Blogger vs Writer
The word "blog" has a bad connotation, yet they are a huge chunk of the Internet. Forbes wrote "[In 2012] WordPress powers one of every 6 websites on the Internet, [...]" This doesn't include other platforms, such as Typepad, Livejournal, Blogger/Blogspot, Jekyll, Octopress, Joomla, and Drupal.platforms Even Twitter is considered a "microblogging service."
I've written before about how I'd like to be more of a "wannabe writer" than a "blogger." Let's compare what these terms actually mean.
This argument by Dokter Waldijk is the reason I add the "wannabe" in front of calling myself a writer.
This is another thing that annoys the shit out of me. The idea that you can only be a journalist if you have a university degree in journalism; therefore, if you have a university degree in journalism, you are a journalist.
Again, I am sorry, but this is wrong, in the same way that having a degree in English literature and creative writing does not make you an author.
It only shows that you fail at logical reasoning.
A better indication if someone is a journalist is their portfolio.
It is as if some bloggers suffer from some kind of weird cultural cringe. That they know they are good at what they do, but feel as if the title blogger is not good enough, so they try to increase their status by calling themselves reporters or journalists.
Similar to when some people call themselves writers, but have not published a single word — yet — except via a blog.
In simple terms, you are what you do professionally.
If you write for a newspaper, you are a journalist. If you maintain your own blog, you are a blogger.
I think there are some valid points here.
I went to school for engineering. A lot of my friends from college did the same. When we graduated, some of us went into engineering as a profession. Others became marketers, advertisers, and salespeople. Only the first group calls themselves "engineers."
If a friend in sales goes to the bar every day with prospective clients to get them drunk, butter them up, and sell them shit they don't need, I would probably be annoyed if that friend's business card read "engineer." If everyone calls themselves an engineer, then no one is an engineer. Maybe they can claim an "engineering background" to help their claim that they know the field of their product.
I believe this is analogous to writing. There is a common joke amongst writing websites that a "writer's" greatest pastime is to read about writing without actually writing themselves. Just as I'd be annoyed at a marketer claiming to be an engineer, a real writer would be annoyed at anyone who claims for years to be a writer without ever having published a word.
Would you claim to be a butcher if you never cut a piece of meat? Would you claim to be a carpenter before you ever put a saw to wood? Would you claim to be a pilot without ever having flown a plane? Why would you claim to be a writer without ever having written?
This was a fine distinction until the rise of the Internet, and I think Wordpress is partially to blame here, but the problem started before Wordpress. I'll get to that in a minute.
The great Grey Area(tm) between "writer" and "dude who only fantasizes about being a writer" is the blog.
The blog lowered the barrier to entry. Now, anyone with an Internet connection can publish something without anyone getting in the way! There are no editors, no publishers, and no printers.
There's that word again: "publish." I think that's where the problem started.
Picture this: You're at a bar, a party, or some other social gathering outside of work. Someone asks you, "What you you do?"
"I'm a writer," you respond.
"Oh! Cool. What have you written?" will always be the first reply to calling yourself a writer.
The term "writer," like "author," is synonymous with "novelist" when talking to non-writers. If someone is a different type of writer, they will use a more specific phrase, like "journalist" or "comic writer" or "screenwriter."
This is where I strongly agree with Dokter Waldijk. The type of writer you claim to be should be defined by your portfolio. If you wrote a novel, sure, call yourself a novelist. If you have never written anything but a blog, call yourself a blogger.
The Blogger Stigma
Warren Ellis said on a podcast, I think it was the Nerdist:
People who call themselves "bloggers" tend to write like one.
The word "blogger" comes with a certain stigma. In the aforementioned party, if you tell this person you are a writer and cite your Wordpress site as your only accomplishment, you will be met with an apprehensive look.
To most people, a blog isn't respectable writing. It's a hobby where you put words that no one will care about. Remeber the blogs of the past: GeoCities, MySpace, and LiveJournal. People laughed and called them drivel. The writers haven't changed; only the publishing platform has.
