Well-Rounded Bloggers

While I keep saying journalist have a tough time putting journalism in perspective, it seems that some blogging journalists are able to do it.

Case in point, ZDNet Editor in Chief Larry Dignan:

Anatomy of a ‘Blogging will kill you’ story: Why I didn’t make the cut | Between the Lines | ZDNet.com

I didn’t read the original NYT piece. On purpose. As I’ve tried to establish, I sometimes run away from things “everybody has read.” Typically, in the U.S., this means something which appeared in the NYT. To the extent that, for some people, “if it’s not in the Times, it didn’t happen.” (Such an attitude is especially tricky when you’re talking about, say, parts of Africa which aren’t at war.)

This time, I’m especially glad I read Dignan’s piece instead of the NYT one because I get the gist of the “story” and Dignan provides the kind of insight I enjoy.

Basic message: blogging can be as stressful as any job yet it’s possible to have a well-balanced life as a blogger.

Simple, useful, personal, insightful, and probably more accurate than the original piece.

Oh, sure. It’s nothing new. It’s not a major revelation for most people that it’s important to think about work/life balance.

Still… As it so happens, this specific piece helped me think about my own blogging activities in a somewhat different light. No, it’s not my job (though I do wish I had a writing job). And I don’t typically stress over it. I’m just thinking about where blogging fits in my life. And that’s helpful.

Even if it means yet another blogpost about blogging.

27 thoughts on “Well-Rounded Bloggers”

  1. For what it’s worth, I skimmed the NYT article, and it’s not really talking about bloggers like you or me, or the folks we know from YULblog. It’s about hard-core, full-tilt bloggers who spend 14 or 18 hours a day doing nothing but cranking out blog posts for (usually low) money.

    It’s a kind of blogging I detest. It’s just dumping garbage into the Web, because most of the output of that kind of blogging is pure crap; poorly researched, poorly considered, poorly written. It’s almost like a form of spam; content for content’s sake, keyword and link riddled crap designed to do nothing more than attract eyeballs for ad revenue. Sadly, there is a LOT of that out there.

    There’s a parallel with the various “articles” Web sites, where they pay small fees to people to write “articles” (not blog posts). These articles get syndicated, and they feed upon each other through self referencing, and they present the illusion that there is some authority to them as they are called “articles,” which implies they are more credible than blog posts. But again, they are total crap. Poorly written, unresearched text vomit designed to do nothing more than bring eyeballs to pages that carry ads.

    I hate it!

  2. Actually, I stand by everything I just said, but the NYT article is also about people who write for the “big” blogs like Gizmodo and all that. Those blogs at least provide some decent material, unlike the crap dispensers that I was talking about above.

  3. @Blork Thanks for the insight. And the rant! 😉
    I thought that the NYT piece was mostly about pro bloggers and blogging journalists. Sounds like it’s also about those compulsive bloggers who repulse you.
    My reaction isn’t as strong as yours but I certainly understand your point. In fact, I think the ‘Net is more spammy than before. I find it increasingly hard to find what I’m looking for and I end up restricting myself to certain sites. Yes, including Wikipedia. In a way, it’s rather sad because I want to keep an open mind. But it’s also my way of fighting information overload.
    As for “our kind of bloggers” at Yulblog and such… I think Montreal has a kind of advantage over some other blogging scene in that it’s away from the “geek mainstream” enough to enable bloggers a certain distance on blogging phenomena, yet it’s connected enough to geekdom that some bloggers can afford a certain visibility. It’s also great to see different kinds of bloggers interacting at Yulblog and elsewhere. From those who only read one another’s blog to those A-Listers like you who attract comments from everywhere yet remain humble enough to give other bloggers a chance. 😉
    Or maybe I’m just getting ready to go back to town… 🙂

  4. Blork, I’m with you! However, my man Gramsci spent a lot of time in his occasional journalism and in his prison notebooks analyzing the early 20th C’s versions of word vomit. The reason he thought ‘bad’ writing was so important as genre, although not as content, was that it seemed to him to be a particularly insidious domain of hegemony.

    What’s nice and scary about Gramsci is that by the time he gets through two thousand pages of analyzing the way elites and their minions deploy culture at various levels (and not ‘intentionally’) to create common senses of domination, it’s not anything like clear what one could do about it. Everything from street names to movie reviews to elementary school curricula is in there. You can do counterhegemonic work with any or all of that all you want, but in order for it to ‘make sense’ to anyone it’s got to participate in the shared worldview, and at that point its subversiveness gets lost in the noise.

