Robert MacMillan Responds: “What Isn’t A Blog Nowadays?”

[BACKGROUND: Yesterday, Robert MacMillan’s Random Access column in the Washington Post covered the sordid tale of Michael Gee, an ex-Boston Herald writer who taught exactly one day of a class at Boston University, following it up by posting his drooling analysis of the “hot bod” of one his female students. Gee’s post was on this message board, but MacMillan reported Gee had posted it to “a blog.” In this post, I took issue with MacMillan’s choice of words, although I agree that Gee is a jerk in any format.]

I wrote to Robert MacMillan at the Washington Post last night, and he’s been quick to reply. Thanks for the conversation, Robert: I find it pretty impressive that I can shoot off an email via a general Comments/Questions pop-up window on the WaPo web site and get real answers from the writer the next morning.

Excerpts from Robert’s reply:

“The site is definitely a forum where people post things and other people post responses. I have read and participated in such forums since, I guess, 1991 or so when I first went online. On the other hand, it seems to me that lots of forums, blogs, opinion sites and similar places for commentary on the Web seem to have less and less distinction from one another over time. Some people say what I do is a blog though I strenuously insist that it’s a column. But — I see what they mean. I guess the big question is, what isn’t a blog nowadays?…it does seem like the terms are applied somewhat arbitrarily, not because we’re being careless but because the distinctions are vanishing.”

Parts of my answer to the question “What isn’t a blog nowadays”:

…there’s the personal nature of a blog. Sure, there are plenty of blogs written by groups, but more often a blog is a personal publishing space. Writing that Gee posted his thoughts on “his blog” (which you didn’t) would have implied, in my opinion, that he regularly posted his personal thoughts on his own blog.

By writing that he posted to “a blog” you worked around that. However, you still stamped him with the stigma of “blogger” as opposed to “guy spouting off on a message board.” If he had said these things in a chat room on AOL, wouldn’t there be a different stigma attached? Different media come with different baggage: do you write for a daily newspaper or an alternative weekly? There’s a difference, right?

Robert’s conclusion regarding the difference between a forum and a blog:

“…I maintain that for the readers, one is as good as another, especially as the meanings of these terms undergo a constant metamorphosis, regardless of how people define these ever-evolving platforms.”

Check out his column at WashingtonPost.com tomorrow to see if this story pops up again – he says it will might. (It didn’t. Apparently these people at newspapers have something called an Editor yesterday was a big news day or something.)

For the record, let me just reassert my theory that it is equally possible to say stupid things using any communication medium.

BUT – Different media put different stereotypes into the heads of one’s readers.

For example, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when a journalist quotes something someone said in an “Internet chat room”? How about something someone wrote “In a paper published in an academic journal”? What about something they once wrote “in a post to a BBS in 1989”? Try “an editorial in the San Jose Mercury News”?

The amount of credibility a reader invests in a piece of information differs based on the source. This isn’t a new idea.

I think it’s a detail worth getting right, how about you?

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[tags]michael gee, robert macmillan, MacMillan, WaPo, Wasington Post, education, blogs, journalism, media[/tags]

2 Replies to “Robert MacMillan Responds: “What Isn’t A Blog Nowadays?””

  1. He he, you’ve got to relax, dude. You found a good point, but you come off as unprofessional when you start bagging when a follow up to your correction isn’t ‘printed’ in the washington post fast enough for you.
    By the way, I think it’s *more* acceptable for someone to mouth off in a Blog, and NOT a message board, because a Blog is their personal space, displyed to the world/who’s interested; as opposed to a message board which is meant to be a more generalsharing and discussion of ideas. You yourself writes things in your blog that would sound pompus and pathetic and self-absorbed on a message board. 🙂

  2. Hi Es –

    The context in which I heard about Gee’s postings and read MacMillan’s article was one of “Blogs in Education”.

    I read it on the blog of a then-SJSU professor who was concerned about the implications of Gee’s actions.

    If you’re familiar at all with any of the current rhetoric getting bounced around on “blogs in education” then you know there are some folks who will happily cry out “See! No profblogging aloud, because they might talk about their students’ bodies!”

    But a posting on a message board for journalists is far different from writing something on your personal blog, especially if you’re an educator.

    So that’s the context.

    If I write “things in my blog that would sound pompous and pathetic and self-absorbed on a message board,” as you say, then perhaps you’re reading different message boards. I’m certain I sound pompous, pathetic, and self-absorbed everywhere. If I didn’t want to read my own writing, I wouldn’t write.

    I assume you saw this already, but just in case,
    here’s MacMillan admitting to the factual error and asking what difference it makes.

    Here’s Dan Gillmor’s point of view.

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