Only when someone makes a conscious choice to make their blog marketable do they elevate themselves to a professional. That in itself differentiates blogging from other types of creative work.
Why do we have to qualify professional bloggers with the word "professional?" It's the same reason hobbyist journalists are qualified with "amateur." It's different than the standard. Most bloggers are hobbyists in the same way that most journalists are professionals.
The word "blog" is associated with one of two stereotypes:
- "First post!" followed by two or three posts about the blogger's children and/or cats before becoming dormant forever
- Occasional ramblings that meander without actually having a purpose, followed by a request to donate to the author in some way e.g. a Paypal buttonsmug
This is why "blogger" became a dirty word. People have a preconceived notion of what a blog is, even if they read blogs where the opposite is true. Because the term has become so tainted, many professional bloggers have tried to adopt the term "writer" to describe what they do.
I think much of the reason bloggers call themselves writers is because of language, specifically one word: publish.
Every blogging platform and page builder as far back as GeoCities uses the same control for "show this to strangers on the Internet." A large button, differently colored from the others to make it stand out, is emblazoned with the word "Publish." That button is why the blog exists. No one starts a blog to "save as draft."
All writers write to be published. Yes, if you keep a diary, you are writing, but you are not claiming that you are a "writer" at a party. Blogging is stating that your diary is important enough that people should be reading about your life with every post. It's stating, "My thoughts are important!" on a larger scale.
The difference is that "published" used to mean something more that distribution. It meant that your thoughts were revised and copy-edited. Incomplete thoughts were held back until they were fully developed. Even the most sound mind would appear to be raving lunatic if "publish" is clicked too early. The editor ensured these thoughts were coherent and could be appreciated.
I think the language is what makes a lot of modern "writers" never actually write more than writing about writing. If Wordpress had labeled the button "Post" all those years ago, maybe aspiring writers would not think of themselves as published until they actually are. Maybe they'd respond at the party, "I'm a writer, but I haven't published anything yet," rather than, "I'm a writer. Check me out at unfiltered-incoherent-ramblings.wordpress.com."
What separates a magazine from a professional blog? Both have an editorial point of view. Both require effort and editing. The writers of both perform research. What makes one less professional than another?
I think the contributors of e.g. Men's Journal and Brett McKay of Art of Manliness are equally "writers," but McKay may be considered "just another blogger" because of his publishing platform. Would Dave Barry's columns have been discounted if they had first been on the Internet? Is Hunter S. Thompson more of a professional than Tim Urban of Wait But Why? odd
A year ago, I posted this on Twitter.
While sad, newspapers are going the way of the dodo. I'm just under 30, and I've never bought a newspaper. I've always had the Internet. AOL became huge in 1997. That's seventeen years that we've been able to read online, even if it was through an AOL Keyword.keyword
The Grey Area
Print on the Web - Online Newspapers
I love my paper media. I'd take a book over a Kindle any day, but I'm quickly being the minority. I, myself, have recently bought works on my Kindle app because I could not get them any other way. Ink on paper is no longer the only way to be "published" in the classical sense.
There exist online "newspapers" now, complete with writers. I would call Paul Miller of The Verge a "real" writer. I think his Offline series is excellent. He changed his life for an entire year in the name of journalism.
"Of course he's a columnist," you must be saying to yourself. "He writes for a newspaper. This article is really starting to go off on a tangent." I assure you, dear reader, I am not.
Once you are done reading all those tabs opened while browsing The Verge, pause for a second and look at its layout. Every author has a page. There are comments for every article. Articles are marked with tags or categories. The articles are listed in reverse chronological order. There is a header, footer, and sidebar. It's a blog!
"No, it's not. That's ridiculous!" you say, but it's true. While researching this, it bothered me that I couldn't recognize the platform The Verge is using. I found that not only is this "blog-like," they call it a blogging platform themselves. Specifically, it runs on their own platform called Chorus.