    But it gets even more tricky if we segue from Gramsci to Bourdieu, because the judgments of taste we use to define some writing as ‘good’ and other writing as ‘bad’ turns out to be mostly positioning strategies in little conflicts over cultural space. ‘Pay attention to this (us) not that (them)’. This is the ‘taste tribe’ thing, which I’ll try to defend (contingently) in a moment.

  5. Hm. I didn’t say clearly that the insidious value of ‘bad’ writing is exactly its badness. Because it’s just vomited out without thought of any kind, its contents are the range of sedimented idea-junk that has filtered all the way out into what we take for granted. It’s like a snapshot of the zeitgeist’s basic input-output system. And because it’s being spewed in that mode of complete unreflective obviousness, and presumably read (or not read) in the same way, it accomplishes another crank of the ‘common sense’ handle. Each little bit of it makes it incrementally more difficult to think otherwise.

    You are wise, AE, to avoid it.

  6. @Carl Very often, even though it’s not the writing we find distasteful, we criticize opportunist/commercial/careless writers. As @Blork is an expert writer, I understand his claims in a very specific context having something to do, indirectly, with “attention economy” but, mostly, about the difficult relationship between “mass media” (the NYT being a prime example) and “new media” (blogospheres especially).
    I’m not speaking for Blork. But it’s how I perceived his posts because that’s where Dignan’s piece led me.
    As for logorrhea, I claim the right to let it stand in my own blog.

  7. I think hegemonic media and counter-hegemonic media are both useful and can co-exist comfortably. They both have a role in the vast information economy. But then there’s plain old “text vomit,” which I don’t think has a valid role.

    But of course non of this has any validity without definitions. In brief, hegemonic media is simply “big media,” and counter-hegemonic media is basically stuff like blogs, zines, Web forums, etc. There’s no doubt that both exist for different reasons, and each brings something different to the table, and it’s basically all good.

    But the text vomit that I refer to (which, in the end, is not really the topic of the NYT article) brings nothing of value. It doesn’t even enter the equation because it is utterly valueless. It’s not just a question of it being “bad writing;” after all, Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” was (arguably) “bad writing,” but it did something. It brought something new to the culture, the counter-culture. It changed things.

    But those vomitous blog posts and fake articles I’m talking about border on the fraudulent. There is no attempt by the writer to do anything more than hit his word count so he can get his five bucks and move on to the next piece. In the meantime, they clutter up the search engines, and they give bad and potentially misleading information to less well read researchers (i.e., kids, people who are no media savvy, etc.). Bleh!

  8. Basically, spam-type blogging is getting in the way.
    I tend to agree, especially in terms of attention economy.
    At the same time, it’s possible that this newer tendency is a necessary component of the changes which are happening. Growing pains as blogging becomes mainstream?

  9. Blork, I completely agree with what you’re saying. But we’re using ‘hegemony’ in a different way. I’m not referring only to the formal institutions of domination and resistance. Yes, in that sense both the big media and the responsible banditry of the ‘net exist for something, bring something to the table, and in perspective are ‘all good’. They’re conscious and intentional. There are standards and accountability. They nicely shape and contextualize the high range of the information economy. Right.

    My point is that the word-county clutter is ‘working’, in a different sector and according to a different hegemonic logic, below the level of consciousness and intention, with no standards or accountability, to create a general field of mushy ‘common sense’ and ‘consensus’ that have an essentially conservative effect. That tangled-in-cotton feeling you have in your browser is part of that effect.

    So from that perspective the word vomit is actually enormously valuable at the level of cultural politics. Yes, the critical content of it is zero. That’s because it’s a force of anti-criticism, operating in a highly diffuse ether of uncritical unintentionality.

  10. @Carl If I understand you correctly and if I can expand the issue a bit (or change its focus slightly), can we say that the vomiters (I prefer “logorrhea” for being less graphic but I’ll comply if need be) are a subterranean dimension of hegemony instead of one of its legs?
    I think of “mole people” in some movies like Carot/Jeunet’s Delicatessen. They’re annoying yet relatively harmless. They may even have ideas similar to the anti-hegemony’s. But they live on the margins and contribute to the hegemony.
    Yet I perceive that I’m wandering away from your point.
    It’s ok. This sandbox is about playfulness. 😉

  11. I note that logorrhea comes at the issue from the other end.

    Yes, “subterranean” is nice. One way to think of Gramsci is as a step between Marx, for whom power is very concentrated and intentional in the form of classes, and Foucault, for whom power is ‘decentered’ (everywhere) and ‘discursive’ (impersonal, unintentional). In his theory of hegemony Gramsci was trying to retain a sense of the concentrated adversariality of power, while recognizing that the actual operations of power are filtered out into a vast variety of interactions. So the very ground we walk on is indeed riddled with the workings of power; we can’t move without being in it; we are ourselves sometimes the agents of it without knowing it.

