Social Enterprise

Why columnists often write awful blogs (like this one)

Not that I consider myself a "real" columnist—I only use the term

because it's the easiest for people who know nothing about online

content or Web development to grasp when they ask what I do for a

living—but my secretly drafted Jedi Master John Scalzi (himself a real

columnist) laid out the differences between writing a classic print

column and maintaining a popular and successful blog. His excellent Whatever

blog, the best of which is being collected into book form, differs

wildly from his column work in the following ways:

"As I'm sure most of you

are aware, I originally started writing the Whatever to stay sharp in

the column-writing format for a newspaper, because I'd written a

newspaper column before and hoped to again. And even when [my editor] and I

were first discussing this book, the 'book of newspaper columns'

metaphor was the one we used to wrap our brains around it. Be that as

it may, it's pretty clear that whatever intent I had in starting the

Whatever, it outgrew that intent pretty quickly. The Whatever couldn't

be a newspaper column, and especially not a newspaper column today.

Newspaper columns are 800 words on a specific topic. The Whatever is

800 words, or 2000, or 350, or 60, on any

topic. Newspaper columns are not particularly personal; The Whatever is

(within certain limits) and I strongly suspect has to be. Newspaper

columns are mediated; the Whatever isn't. Newspaper columns can't allow

immediate reader response; the Whatever can."

The above is why I think conventional media doesn't "get" blogs,

especially since the above conditions would scare the bejezus out of

any old-school print editor (especially the "unmediated" bit), and are

actually rather intimidating for people trained to write in print

format. In blogs, you're working without a net, it's all on you, and

the classic boundaries—which often help shape a piece as much as they

hinder it—are almost entirely missing. If you can do anything, where

do you start? It also explains why so many blogs sputter and fail—it

actually requires both commitment and talent to make a blog work. Thank

the gods I have my new Linux gimmick to fall back on!

About Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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