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!
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 also follow him on his personal blog.