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Teaching Online Journalism

How to do blogging right

I found myself repeating the sentence “Blogs are a conversation” several times in different sessions at BlogOrlando on Friday. I didn’t originate that idea — far from it! But it seemed like a lot of people, or more than a few, didn’t fully understand what that means.

Common questions were:

The answers: Yes, yes, and yes!

I did a Google search to see whether anyone had already summed this all up neatly. Turns out that Amy Gahran listed 10 Reasons Why Blogs Are an Awkward Conversation Tool, to which Jack Vinson responded:

I generally agree with Amy’s thoughts on the awkwardness of blogs for conversation. It is difficult to “see” the flow of a conversation as it flows from blogger to blogger to email to comments and trackbacks.

From my perspective, my blogging serves to add my voice to a larger conversation around topics of interest to me. I also participate on some topic-specific forums, and conferences and many other environments where conversations can happen. Maybe blogs are better at capturing the flow of an idea, rather than a thread of conversation.

I liked both Gahran’s list and Vinson’s response for these reasons:

Gahran covers all the objections people make when they first hear “Blogs are a conversation.” Of course it doesn’t mean blogs are exactly like a typical face-to-face conversation between two people sitting in a room together. Gahran lists all the ways that a bunch of text scattered across multiple Web domains fails to do what a face-to-face conversation can do so easily.

Vinson elaborates on why the word “conversation” seems so appropriate (to many of us) when we talk about how blogs function and what they are good at doing. The flows from blog to blog, and the interactions of comments and trackbacks and other links, differentiate the contents of blogs from the contents of traditional one-way media, such as newspapers.

One of the most important things for a new blogger to recognize, I think, is that the conversation includes many blogs — not just your own blog.

Maybe we should say “Blogs are more like a conversation (than they are like other text-based media)” — but that is rather clumsy.

Lorelle VanFossen wrote that too much completeness in a blog post or comment can kill the conversation. (I’m probably guilty of doing that!)

Andrew Olson wrote a think piece on the idea of blogs as conversation:

Traditionally the great conversation means to talk about subjects that will be debated for thousands of years, things like religion, education, justice, virtue, etc., but in relation to blogging it’s a little different. The Great (Blogging) Conversation has more to do with unique and powerful opinions on timeless themes that YOUR audience is interested in.

Olson smartly draws the distinction between fake conversations (pandering) and the honest effort to communicate:

It’s worth pointing [out], though, don’t hit the other extreme of just talking about anything that’s popular, there’s a very distinct difference between this model and link-baiting. You don’t just sell out and talk about how great Mahalo is because you know Jason Calacanis will link to you from his Twitter — the key is to be extremely honest in what you do and only discuss the great conversations that you personally have knowledge in and that your audience wants to know about.

Nancy White posted some very nifty “mind maps” from a 2006 SXSW panel on blog conversations. The one I like most offers rules of thumb, such as:

In the interest of not being overly complete, I’ll stop here.

Related Posts Elsewhere

Pat Thornton wrote about how some newspapers have taken a poorly thought-out approach to blogs. He offers good examples in contrast to the bad ones.

Gawker chided: “Readers just don’t come to a newspaper’s website looking for a messy passel of blogs. . . . Old newspaper editors may think blogs are some crazy different variety of publication; readers don’t.”

Mathew Ingram summarized a New York Times story about serial commenters.

Jack Lail pointed us toward criticisms of blogs on newspaper Web sites by Edward B. Driscoll Jr. and Jeff Jarvis.


Categories: blogging, ideas, participation


6 Comments

  1. Lindy Shoots says:

    [...] got to thinking about this more after reading Mindy McAdams post this morning about blogs, and subsequently Pat Thorton’s [...]

  2. Nancy White says:

    Nice weaving together of ideas – it was fun to find you via the link to the mind maps. By the way, I put them together, but the content was the product of everyone at the session about “Us/Them” and conflict in blogs!

  3. David Harris says:

    I follow and propagate your posts to students. I made a blog tutorial for a citizen journalism project for and by high school students that we are launching, and the tutorial includes a mini-J-blogroll. I clicked through to make sure the link to your site was correct and I landed at this post.

    News as conversation and blogs functioning to empower expression in all members of society is a recurring thread in the tutorial.

    I am hoping the students view the blogging ethics section and realize that civility and integrity is a responsibility of the blogger, to convey their messages and accept the roles of citizen journalists.

    I would really appreciate any feedback you could spare the time for on my flash tutorial. http://datelinetampa.com/blog.php

    Thank you.

  4. Mindy says:

    @David: The ethics section of the blog presentation is good. I didn’t have time to watch all of the presentation, but it seemed to cover everything.

  5. [...] Mindy McAdams points out the need to be apart of the conversation in a recent post: One of the most important things for a new blogger to recognize, I think, is that the conversation includes many blogs — not just your own blog. [...]

  6. [...] I want to point out an entry by journalism instructor Mindy McAdams discussing the idea that weblogs are conversations, and also refer back to Kairzhan’s entry on [...]

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