    I think he’s right enough to be depressing if you actually want to try to do some sort of effective oppositional politics. (And this is why his theory is so often misunderstood by people committed to such politics.) Playfulness therefore seems to me a much more realistic agenda. I can ignore the logorrhea easily enough, or goof on it like we are here.

  12. This is getting fun. And one thing I like about having my own blog is that nobody will come and tell me that I should stop this at any point the way it might happen on some forums, mailing-lists and other online groups.
    BTW, Carl, congratulations on your new blog! It’s customary to add a blog URL to the comments you write on other people’s blogs. In fact, Blogger supports WordPress.com blogs as OpenID (meaning that you can use your WordPress.com “identity” on a Blogger/Blogspot blog). It can make the conversation more “multi-sited.”

    Hadn’t heard of these comparisons between Marx, Gramsci, and Foucault. But they do sound rather insightful. I also like that they’re not overly simplistic the way some academics tend to talk about such complex authors. I already saw myself as more of a Foucault guy but your characterization reaffirms this preference for me.
    I think I might not have ready any Gramsci. At most, I read a single article for a freshman course in CompLit. Not because I wasn’t interested but… Well, you know how these things go.

    Of course, I think we’re having several conversations at once. One about media and blogging, another about the workings of hegemony in current society, and another on mindless writing. Interesting connections between these topics.
    I like!

  13. Well, I’m no linguist, so this is starting to go over my head. However, I think I understand what you’re saying, Carldyke, with regard to the “stuff” that has no accountability or standards, as it contributes to, as you call it, the “general field of mushy ‘common sense’ and ‘consensus.’”

    I agree, as it pertains to regular folks like me who have a blog and post about various things for which we’re not necessarily expert, but we have opinions, no matter how mislead or poorly expressed. That stuff has some kind of validity because it comes from people’s hearts and minds, and by blogging it they are at least getting it out there as part of a shared experience.

    However, what I’m railing against is not even that, although I realize we’re swinging widely from the original topic. I’m against the phenomenon that a lot of people are not yet even aware of. The vomit, or logorrhea, or whatever, that I’m referring to is that which is done strictly for word count and low-wage commerce. Text that really has no other intention than filling a word count so as to attract ads. Yes, there are companies out there who pay “writers” to fill pages so they can get ad revenue.

    I encountered this a few months ago when I was researching something and I found an article on the topic, but it was terrible. So I started digging, and I found the same article reproduced in several different places, and then I found an index of the “author’s” articles, and there were dozens of them. All crap.

    I’m not talking about writing that is badly done but has good intentions. I’m talking about writing done by some guy sitting in a room in Bangalore who knows he can pay the rent this month if he spits out 30 pages of text with the appropriate keywords. He’s using a fake name, he’s plagiarizing and/or simply making things up, he has no investment in his reputation or in the words he writes.

    It’s not unlike those companies that take blog posts from RSS feeds and create new phoney blogs out of them. They start with “Blork wrote an interesting post about [automatically insert blog heading]. Here’s an excerpt: [insert first ten lines from post].

    That phoney post isn’t exerpting me because they see value in what I wrote. No human from that blog even read it; it’s an automated process to “borrow” excerpts in order to steal Google views and therefore get ad revenue.

    OK, enough. I’m ranting now!

  14. Rant away, Blork. It’s interesting.
    I’ve had a few posts appropriated on phoney blogs, myself. I keep wondering why they select some over others. I mean, I know it’s based on keywords but the algorithm must be more complex than that. Maybe the secret SEO formula is what gives them an advantage. Because of the way WordPress.com archives tags and categories, our blogs tend to get good PageRank.
    As for the word-count writer… It’s not meant in disrespect for individuals but I must say that, in my perspective, there’s a certain level of continuity between the pseudonymous writer you describe and some people working at commercial publications. Sure, the difference is quite easy to perceive. But it seems to me to be less about nature than about “intensity.” After all, some newspapers have strict requirements on word length and they still tend to rely on advertisement to a very large extent. Furthermore, if those texts you describe are human-readable (as in, they make the least bit of sense), I might go as far as to say that what this pseudonymous writer has a skill which could be put to better use.
    Now, it’s not that I don’t know what you mean. I do. I’ve seen articles like these and I consider them to be noise. Or spam. Or linkfarms. But it’s possible that they may remain because they “work” in the current context. IOW, if search engines give them a high ranking (which is what you seem to have noticed) and if casual readers continue clicking on these links, chances are that the problem will remain for a while.
    I know it sounds too easy but my honest opinion is that critical thinking is the key. Including some form of media literacy. And what people call “education.” Not to mention conversation. If we all talk about this type of spamming to large enough a number of people, chances are that the spamming’s effectiveness will decrease. I’m sure the same happens with other forms of “noise” online (including phishing and other scams).

