Internet

Who Authenticates the Blogged Word? The Publishers or the Readers?

Matthew Ellis
(photographer unknown)

Is the publishing industry steering the reading masses towards blogs? Or is the groundswell in the blogger’s popularity amongst readers forcing publishers to take note?

Blogs have long given writers the chance to flaunt their talent. But even for the lucky ones who caught the eye of a publishing house, the path was never easy. In the past, bloggers have had to undergo a kind of conversion: before they risk unleashing them upon their established readers, mainstream publishers anxiously demand that bloggers alter their style, change their tone or revise their approach. But now, following a sea change in attitudes that needs explaining, publishers are more relaxed about using blogs as a direct source for publications.

An ancient concern might underlie the publishing industry’s anxiety about bloggers. Plato’s Phaedrus uses a myth to explain the dangers of the written word. Writing, so the story goes, was invented by the Egyptian thinker Theuth as an aide memoire for his own learning. But, Plato suggests, written words are easily separated from their author’s genuine understanding: taken up by other, less knowledgeable writers they give the mere “appearance of wisdom instead of wisdom itself.” Within publishing the editorial process provides a barrier against this kind of ill-informed writing. But blogging, where writers can express themselves immediately, anonymously and unfiltered, seems to have the potential to produce texts that are inaccurate, misleading or otherwise inauthentic. The publisher’s skepticism regarding bloggers might simply boil down to this Platonic concern about the authenticity of their writing.

Book: Capitalist Realism

Author: Mark Fisher

Publication date: 2009-12

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/f/feature-bloggers-capitalistrealism-cvr.jpg

The clamoring for authenticity has not held back bloggers in every field. Many creative writers, for instance, have successfully moved from the blogosphere to the mainstream. The path taken by Diablo Cody is typical of this transition. Cody rode to stardom on the success of Juno. But shooting the 2007 picture was never the writer’s real aim, nor was the film’s screenplay ever really intended for production. In fact, Cody had penned Juno only as a sample designed to convince studios to film her blog.The Pussy Ranch.

Cody’s example clearly demonstrates that mainstream publishing has sometimes noticed bloggers, but it also shows the limited focus of its gaze. On the one hand, fiction is a somewhat exceptional field because it places very few demands upon a text’s accuracy; this means that Cody’s publishers could largely put aside their worries about the authenticity of the blogger’s work. On the other hand, Cody also went to extreme lengths to show that her talent as a writer was not limited to blogging. If mainstream publishers have taken note of bloggers, then it has only been in fields where authenticity is less crucial and only when a writer manages to first prove themselves beyond their blogs.

In more typically academic fields, where a text’s authenticity is of greater importance, publishers are even more reluctant to engage with bloggers. In philosophy, for example, a published text guarantees a high degree of quality and accuracy, and students and academics alike tend to eschew blogs in their favor. Because this attitude prevails, publishers in the field find it difficult to explore the work of bloggers.

But philosophy’s rejection of bloggers is unfortunate, because some of the discipline’s most interesting recent work has originated online. Academics like Levi Bryant (Larval Subjects) and Graham Harman (Doctor Zamalek2, founders of the Object Oriented Ontology (OOO) movement, have used their blogs rather than their philosophy departments to develop their thought. Mark Fisher, the blogger behind k-punk, explains the unique sense of freedom that distinguishes the “informal space” of a blog from the straitjacket of an academic paper. For him this freer environment has a liberating effect upon the thought produced within it and forms an integral part of the radical, innovative advances of the OOO movement.

Book: The Quadruple Object

Author: Graham Harman

Publication date: 2011-07

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/f/feature-blog-quadrupleobject-cvr1.jpg

Most publishers still look skeptically upon blogging as little more than a first step towards ‘real’ writing (and thinking) or at most a supplement to an already published text, but a handful have identified the valuable philosophical work germinating online and bucked the trend by engaging with bloggers on their own terms. Zero Books, where Fisher is both an editor and the author of Capitalist Realism: Is there No Alternative?, was founded in 2009 and stands in the vanguard of this new approach. Unlike other publishers, Zero does not demand that writers prove themselves by producing fresh manuscripts written specifically for an offline audience. Instead, happy to look online for their material, many of Zero’s imprints draw directly upon a writer’s blog.

Harman’s book The Quadruple Object, for example, was the product of an exercise in “live-blogging”, where he discussed the progress of his book in real-time with his online readers. A more extreme example, also from Zero’s catalogue, is Masha Tupitsyn’s Laconia: 1,200 Tweets on Film. This book, as its subtitle indicates, simply reprints “1,200 tweets on film” and serves as a dramatic illustration of Zero’s faith in bloggers and the quality of their writing.

But it’s not only in philosophy where publishers are beginning to take blog writing more seriously. Spitalfields Life an exceptional example of a rapidly evolving species of local city blogs, is an anonymously written online project chronicling life in East London. The blog has attracted attention from the British Library and the Bishopsgate Institute, and both these organisations, eager to preserve the detailed documentary work, have begun converting, digitizing, and archiving its entries. Following suit, publishers have also shown a keen interest in “Spitalfields Life” and selections from the blog are set to appear in an imprint of the same name by Saltyard Books later this year.

