I don’t know exactly what determines when a new genre is born, and I don’t know if Web log writing is perceived as one, though I’m starting to think it should be. Doc Searles and others have been writing much about the uniqueness of Web log writing, and today he gives his thoughts on an essay on blogs by Camile Paglia. In a nutshell, she’s not impressed:
Most bloggers aren’t culture critics but political or media junkies preoccupied with pedestrian minutiae and a sophomoric “gotcha” mentality. I find it depressing and claustrophobic. The Web is a wide open space — voices on it should have energy and vision.
She also describes most blogs as being filled with “indigestible prose” and calls much of it “dreary meta-commentary.” I don’t totally disagree, but I also think she misses much of the point. First of all, good blogging (I still hate that word) requires good writing. It doesn’t matter how relevant or perceptive your thoughts are, they still need to be articulated in a clear and hopefully compelling way. That is the power of audience. If you can’t write it in a way that readers understand it and find interesting, you’re not going to have readers for very long. Now that doesn’t mean that all readers have the same high expectations that Paglia does, but it still means that there has to be a voice.
To me, that “blogging voice” is getting more and more distinctive. Some of its characteristics are obvious; it’s first person, it’s informal, and it’s opinionated. But there is more to it. There is a nuance to Web logging that I’m having trouble naming, but it’s an important difference from any of the defined genres we currently have, something that has to do with some heightened sense of dialoge. Donald Murray, who is one of my favorite writers who writes about writing, constantly refers to the craft as a conversation, that the writer must anticipate readers’ questions and reactions, and lead them to where they need to go. It goes back to that silent conversation that Tom McKenna articulated in that comment a couple of days ago. And the more I mull it over, the more I think that’s what separates this form from others.
I read lots of books and lots of essayists and lots of journalists, but I find something very unique about bloggers. I think because of the ease with which readers can enter the conversation, bloggers have to have an even higher awareness of what those readers might be thinking, and they have to write in ways that mimic synchronous conversation even though no one else is in the room. Bloggers know that at any moment, someone can jump in and, like Camile Paglia, say “What? Get real!” It is what sets this apart, and to me, it raises the bar somehow.
And that’s a good thing, especially from a teaching standpoint. Teaching students to write with the reader in mind is what it’s all about. Blogging demands that more than most other forms of writing, I think. It may just be time for Web Log Writing 101 (never “Blogging”) to show up in the program of study.