An attempt to define blogging as a genre

Having asked previously “Can you define blogging without mentioning technology?” here is my attempt to do just that for a book chapter on blogging and journalism. Am I right? Have I missed something? Would love your comments on this short excerpt:

Blogging, above all else, is conversational. It is social. It is networked. There are two key features to the blog: links, and comments. Fail to include either, and you’re talking to yourself.

Blogging is also incomplete, open, and ongoing. It is about process, not product. It is about a shared space.

Only republishing print articles or broadcast journalism on a blog, for example, is not using the medium in any meaningful way – a process derisively called ‘shovelware’. Instead, a more useful approach is to blog about an idea for an article, then blog a draft version, asking for readers’ input – and responding to it – at both stages. The published or broadcast version can also be posted on the blog later, as the latest stage in its production, but again with an invitation for updates and corrections. You might publish the ‘uncut’ version, too.

In short, the story is never finished.

And blogging is personal and informal – often difficult for journalists who have been trained for years to be objective and removed from their stories. This personal quality has a number of strengths: it allows you to make a closer connection with readers, which in turn often helps build your understanding of the issues that matter to them. It allows you to be more transparent about the news production process, building trust and news literacy. And it allows you a space for reflection, if you choose to use it.

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29 thoughts on “An attempt to define blogging as a genre

  1. ourman

    I think you are entirely confusing blogging and "good blogging". Blogging is when you write on a blog – that is all. Writing on Twitter, Facebook etc etc is not blogging. The beauty of the blog is that people should not tell us what we should blog or how we should blog. Fair enough commerical bloggers should be advised and also people who chase stats will want to learn but you can blog about just about anything. The best comparison I have ever made still stands firms. Blogs are punk rock. They tear it all down and they rewrite the rules. They are low tech and everyone can do it. They are not expensive so have fewer financial constraints. They don't owe anybody so they can say what they like. People can scan a photo of their arse and stick it up there. They can include no links, they can disable the comment boxes. If it is on a blog then it is still blogging. To repeat, for me you are talking about good blogging – or more specifically a method of blogging that will most likely engage and pay dividends for bloggers with ambitions. When blogs first came around they were subversive. I still write using the ourman title because that's what people did. It was't about using your blog to network and making your name known and it certainly wasn't about making money (or at least that is how it felt). People wrote about their bosses, the Iraq war, their sex lives etc. This redefining of blogging comes with the movement towards trying to find monetary reward for our blogging efforts. People tell us to do the conversation thing (and I try to because I enjoy it). But blogs are for people to do with them as they see fit. They are a blank page that can be filled without technical knowledge. And at the end of the day the people who don't follow the rules and find new ways to use blogs – they may well be the blog stars of tomorrow. Who is going to tell them that what they do is not really blogging. Hope that didn't sound too much of a rant.

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  2. Charlotte Carey

    I like it – your post that is. I've been thinking about this myself. More from an academic perspective but my blog offers some much needed informaility for me. Not 100% sure about the need for audience and comments. They are probably characteristics of a successful blog? Is this definition of blogging from a journalistic perspective?

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  3. Paul Bradshaw

    Wonderful, thanks. Bear in mind this is for a book about online journalism, aimed at aspiring or existing journalists, so it is not about the whole of blogging, but as you say, 'good blogging'. That said, I also worry about the prescriptive nature of what I'm saying, and will make sure I emphasise that this is also a space for experimentation, and there are no defining rules.

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  4. Paul Bradshaw

    This is from a journo perspective (see comment above), although I didn't mention needing an audience and don't believe that's a key feature!

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  5. Paul Groves

    I like and agree with your definition, but also found myself in full agreement with ourman. My blog was (and still is) a way of recreating the major feature of my last full-time newspaper features role which pushed the most buttons. I was writing articles every day about any subject I wanted and when I left to go freelance I missed that ready-made and always available outlet the newspaper had provided. Blogging was the perfect way to fill the void. The audience wasn't a factor, regularly exercising my index fingers on a keyboard and getting stuff out of my head onto the screen was all-important. It still is, although it has also become a way of networking, identifying possible work opportunities and learn new lessons about the way journalism is changing. At the end of the day I blog because I can and if I didn't I would have mountains of notebooks or computer files full of inane ramblings – which I do have anyway.

