Thursday, March 19, 2009

Using the Moniker “Blogger”: A Case Study

Reversing the pattern of most reasoned arguments, I’ll give you all the punch line first: I’ve decided to abandon completely the use of the terms “blogger” and “blog” to the extent it is possible. This comes after a not-so-scientific study done while wandering around the Pulse show a few weeks ago in New York. Here’s a summary of the data collected.

In scenario one, I entered a booth, with my notebook and pen out, ready to take notes on the photography being shown. When asked by the booth staff what I was doing, I told them I was a photography collector. At this point, body language became welcoming, and smiles were exchanged. Polite offers to answer any questions I might have were put forth and some fawning occurred in several booths. Everyone was happy to have me take any pictures I might want to take. Many guestbooks were pointed out. One kind woman gave me the best excuse of all for my notebook (unprompted): I was “taking notes for my friends who couldn’t come to the show”.

In scenario two, I entered a booth, again with my notebook and pen out, ready to take notes on the photography being shown. When asked by the booth staff what I was doing, this time I answered that I was taking notes for my blog. At this point, body language universally became closed (arms crossed and frowning) and I could watch as the thoughts passed through their heads: “oh no, how do I get rid of this jackass from the Internet who is going to waste my time?” Mostly I was ignored from this point forward, and any questions I had were answered only grudgingly (and many didn’t at all like the idea of me taking pictures). Most looked relieved when I left.

I used both approaches enough times to prove (at least to myself) that there was some statistical significance to the differences I encountered. I do realize that term “collector” has a direct path to a sale while “blogger” does not, which is a meaningful difference in the two labels for a gallery owner. But I still wonder, what is it about the term “blogger” that seems to connote “unbalanced stalker”? Why can’t it mean highly professional journalist or critic, clearly worth respecting and reading? I’ve also found (less scientifically I’ll admit) that most people are happier when I call this destination a “site” rather than a “blog”. “Blog” seems to carry with it (for the broad population at least) an underlying sense that what will be found are the unhinged and useless rantings of a fool. “Site” as a piece of terminology seems to be an empty vessel, neither particularly positive or negative, but at least descriptive of the location where the writing is found and generally acceptable to all.

So while many of my fellow writers out there might take offense at these comments, try the test yourself on some random folks and see how they respond to the word “blogger”. My guess is that it won’t be pretty, unless they’re bloggers too. So from now on, and until the word “blogger” changes its stripes and has a positive connotation for hard hitting, useful journalism and commentary, please tell your friends about this “site” and I’ll either stick with being a "collector" or humbly call myself a “writer”.

UPDATE: Based on some of the insightful comments I've received via email and those below, I have some further ideas kicking around in my head surrounding the suitability of the blog as a vehicle for the kind of criticism/reporting we are doing here. Clearly, it is a format that has different "best use" parameters than most other mediums, a strange hybrid somewhere between a weekly magazine and Twitter. I'll likely come back to this idea in a week or two, after the hustle of the auctions and AIPAD has worn off.


Anonymous said...

A) the people who stereotype blogs and bloggers the way you've described are ignorant jackasses that deserve the worst kind of scorn and ridicule.

B) The terms blog and blogger are empty and pointless. As you said, you're a writer and collector with a website. So wouldn't it be safe to say that you're an editor? Or publisher? Columnist?

The term blog belongs to the days when people simply shared links. It's too bad it stuck around because it unfairly labels self-publishers, writers and editors with this amateurish stigma.

But as the newspapers have painfully found out, it's foolish to discredit dedicated, entrepreneurial self-publishers. The old guard will always attempt to use language to exclude and segregate their competitors in order to protect their status.

A similar stigma exist for people who use Flickr which is equally as foolish. It always amazes me that photographers would shun the largest community of photography enthusiasts on the web simply because they don't understand how to navigate the social ecosystem.

I tend to feel that the photography community is way behind the curve when it comes to social media and the internet in general.

Thanks for the post. I think you're right. Let's all ditch those fucking useless terms...

Anonymous said...

Many blogs do consist of fairly trivial diary-style observations, so
blogging is not generally seen as a constructive or critical endeavor. Many of the well-read blogs are written by provocateurs who generate audience through controversy.
This is unfair for those (like you) who publish great writing or information through the medium, but it does reflect a reality.

Anonymous said...

Part of the problem may lie within the word "blog" itself; to my ears it is an ugly word, like "fart".

Anonymous said...

To ignore the fact that we are now living in a Google world is to piss into the proverbial wind. People with iphones break global news stories complete with pictures from ferries in the Hudson. Many Blogs about art photography receive more visitors a month than most paper art publications. However the 'Art' world has nothing to gain from the democratisation of photography, it is not in there interest for more interesting collections of photography to exist on Flickr than within the walls of their esteemed galleries. It is just simple snobbery.

In my humble opinion.

Anonymous said...

You're absolutely right Nick, which is why the Art world uses language to marginalize the threat. It's really one of the oldest tricks in the book.

Ian Aleksander Adams said...

Don't worry guys, the mainstream media is just about done bashing blogs and is on to obsessing about tweets.

Blogs will just be another publication form soon enough. God knows there are plenty useless badly put together newspapers and magazines - most people know that it's just a matter of finding the good ones.

And any gallery that doesn't realize the power of positive reviews on the internet (here, AFC, a million online art mags, etc) is doomed to fail anyway.

gphoto said...

I love blogs. Don't give up on "blog". Is photography not art?

Sophia said...

I really like this article and have experienced the same reactions you describe here. I think part of the problem people have with the word "blogger" stems from the fact that anyone can start a blog, and some of them are simply for people's friends and family (translation to people looking for publicity/sales: not a large readership base). I wonder what the best ways are to change the general perception that blogs cannot be journalism. Thanks for the piece!
-Sophia Betz, proud photography blogger, Zoom In Online

Unknown said...

Great post. The problem with the term blogger is that is has become just too large with too many wonderfully complex interpretations that people cannot pin down a "bloggers" schtick.

Perhaps not snobbery - more likely confusion, laziness to inquire about the specifics of the blog, slight fear and misunderstanding.