Last week, science writer Jonah Lehrer was caught self-plagiarizing. He recycled his own material from older blog posts on other sites to his current blog for The New Yorker. He has since resigned from his position as staff writer. Reading up on some of the articles surrounding Lehrer’s situation, some writers have chosen to focus on the functions that blogs provide.
“The problem with Jonah Lehrer, like the problem with Zach Kouwe, is not that he was humbled by the insatiable demands of Blog. Instead, it’s that he made a category error, and tried to use a regular blog as a vehicle for the kind of writing that should not be done in blog format. Lehrer shouldn’t shut down Frontal Cortex; he should simply change it to become a real blog. And if he does that, he’s likely to find that blogs in fact are wonderful tools for generating ideas, rather than being places where your precious store of ideas gets used up in record-quick time.”
Blogs, since they are quickly made for even quicker consumption, are better for chit chat, while books and other formats are better for discussions. Quality is still required on all sides, but the spirit of discourse varies. Also from Salmon, in the same article:
“The art of blogging is basically the art of glossing the news: finding something out there on the internet, and then saying something interesting about it… blogging is not at heart about delivering new information, so much as it is about finding and linking and connecting and conversing.”
How much do you agree with this? I assume this is in the context of news blogs as opposed to personal blogs, but then that raises a question: do we need to start creating official genres for blogs? Is it confusing, if not somewhat dangerous, to call all blogs simply blogs? Does a reader perusing a Reuters blog need to read theirs in a different context than reading mine? The need for categorical separation arises in its own time and maybe now is the time for blogs to receive that treatment. Not only would it ease confusion, it would legitimize the industry more.
“A blog is merciless, requiring constant bursts of insight.”
I think this is very true. I try to blog twice a week and have only been doing so for a couple of months, but I am already struggling to keep up. Perhaps I am applying too many “ideas” to blog posts versus concentrating on sharing. I will admit that formulating the posts can be difficult in that I am trying to say a lot with a little. I prefer to keep posts short, but the ideas I tend to introduce require more parsing and investigating. However, can I not argue that as a blog, readers can assume that my posts are meant to generate thoughts and conversations and should not be regarded as a legitimate source? This is a hobby and I am no expert. Or is using blogging as an excuse not to be thorough just a cop out?
On a separate but related note, here is a reader’s comment regarding Salmon’s article:
“Journalism is insisting on professional behavior in an inherently unprofessional environment journalism itself created: the unpaid writer, the unpaid blogger, the unpaid columnist, the unpaid HuffPo contributor, and so forth.”
Blogs are meant to be casual reading, and while that should not negate ethical practices surrounding news blogs, it brings to light that many blogs are Op-Ed type pieces and answer to a different set of guidelines. Add to that the number of writers who are unpaid for their contributions, then understandably, there is a bit of “you get what you pay for”, as the same commentor mentions later on. Lehrer did get paid for his blog posts, but a lot of other writers don’t. I do not know much about the industry to say anything more than that this was interesting and something to keep in mind.
So have we decided what blogging is yet or do we already have a firm grasp? Does it matter?
(Hat tip to this blog post that was Freshly Pressed and which sparked this post.)
 Photo by me at the Smoky Mountains.