Blogs versus Print

Anthony Zanetti wrote a good article for Monsters and Critics about “the writing found on internet blogs versus established print publications,” and – more importantly – the prejudices that exist. Anthony – who is one of the most gifted writers on the Internet – writes:

Recently, there have been many articles about the writing found on internet blogs versus established print publications. The authors of these pieces tend to work for magazines or newspapers, and they usually resent that the writing found on blogs would be compared to what is produced by paid professionals in ‘real’ publications. In their view, the internet seems to be an unsuitable place for genuine literary writing. In one example, in the LA Times, Richard Schnickel quotes another writer, stating “blogging is a form of speech, not of writing.” There is truth to this, for there is much writing on the internet that is ephemeral and that has the spontaneous, careless quality of most day to day speech.

However, these attacks on blog writing never mention that there is also much bad writing in ‘respectable’ publications like Harper’s or the NY Times Book Review. For example, fiction and poetry reviews are usually a joke, since the reviewers (typically other novelists or poets) avoid hard criticism so they won’t be punished when submitting their own work for publication. Articles like Schnickel’s will inspire predictable responses from blog writers, but the blog vs. print argument is an illusion; the real issue is good vs. bad writing, regardless of the medium. Quite simply, good writing is good writing, whether on a blog or in a newspaper or book. A true critic will recognize quality regardless of whether it is on paper or a screen.

True enough – good writing is good writing, bad writing is bad writing.

Anthony goes on to quote Schnickel (a name which will make any Dutch person laugh out loud: I cannot translate the meaning of Snikkel, which obviously sounds the same, due to policy rules), who said:
Let me put this bluntly, in language even a busy blogger can understand: Criticism — and its humble cousin, reviewing — is not a democratic activity. It is, or should be, an elite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object). It is work that requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author’s (or filmmaker’s or painter’s) entire body of work, among other qualities.

Which is of course nonsense. To understand an artist better, knowing more about his or her works is quite handy, but if one wants to judge a particular piece of work – of art – it is not necessary at all to know more about the artist: one could even very well argue that it is better not to know many other works of the artist. Writers, artists, poets, political scientists, essayists, etc., are often judged on their best works. When newer – and less good – works are reviewed, the reviewer often has a lot of respect for before mentioned person(s) and is positive about the new work as well – even when the work judged by itself does not deserve any praise.

Anthony writes in that regard:

It is true that not everyone will possess the ability to be a good critic, just as not everyone can be an artist; but criticism is not an expression of taste, which is something that anyone can supply. Criticism looks to the art, while taste points back to the individual. As for “historical and theoretical knowledge,” this will vary from person to person, and criticism is not showing off all that you’ve read, but knowing how to analyze and judge what is in front of you. Finally, being familiar with an artist’s entire body of work is not necessary for a critic, as artworks fail and succeed independent of one another. Many people praise lesser works because of the name that is attached to them; good criticism combats this tendency. Someone who wants to preserve high standards of criticism should know these points.

Other critics of the blogosphere – literary critics in this case, but it also goes for most journalists – argue that (in the words of the NY Sun’s Adam Kirsch): “In fact, despite what the bloggers themselves believe, the future of literary culture does not lie with blogs — or at least, it shouldn’t. The blog form, that miscellany of observations, opinions, and links, is not well-suited to writing about literature.”

As Anthony points out, Kirsch’ reasoning does not make a lot of sense since “a blog is merely a database that holds whatever the writer chooses to put in it. As such, there is no strict ‘blog form’. What can appear in a newspaper or magazine can be pasted word for word in a blog; they can contain everything from essays to poems to short stories and more.”

When push comes to shove, I consider the criticism on blogs to – mostly – come from those of the old guard, the elite, who dislike any and everything new. Not only do they probably fear for their jobs, they are also in the danger of losing their (elite) status: suddenly John Doe can create a blog, share his or her ideas with a big audience, and can even be celebrated (and earn a lot of respect).

Author: michaelvdg

  • casualobserver

    Strikes me as a little bit of an apple and a orange….at least for my consumer purposes.

    I don’t read blogs for long, elaborate retrospectives but for real time type news.

    I don’t need the writing to be polished up and worthy of an “A” from Mrs. Finklestein in the English Dept.

    To be fair, I don’t need that from the evening paper columnist either, it’s just I don’t want to have to wait that long.

  • Jason Steck

    I don’t need the writing to be polished up and worthy of an “A” from Mrs. Finklestein in the English Dept.

    Perhaps it should be. Pride in workmanship shouldn’t be derided, whether it is in constructing a house or constructing an essay.