Blogging has sparked one of the strangest phenomena in modern journalism: broadsheet journalists who call themselves bloggers.
The recent rise in the blog writer’s stock is also not merely confined to book publishing. Growing openness in other published media has allowed many bloggers to make direct transitions into the music and film industries. In 2007, Cody tried and failed to secure a screenplay from her blog. By 2009, however, Julie Powell had succeeded where Cody failed, and oversaw the production of the first film based entirely upon a blog, Juliea Powell.

Book: Laconia

Author: Masha Tupitsyn

Publication date: 2011-05

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/f/feature-blog-laconia-cvr.jpg

Julie & Julia takes its direction from Powell’s online documentary of her attempt to cook the entire contents of a Julia Child cookbook in a single year. The film is an important marker of the direction in which the industry is travelling and, with its critical and box office successes for Columbia, may well encourage other large-scale production companies to pay greater attention to bloggers.

Throughout mainstream publishing, in every medium underpinned by writing, bloggers are achieving a slow but steady infiltration. This reversal, unthinkable as little as ten years ago, reflects deep changes in attitude towards the written word by the common people. Publishing was once a far more insular affair, wherein proven writers circulated amongst trusted publishers. Today it has been forcibly opened to a varied wealth of talented bloggers.

Where are those fears about the authenticity of the blogger’s text that once dominated the publishing industry? Perhaps exemplary writers like Salam Pax (aka “The Baghdad Blogger”) -- whose blog, Where is Raed? gave detailed, accurate eyewitness accounts of bombings in Baghdad – have shown that authentic blogging is not a contradiction in terms. Or perhaps today we are simply less hung up about authenticity (although it should be noted that, until the Guardian confirmed that he really was an architect living in Iraq, even Pax suffered speculations about the authenticity of his blog). One thing is clear: the clamoring for authenticity that began with Plato no longer forms such an obstacle to the blogger’s entry into the mainstream publishing.

But who is driving this change of attitude? Is the publishing industry steering the reading masses towards the acceptance of blog writers and their work? Or, conversely, is the groundswell in the blogger’s popularity amongst the average reader forcing publishers to take note?

Technological advances surrounding the blogging movement show that it is readers, and not publishers, that are leading the expansion of blog writing into the mainstream. Portable web-ready devices give readers access to blog writing in all the places where published content had traditionally thrived – albeit not in the e-format that is so prevalent today. Commuters now ease their journeys with iPads not newspapers or novels, switch on laptops, not televisions, when they get home, and constantly try to separate their teenage kids from their smartphones. These technological innovations clearly support the booming consumption of blog writing, but it seems unlikely that they could they ever actually force readers to accept bloggers.

Although the growing pervasiveness of technology increases their exposure to blog writing, it nevertheless leaves readers entirely free to choose whether or not they go on reading what is on offer. The same goes for the publisher’s attempts to influence readers through marketing strategies and advertising campaigns. These too remain external to a reader and rarely penetrate to the core of their preferences. It seems that without some initial choice on the reader’s part, some spark of complicity, publishers could never ensure their acceptance of blog writers.

If the choice to accept bloggers lies ultimately with readers themselves, then it seems that many have already decided in their favor. Fisher’s blog “k-punk”, for instance, was founded in 2003 and since then it has delivered his cultural criticism to a colossal 1.2 million unique readers. This blog’s popularity tracks closely to the widespread embrace of the medium as a whole: In 2010, more than 40 percent of Internet users in the UK identified themselves as blog readers.

Book: Julie & Julia

Author: Julie Powell

Publication date: 2009-08

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/f/feature-blogging-juliejulia-cvr.jpg

Just as important as the growing number of readers is precisely where they have come from. Blog readership has expanded well beyond its initial geeky niche and now draws readers from the declining newspaper and magazine industries. This has sparked one of the strangest phenomena in modern journalism: broadsheet journalists who call themselves bloggers. Something similar took place in academia and Fisher explained how professional philosophers had taken to blogging because they found the environment liberating. Whether editors are trading on a kind of blogger chic, or they think their journalists are freer when blogging, or simply that they can pay them less in that guise – every major newspaper, from the Guardian to the New York Times, now has a huge in-house blog network.

The demographically varied readership that blogs receive suggests that most of today’s readers have wholeheartedly accepted bloggers. The movement has gathered such momentum that it’s seemingly irreversible, this acceptance has opened the publishing industry towards the blogosphere. No doubt concerns will live on regarding the obsolescence of values such as authenticity and historical accuracy that were once held to underpin publishing – and these are vital concerns -- but when the pay-off is a more vibrant publishing scene driven by the emergence of exciting new writers, this is a risk many readers seem willing to take.

Matthew Ellis is a UK arts journalist who focuses on philosophy, literature and music. He has written for publications such as Jazzwise and All About Jazz, maintains his own blog and also contributes regularly to online magazines including Prefix and Folk Radio.

Next Page
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.