed, question basic assumptions, and add evidence from adjacent fields. I can’t count the number of times I’ve received a link to an article with a note appended reading, “The comments are the best part.” And it’s nearly always true. Most articles are actually the start of a discussion, not the end of one.
So my question is, When will this blogging stereotype go away?
The sad fact is that the answer is probably one of generational change. We’ve covered this before — whether print is an elite medium, or a medium for elitists. While there are bloggers in the senior corps of many fields, they tend to be rather quiet about their blogging, or they don’t stick with it long. It will be another generation before people with ingrained experience using digital-native publishing technologies are in the “old guard” of academia, publishing, and authority. By then, blogging will certainly be viewed as old-school.
Which is odd, because I thought it already was. From “Blog Wars” — a great academic book about blogs — to studies about attitudes about blogging, to how old the genre is, I thought people had already internalized this reality, learned to differentiate content from platform from author, and grown to appreciate the immediacy and craft of blogging.
Scholarly publishing in general has been comfortable with blogs for years now, from Health Affairs to Pediatrics to the New England Journal of Medicine. Are these not peer-reviewed? Are these not scholarly? These might not always look like blogs, and their editorial processes and approaches differ, but either from a technological, authoring, or social media perspective, they are at least kissing cousins to stereotypical blogs. And their editors and authors have embraced the potential blogs possess.
Even the most stringently peer-reviewed journal possible — the lofty Journal of Universal Rejection — has a blog summarizing some of the submissions and highlighting rejection letters. It’s well worth a read.
All this means is that blogs are downright legitimate editorial process and production tools.
Now, it’s tempting to say that perhaps this is just more of the same — that maybe printed books were greeted with the same disdain when they appeared, the scriptoria reviling them in the public square. Yet, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Not only does it seem that scriptoria worked hand-in-hand with the new printers — adorning their books to better create facsimiles of illuminated manuscripts, and so forth — but tradespeople and academics in the 15th and 16th century celebrated the printed book for what it was: a great new way to disseminate knowledge and opinion far and wide. At least, that’s what Elizabeth Eisenstein has found. And she knows a thing or two about these matters.
Are we perhaps more hidebound and conservative than our 16th century counterparts? Are we really that defensive? Can we not see what Michael Bhaskar described over two years ago?
Blogging is the signature written form of our age, indeed is arguably the most widespread and popular form of published words that has ever existed. Bracketing the arguments about noise to signal ratios, self indulgence and wild proliferation blogging is now a fact of the written word as much as letters, novels, newspapers and emails.
Like many disruptive technologies, a blog’s “weaknesses” — the quick-hit writing with links substituting for wordiness, the ability to generate content quickly, the ability to interact with an audience, the ability to write long or short, the embedded ability to link to and host multimedia, the participation of unexpected experts — are really its strengths.
Do blogs work? You be the judge. Just don’t be as demanding of evidence as Rodney Dangerfield’s father:
I remember the time I was kidnapped and they sent back a piece of my finger to my father. He said he wanted more proof.
- How Live Blogging Has Transformed Journalism [Voices] (voices.allthingsd.com)