  • Michael van der Galien

    A lot of blogposts, however, are not meant to be “essays.” Don’t forget that the original purpose of a blog was to share what websites one visited as to keep a “log” of it.

    It has evolved, and is now being used for different purposes altogether, but there are many differents types of weblogs. Literary websites, obviously, should be well written, political websites are more about ideas, as Dan Schneider once put it, whereas literary websites are about words / language.

    Then there are also websites about sports, diaries, entertainment, and so on.

    Your approach is often the “essay” approach. I, however, seldom write essays for blogs (mostly because essays take a lot of time and I participate on blogs that publish a lot of posts per day, so they will be removed from the frontpage quickly).

    In this regard, it is interesting to ask what is good and what is bad writing at a political blog?

    Andrew Sullivan is a great writer, but his blogposts are short and to the point: is he a bad blogger? I’d say no. Concise, to the point, can be very good in the blogosphere as well.

  • Jason Steck

    I wasn’t arguing that everything on blogs had to be a crafted essay. I was only responding to a common denigration directed towards those who try to write well.

  • Michael van der Galien

    I do not quite see how it was a denigrating comment actually. I am one of those people who greatly appreciate good, even great, writing on blogs, while at the same time understanding that I am not a great writer myself. I have ideas, and I can express them, but I am not a great writer. The reason that I get quite some hits per day nonetheless, is that many people think like casual does about political blogs: the writing doesn’t have to be an A+ – it’s about the news, and one’s take on it.

    Having said that, the longer I blog, the more I believe that the short and concise posts cost more craftmanship than one might think. It’s an art I have not mastered fully yet, but I’m working on it. If it’s too short, people will misinterprete what you wrote (also because people do not click on the links), if it’s too long, well, you’re in the danger of writing too many long posts (which people don’t read due to lack of time).

    Meanwhile, I do agree with your point about the essay-bloggers – I was merely pointing out that there is an ‘other side’ to that debate 😉

  • Jason Steck

    Micheal, you wouldn’t believe how many students actively protest the requirements for grammar and spelling in papers. I’ve actually had students cite text messaging and blogs as reasons that the “Mrs. Finkelstein approach” is outmoded and useless across the board.

  • Michael van der Galien


  • DLS

    I don’t read blogs for long, elaborate retrospectives but for real time type news.

    That and reader remarks, which are often more interesting than what the bloggers themselves have to say.

    Bloggers essentially are columnists who are on-line rather than in the print media, radio, or television.

    News, yes. Reader remarks, even far left remarks totally disconnected from reality — these are fine; those that are wrong can always be corrected by wiser readers. The childish, self-aborbed “all about me, me me” drivel is irritating (like Maureen Dowd but with extra fluff atop the vapor). Overall, a number of blog sites are worth visiting.

  • DLS

    you wouldn’t believe how many students actively protest the requirements for grammar and spelling in papers

    What other rules do they protest and claim are now irrelevent or obsolete? Any laws they simply don’t like? Grades (bad grades, at least)?

    (Back in the 1980s I was already so irritated that I wrote a letter of complaint to the editor of one newspaper that was published under the title of “Please Use Correct English In the Newspaper.” It’s pathetic if the kids you’re teaching seek the opposite.)

    Then there’s the plague on the Web of acronym abuse, which is as irritating as seeing “4” for “for” or “[-]fore[-]” in addition to “four,” and “2” for “to” and “too” in addition to “two.”

    Anyone saying “TWWIHBR?” rather than “To what would I have been responding?” is lazy or has a behavioral problem.

    I sometimes will substitute an acronym or a one-letter abbreviation but that is typically only when I am trying to insert strong language to make a point and want single or multiple letters only so as to make the text appear less vulgar, and the special use of one or more letters is intended to be unusual, not routine or normal.

  • Jason Steck

    Students are students and will often seek the greatest advantage for the least work. It’s not “pathetic” as much as perennial.

    The very best students are the ones who called me out on class evaluations for being too permissive towards the slackers, though. :)

  • cosmoetica

    It was Richard Schickel, the film critic, that AZ was referring to, not Schnickel. There must be a typo.

    Thanks for pointing that out.

  • DLS

    The one thing I give people a break on most of the time is the occasional spelling or punctuation error that seems typographical — I make those goofs myself, particularly if I’m typing too fast or thinking so fast I don’t compose a sentence properly, so it doesn’t merit my getting too upset about the same from others.

  • domajot

    I suspect authors of short op ed pieces in print are imitating blogs. They write pithy articles to make a point, but the language is usually unimaginative. Where are the writers of yesteryear that could make the language ‘sing’ in a 2 paragraph article about the local sewage plant?