It shouldn't be surprising, though. If you ever read anything about becoming a "popular" blogger, under the fluff about social media there will always be an underlying theme: content is king. No one cares about your platform. Outside of distracting or confusing layouts, no one cares about your design, either. Readers go to a site to read.
This is one reason blogging platforms have become so ubiquitous. They are easy to set up, and your writers, your "content creators," don't have to deal with technical B.S. The writers at Serious Eats already have a job: write about food. They shouldn't be required to understand HTML and web server deployment to do that, just as writers of the past didn't have to run their own printing press.
Over time, most of the Internet took on the same general appearance. It's almost bad to break that mold now; readers are expecting sites they've never visited before to be that way.
Ignoring money, the only real difference between professional blogs and online newspapers is staff. Professional blogs tend to be run by one person or a small group of friends. Online newspapers have multiple writers, editors, advertisers, and IT people.
If Jenny Lawson of The Bloggess or Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half had started out at an online newspaper rather than their own sites, they'd be labeled as humor columnists rather than bloggers.
Web in Print
"That's all well and good," you say, "but blogs and columns are not novels. You said that people assume 'writer' means 'novelist.'"
You've caught me again, dear reader, but what is a novel? Wait! Don't abandon me yet. I'm going somewhere with this.
I think we can all agree that by whatever definition we believe "writer" to have, Stephen King fits it. King has published over 6.5 times as many short stories as he has published books.king What if we take some of the longer blog posts and publish them as a collection of short stories? _The Internet is a Playground by David Thorne and Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh are two such books.
Not all blogs are autobiographical. There are also hundreds, maybe thousands, of flash fiction blogs alone. Even if these bloggers/writers are not printed, they can easily submit their collections for self-publication in either print or eBook.
I don't think your title should be defined by success. Many painters are unsuccessful in life, their works' value increasing in death. That does not make each of these individuals any less of an artist. I believe the same about writing.
What defines if you are a writer is your intent to publish work that you have written. Bloggers are a subset of writers. Sure, there are a lot of "bad" blogs just as there are as many "bad" books. There is no accounting for taste in art; everyone likes what they like. Just because you don't think their work is worth reading doesn't mean the writer is any less of a writer. You don't have to like or respect them, but they are eligible for the title of "writer."
I don't think there is anything wrong with calling yourself a writer, independent columnist, etc. if you hold yourself to the same standard as a professional only because that is what people expect. If you write poetry for the world to see, you're a poet, a type of writer. There's an audience for that. If you write journalism, you're a journalist, a type of writer. There's an audience for that. If you write quick blurbs about your family and/or your cats, you're a blogger, a type of writer. There's an audience for that.
Nevertheless, the connotation of blogger is still there. It's almost a dirtier word than "erotica writer." I don't think that will ever go away. When you publish, if your target audience is someone who is looking for a blog, then you're a blogger. There's no problem with that. If you are looking for a different audience, "columnist," "essayist," "flash fiction author," or plain old "writer" are perfectly viable titles, and no one should say differently as long as you're writing.
platforms While some of these are also used for company/open source project announcements, I will argue that they are primarily used for blogs. "Company blogs" are still blogs.
smug I can only feel smug because I lack the Paypal button.
odd Read Urban's Odd Things in Odd Places series for a more 1-to-1 comparison of Gonzo journalism, where the reporter is also part of the story. Urban doesn't exaggerate like Thompson, but he's not on acid in the 70's, either.
keyword "AOL Keywords" were like URLs for AOL members. AOL, like many services of the time, had a "walled garden," meaning people spent all their time in the AOL application. Many people didn't even know what a web browser was or how to use it. Yahoo was still primitive, and Google didn't even exist at all. Look at commercials from 1997, and you'll see many end mentioning an AOL Keyword rather than a website.
king "Stephen King is the author of 60 books, as well as nearly 400 short stories, [...]"
- What Ails the Short Story by Stephen King via The New York Times