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  6. Daniel Bennett

    Paul, I agree with you on genre – has a good grounding in recent literature too. (Wall, Herring et al, Miller and Shepherd to name a few). But this seems to be an ideal journalistic genre you've defined here and not blogging in general which I think is far more wide ranging. A few things I am thinking about: I think a first key feature of a blog would be saying something first – in order to link to something and have something for other people to comment on. In addition, I've read blogs that never link and never comment but are very successful because the content of the blog is just a darn good read. A blog is clearly in some ways a shared space. But it's not an equally shared space in most cases (if at all?). It seems that many individual bloggers see their blogs as extensions of themselves. The space is their space. They decide what to write and they keep control of what appears. They may invite comments but will quickly get defensive about what appears. (I wouldn't let people write a racist comment on my blog because that space is associated with me and therefore not something I would want to be there). I think this has implications for news organisations/journalists blogging too and sets up the debate about comment moderation. Some blogs are more of a shared space than others but I think it's different from a wiki in this respect. I would say the process creates a product rather than implicating that they are opposites. Just reading Ourman's comment…I think he makes an important point. Blogging sits in a rapidly evolving, global, networked space – defining blogging is something of a mug's game. Read the 2004 research definitions and you think – wow, things have changed! Then again, you can still say that they are talking about the same things that we are talking about even if they have evolved. Blogging is not anything, it's something that has a name and is a recognisable part of online communication culture that has some common features and structures. That's why it's a genre.

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  7. Paul Bradshaw

    True – the passage before this charts how blogging has changed, a warning if ever there was one that it's difficult to pin down.

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  8. Neil

    Paul – you have a problem here because there is a deficit in our language. You want a definition of a blog that does not refer to technology. That's a good aim. But consider this: sticking with the old print media world, we have one word for the technology platform (e.g. paper) and another for the product that uses the technology (e.g. book, magazine, newspaper). With blogging, however, we have the same word for both: the technology platform is called a blog, as is the output. We even derive the related verb from the same word: blogging. Perhaps we are asking one word to do too much? Let "blog", like "paper", be a technologically defined term and coin a different phrase – or phrases – to describe blogs by their content, purpose etc. It is unreasonable for you to describe the kind of blog your definition relates to as a "good blog", leaving those that don't fit that definition as "bad". Problogger seems to be gaining currency, so you could define a Problog, or better still a Journoblog. Or maybe they are crappy suggestions! But you get the point? Anyway, must dash – I'm supposed to be interviewing someone.

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  9. Neil

    Paul – when your book on Journoblogging tops the NYT bestseller lists, I'll let you know where to post my cheque! @Daniel – there's some interesting academic work to be done exploring the views of people who both blog and tweet (and perhaps use Facebook etc). How do they conceive of these different spaces? Do they behave differently in each? Do they apply different conceptions of privacy, even though all are essentially public? etc, etc

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  10. Dilyan

    Just this morning I moaned that blog-post quality often suffered due to there being no editors in blogging. Then I thought about it and came to the conclusion that, in an ideal world, a blog's commenters will be its editors. Just hours after that thought occurred to me, it was confirmed by someone alerting me about an error in one of my posts via a comment. This is to say I completely agree that "Blogging, above all else, is conversational." Also, in my view, its two key features are comments and links (in that order).

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  12. Neil McIntosh

    Paul – a really interesting post which I've replied to, at some length, on my blog (where else?) <a href="http://www.completetosh.com/weblog/2008/11/13/all…” target=”_blank”><a href="http://www.completetosh.com/weblog/2008/…” target=”_blank”>http://www.completetosh.com/weblog/2008/11/13/all… In brief: I think demanding comments takes it too far, although links are important (but still not necessary). I think blogging now heavily influences the way in which stuff is written, which makes defining blogs in strict terms rather troublesome.

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  18. Maria Magkou

    Your post just helped me make a decision- to press or not to press- because my post was not so perfect and mature. I am also exploring the genre of blogging and started a post just moments ago. I find that blogging is distinct from any other genres because of the flexibility it has and the purpose is to reach a community and share ideas. When first published it doesn’t need to be perfect and becomes develops as ideas are shared by others. Thanks!

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