  15. Yes, I see now. Thanks very much for that clarification, Blork.

    Of course you’re right there and I’ll join in that rant. I think what I’m saying still fits too.

    In order to get their text, these guys basically have to plagiarize, excerpt, link, and make things up. As a result, what they write is comprised of bits and pieces of easily-available and stylistically unremarkable commonplaces sort of jumbled together willy-nilly. Am I understanding correctly?

    So what we’ve got here, to use a metaphor, is a fossil field. A clever archaeologist would dig that up and go nuts with pleasure precisely because what she would find there is the basic bones and teeth and feathers of the common critters of that era. So she would get a really good sense of the general biological shape of that time.

    I’m thinking this junk we’re talking about works the same for culture. Because it’s got none of the highs and lows associated with individual creativity or depravity, which is what we object to about it, it does a great job of representing and reproducing the general cultural shape of our time – straight from the unconscious to the unconscious with no consciousness in between.


    (How’s that, AE?)

  16. I do like your fossil field analogy. In fact, archeologists being my colleagues, I see the connection rather clearly. And I see a type of reverse connection to folkloristics and other fields which seek to preserve items for posterity’s sake. There’s a kind of “high-brow”/”low-brow” distinction at stake. But it’s more about making decisions for future-proofing or counting on future scholars.
    A former student told me about a brassiere company (might have been Wonderbra) donating exemplars of all of its brassieres to a museum. Most archeologists would certainly be ecstatic at the thought of being able to analyze variations in brassiere design. But chances are that folklorists would laugh first before giving those brassieres serious consideration. And that few archivists are doing everything possible to “preserve” current brassiere designs. They’re so common that it seems silly to preserve them. Yet, you don’t even have to read Barthes’s The Fashion System to understand that these designs are really relevant in terms of cultural and social changes.
    Going back online. My guess is that the Internet Archive isn’t making a special effort to preserve the jigsaw texts by pseudonymous writers Blork is talking about. Google certainly caches them but those caches are too scattered to constitute a good time capsule. Besides, these caches do change over time.
    So, chances are that the future “Internet archeologists” will, at most, find traces of our rants about spammy blogs without finding the blog entries themselves. If we’re making decisions about how we want to present ourselves to future generations, we’re selecting away the fossils.
    In fact, the online world is pretty good at idealizing itself (and using anthropomorphic wording). Nothing wrong with that, it’s a form of idealism. But maybe we’re as inefficient as journalists at talking about our work.
    Ah, well…

    (As for the Web URL, you could put it in the URL field with your name. I can easily add them myself for your previous comments. And if you’re logged into your WordPress.com account, you should remained logged in when you comment on another WordPress.com blog.)

  17. Trying this. It didn’t give me the option when I was logged in.

    Anyhoo, right, the bones and bras of the ‘net will probably not show up in future from those jigsaw texts, which will die a quick electronic death. Their resonance and impact in the cultural unconscious of the present remains, however.

  18. Ah! You now have a real commenter identity! 😉
    Yes, the impact remains, but not the culprit. Should make for interesting puzzles these future archeologists we keep imagining will have to put through.

  19. I’m not figuring this out. When I’m logged in it seems to want to make me carldyke without option. (That’s my domain name, as enkerli is yours.) “Carl” is something I get to do if I’m not logged in.

    Sorry to use you for my hunt and peck experimenting.

  20. Right. It’s not giving me the url field when I’m logged in and it’s not linking to my site through the domain name. What am I missing? I’ll figure it out and I’ll stop bothering this site with it until I do.

  21. Not bothering me but I’m not sure what the issue is.
    The normal behavior is as in comment 17 here (“Carl” as a link to your WordPress.com blog).
    I’ll logout to see what happens.

  22. I think I got it.

    Please tell me if I get the blog link etiquette wrong. I too enjoy the ‘giftiness’ of these conversations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *