Notes on the Atrocities Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...
Tuesday, May 27, 2003
The Prose of the Web Log
Blogs are a written medium--informal, chatty, personal--but written prose nevertheless. As such, one might ask the question (and indeed I am): are they good prose? Or specifically: are blogs a distinct medium, and if so, how do we define “good” and “bad” blogs?
To the first part of the question--are blogs a distinct medium?--I think the answer is yes. Blogs are neither pure diary nor journalism--they occupy a space in between. Like diaries, they’re informal, personal, and conversational. But because information is now so immediate and accessible, blogs are more immediate and less reflective than diaries. And they form a public forum of opinion about events as they unfold, placing them in context (personal, ideological) that news avoids.
As to defining “good” and “bad” blogs--this is a more interesting question. So much of the information we receive has the appearance of neutrality (“objectivity” being an artifact of modernism) , but exists for the purpose of selling. Whether it’s direct commercial speech, or speech presented as the hook to sell ad space or commercials, the consumer is always aware of the actual motivation behind the words. (We’ve come a very long ways from the kind of scare the broadcast of “War of the Worlds” created. One imagines that if Dan Rather reported that Chinese bombs were aloft over Washington, we’d tune in CNN for confirmation.)
But blogs, due to their unvarnished personal nature, have the ring of authenticity. There’s no hidden agenda--rather the agenda is presented as part of the analysis. It takes no more than a sentence or two to recognize the political stance of a blogger. Thus the discussion takes place in that context, which also has a refreshing authenticity.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that the quality of writing is unimportant. Far from it. The main reason people read blogs (rather than just writing them, like with poetry) is because they offer something we don’t find elsewhere. I think blog readers have all had the experience of encountering an issue discussed with such freshness, candor, and clarity that we’ve thought “Wow, I’ve never read anything like this before.” Chatty, colloquial language seems to be a greater or lesser part of blog prose, but this doesn’t excuse sloppy or incoherent writing.
To me, blogs are akin to the old pamphlets during revolutionary times--individual, free-thinking, unvarnished, and pointed--with the added advantage of immediacy. When I read a blog, I like to be charmed both by the language and the content. If this involves playing with grammar, great--as long as it’s done to reveal rather than conceal.
In the following blog, I’ll take a look at some samples of the kind of blogging I enjoy and try to break down the prose characteristics.