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Blog O’Fear: The Rules and Etiquette of Blogging (Featuring Us!)

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Bless that Liz Danzico for live-blogging this blogging panel while we were talking about blogging.

The panel, moderated and concepted by Steve Heller, no stranger to blogs as editor of AIGA Voice, writer for a daily design column in PRINT online, writer for Design Observer and A Brief Message and countless others, was to talk about blogs–their journalism aspect, their memoir form, and other forms they might take.

The all-star panel are luminaries in the design blog world:

  • Khoi Vinh, design director of NYTimes.com, and editor of Subtraction.com, which is seven years old, and A Brief Message, founded this year.
  • Bill Drenttel, co-founder of Design Observer, which just turned four years old.
  • Allan Chochinov, editor of Core 77 the industrial design supersite (not a portal), and also runs Coroflot.com, and Design Directory.com (“a blog negative”), for an amazing 13 years.
  • Alissa Walker, editor of UnBeige and, freelance writer. Her goal on UnBeige is to post “every 20 minutes or so.” She is proud that UnBeige is called the People of design blogs.
  • Tina Roth Eisenberg, author behind Swiss Miss, and responsible for too many “major credit card purchases.”

    If A Blog Falls in the Woods
    The panel started out on a pretty philosophical note, dissecting what having a “blog” really means. According to Eisenberg blogs are really just “sites with a content management system.” Vinh jumped in and immediately disagreed, pointing out that he thinks blogs are really a conversation between writer and audience in any more. Writers engaging with an audience; commenters engaging with other commenters; and traditional journalists with commeters. Walker, like Chochinov, uses the blog as a traffic driver. “The blog is just one ingredient,” he put out there.


    The panel went on, talking about the rise of blogger as a brand. The World Wide Web started as plumbing, then it was a brand, now it’s back to plumbing. “Top Chef” was recently judged by a blogger and the connotation was that the blogger was going to be unvarnished or was just going to dish, so to speak. “Blogger” connotes honesty.

    So what are the responsibilities to be accurate? In traditional media, if you run something that’s inaccurate, you get run out of business, like the Dan Rather or Jayson Blair example. But does quality or accuracy really matter in blogging? Bruce Nussbaum has gone on the record saying that spelling and grammar are not even important in blogging. So maybe rigor isn’t important either.

    Eisenberg recently got criticized for blogging too much. Vinh and Heller agreed: She blogs entirely too much. According to Chochinov, her site is like “potato chips.” It’s hard to stop reading it.

    Blogging Today, Money Tomorrow
    Heller turned the topic back to money (as he seemed to do several times in the panel). Personal commitment is what’s driving the blogs, according to Drenttel, not money. But all the panelists make some money from blogging. Whether they’re on The Deck or run advertising, they’re all gaining some capital. mediabistro and Gawker have advertising models–blogs are supposed to be what drives traffic to the site, but in fact, the job listings are what drive traffic.

    “A blog is just one thing in the ecosystem, according to Chochinov. “It’s just an ingredient,” and they don’t represent a significant amount of revenue for the New York Times either, Vinh said. So there may not be a “bright economic future” for blogging–if the Times can’t make money from it, then it doesn’t look hopeful.

    Loss of Control
    When Heller opened the floor to questions, the audience went right to etiquette: is it OK to delete comments? Kurt Andersen earlier this morning, pointed out after Khoi’s presentation, that there is a hierarchy between writers and commenters. What you write on a blog will ultimately determine the nature of the conversation. People think of Core 77 or Swiss Miss blogs something, they are endorsing it. Vinh and Eisenberg agreed that they their commenters really help inform them, make them better bloggers, better writers. It’s really a two-way conversation in a way that it never was in print.

    Alive and Well
    Timeliness is still a major component of the bloggers’ editorial strategy. If Walker or Chochinov writes about something, the other won’t write about it. And if a day goes by, the topic is gone. So timing is everything. Scooping is very much alive and well.

    Looks Aren’t Everything
    Design logs don’t look that great, the audience pointed out. Why do design blogs “look like shit?” mediabistro and PRINT online were cited as examples. Walker pointed out that she doesn’t have control over it, but that they use the graphic header at the top to point out that they are, in fact, a design blog. (She didn’t say more for fear of being fired.) Chochinov gave away that Core 77 is working on a redesign–better things to come.

    United We Stand
    Although contentious at times–and strongly disagreeing one another at times–the panelists clearly support one another. They read one another’s blogs. They rely on one another for advice. They critique one another. There was a moment when Drenttel suggests merging all the blogs represented on stage. At the moment, some of the panelists joined hands and raised them.

    Giving It Away
    So what’s next for this line-up? Walker talked about starting her own blog; and Drenttel talked about plans for starting a visual experience on DO and a possible DO conference. Who knows? Next year, we might be continuing this discussion at the Design Observer conference.

    Liz Danzico is the editor of A Brief Message.

    All AIGA NEXT coverage here.

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