Zach referred to a handful of sites, including Consequence of Sound and Beats Per Minute, as “blogs” in his soundcast today, prompting a little Twitter debate. I think another term would be more appropriate. Some brief history:
In the early days of online indie-centric music writing, there were a handful of websites doing similar things: Pitchfork, Stylus, Cokemachineglow, Tiny Mix Tapes, Junk Media and so on. These were sites staffed by a group, some with news sections, most with reviews and features, generally with a magazine or newspaper-style hierarchy of editors and writers. Essentially, these sites were creating online magazines — at the time, they were generally dubbed “webzines.”
Around 2003-2005, music blogging differentiated itself in several respects. It used a new breed of consumer friendly web software platforms, like Google’s Blogger or Wordpress, which allowed for simple publishing in a chronological “feed.” And secondly, blogs were largely created by individuals writing about their lives or a subject they enjoyed, in this case, music. It was a personal hobby. The image of the blogger as a person in a bathrobe slaving in front of a laptop comes from this era.
Things changed. The ideas spurred by blogs — shorter content, and more of it, posted throughout the day, instead of once every morning — became the norm, as did blog-style feeds. Sites like Pitchfork realized they needed to post more frequently, both to keep readers coming back throughout the day and to increase Google traction. The larger sites turned from hobbyists to professionals, if they weren’t already. A handful of solo bloggers, including Gorilla Vs. Bear, were able to drive enough traffic to turn a hobby into a career (or at least a branding opportunity for a career). Many blogs grew from solo endeavors or the project of a handful of friends into ungainly group projects posting constantly in a bid for traffic and ad revenue. (That part’s depressing.)
The word “blog” has a muddy definition these days: you can find blogs in the L.A. Times and many old-media publications, but in a few years, I suspect we’ll just call them “sections” again — or the newer term, “verticals.” Most publications post throughout the day now, with many based around a central feed that takes a more personal or editorialized approached. This is the influence of blogs; does it make them blogs? You could say so, but you could just as easily dub them simply news sites. Neither would be wrong.
However: sites like Beats Per Minute and Consequence of Sound are newer, and certainly blog-like in their use of feeds, a casual voice and frequent updates, but to call them blogs misconstrues individual or small sites that originated the role of blogging in the first place. There’s no real difference in approach and intention (professional, large staff with an editorial hierarchy, newspaper/magazine-aspirational, objective over subjective) between these sites and the early wave of webzines — or SPIN or Rolling Stone’s digital incarnations. To compare BPM or CoS to Gorilla Vs. Bear (or Rawkblog) under the term “blog” would be like calling a lion and my pet bombay both “cats.” It might be technically correct, but it’s hardly descriptive.
“Webzine” is a few years out of date, so I’d call these places whatever you might call the Atlantic’s website or, for that matter, the Fader’s. “Publications.” “Web sites.” It doesn’t matter. But it’s misleading to call them blogs, given the genre’s short, still-with-us history. I’m less concerned with establishing a firm definition than dividing hobbyist, personal sites from teams of dozens who send multiple reporters to festivals, break news every hour and would rather be writing for Rolling Stone.
As far as larger blogs such as Stereogum or Brooklyn Vegan, it’s a grey area: BV especially is a such a clearinghouse for news, photos and so on that the definition begins to stretch. But Stereogum remains a small team with relatively focused taste and a personal feel, despite its professional, pageview-grabbing obligations. Still bloggy enough for me.
For the record, I’ve always thought of myself as both a blogger and journalist. Rawkblog’s never made more than a few bucks and has always been a labor of love. Before and during its existence, I’ve worked for “serious” publications starting with my high school paper. There has certainly been a divide between those two roles, most prominently in the subjects of coverage.
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