Since When Are Bloggers Not Writers?

I’m a fan of Rebecca Thorman, career/lifestyle blogger and PR pro for start-up Alice.com.  Her thoughts are usually spot on.  However her post last week: bloggers are not writers, gets enough wrong it’s worth dissecting.

Even if you don’t read the rest of this post, consider her point is inherently flawed since to blog, you need to write.  The quality of any writing isn’t the point here.  It’s no different than if the typewriter were just invented and someone proclaimed typists were not writers.  Tools or platforms have nothing to do with product.  Past formats – purely from a content perspective – are no more or less valid than current (or future) and vice-versa.

Let’s go through her points:

There are exceptions, okay. But very few bloggers can actually write. Bloggers pander to a crowd trying to satisfy the hive mind. Blogging is entertainment. Many bloggers are good at marketing, building community, relationships, and especially aggrandizing self-promotion, but not writing.

Bloggers do all of those things, sure, but any form of written word can in a sense do them as well.  There is not a single valid point in this graph, it’s just subjectivity.

But for bloggers, that is their mission; to create 500-word packages, bold-faced and headlined, read and digested in two minutes or less, bursting with lackadaisical opinion and junk epithets.

That last bit actually describes the first quote, doesn’t it?

“Blogging is not writing,” the author of You Are Not a Gadget Jaron Lanier agrees. “It’s easy to be loved as a blogger. All you have to do is play to the crowd.

Here, Rebecca quotes another author saying essentially the same thing: “blogging isn’t writing.”  The author invalidates himself right there.  Blogging is a blank slate – you could use it to play to the crowd, you could have a unique voice, you could use it for any type of writing.  It is arrogant of those creating content in one form of media to speak negatively about the content in another.  I frequently say traditional media is inferior when compared to their digital counterparts, but I’m talking purely from a technology perspective.  I don’t speak on something as subjective as the quality of the content within that platform.  Why?  You can’t – subjectivity is not a valid argument and content has nothing to do with what format it’s published in.

What I think of as real writing, however, writing meant to last, is something else. It involves articulating a perspective that is not just reactive to yesterday’s moves in a conversation.”

So, are things like opinion editorials not writing?  That’s essentially what this is saying.  Also, as a non-fiction reader I frequently read authors quoting other authors, building upon yesterday’s conversations or topics.  This is no different than blogging, it’s just not instant.

Blogging is in its essence, not about originality, but about the aggregation, recycling and digesting of ideas.

Blogging is, in essence, nothing.  It’s as much or as little as a blank piece of paper.  About the aggregation/recycling bit, you could say the same thing above about most music produced by popular record labels.  And yeah, we could say it’s cheesy and it sucks, but we can’t discount the fact that it is music some people enjoy.

“The basic idea of this contract,” Lanier argues, “is that authors, journalists, musicians and artists are encouraged to treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given without pay to the hive mind. Reciprocity takes the form of self-promotion. Culture is to become precisely nothing but advertising.”

And this is a great thing!  As an artist, the web has enabled my music to reach tens of thousands of people I would never have been able to reach otherwise.  I wouldn’t be nearly as motivated as an artist if I didn’t have the web as a distribution mechanism to get feedback, work with other artists and connect with fans.

As Lawrence Lessig outlines in Free Culture, we are giving rise once again to a creative class where everyone is an artist, a writer, a remixer, and contributor.  We are all innately creative, and we’re rediscovering that once again.  Art and writing (as just two examples) are not something to sit on untouchable pedestals.  Whereas before we were all passive and merely sat and watched others, now we are starting to contribute too.

About the “culture is advertising” bit:  in a society with infinite choices where everything and everyone is connected all content is advertising (and all advertising is content).  It’s all promoting something, whether intentional or not.  You can ignore this, or you can make it work for you.

In an age where anyone can be famous with the push of “Publish,” we have lost the creation of enduring legacies that enthuse, provoke and delight.

So only a select few should have a voice?  Discretion of what ideas are heard should be held by select publishing houses and media groups?  Why not throw us back 20 years instead.  What this is, is a previous generation upset their monopoly on attention is waning.  Rebecca is defending this notion, however it’s the wrong side of the battle.  A quote from Brian Solis not only refutes this, but highlights the benefits of the statement:

Evolution is evolution – and it’s happened before us and will continue after we’re gone. But, what’s taking place now is much more than change for the sake of change. The socialization of content creation, consumption and participation, is hastening the metamorphosis that transforms everyday people into participants of a powerful and valuable media literate society.

And, looking back at our past and the irrational behavior of society we’ve (only started to) rise from, which society would you rather be a part of?

Blogging is entertainment. Maybe it didn’t use to be. Maybe when bloggers were first getting started, it was about thought and connection. But increasingly, it bows to the “appeal of a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise.”

Most books are entertainment.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  In fact, entertainment can be a powerful technique at teaching.  Did you watch Randy Pausch’s last lecture?  If you didn’t, go watch it now, we’ll wait (seriously).  In it, he used the idea of “the headfake” to get his point across.  He was entertaining us to teach us, and everyone who watched that lecture was not just moved emotionally, but they internalized the lesson.  Entertainment, humor, even snark are shortcuts to teaching us ideas that stick by taking the low road through our reptilian brains, bypassing our logic circuits.  Why do you think Jon Stewart is frequently cited as the most trusted newsman?

Writing is something more. And it is in the reading of such writing that enduring ideas, observations and philosophies satiate what we spend hours a day trying to glean from skimming any number of blog posts.

Oh please.  I’ve read equally as many books, newspaper articles or magazines that left me thirsting for more as I have blogs.  Medium does not dictate quality.  If you read content by anyone that does not provoke ideas, inspiration or emotion you’ve only yourself to blame for lack of research.

There is nothing wrong with blogging. But let’s give credit where it’s due – to the true writers, journalists, novelists, reporters, columnists, and others who inspire us to boil their ideas down in an effort to hold onto them just a little longer.

So, bloggers are not “true writers?”  But suddenly if we print our words they magically transform into something worthy?  I fail to understand this logic.