A Blog by Any Other Name...

By Robert MacMillan
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, August 25, 2005; 9:36 AM

"I really like reading your blog," a reader recently wrote to me.

There must be some mistake, I thought. Random Access is a column.

Well, a column or blog is in the eye of the reader. I've gotten plenty of praise and scorn for things I've written about in this space, but the name for this daily publication tends to vary depending on who's writing. I have a blog, a column, a daily article, a story...

To me it's all the same. Some days this column comments on news that shows up in other publications. On others, all the reporting is my own. Sometimes, like today, I dispense with the reporting and just ramble.

Writing about what defines a blog brings me around to fulfilling a promise I made to a reader more than a month ago. Ryan Sholin, a journalism graduate student at San Jose State University, took issue with a column I wrote last month about the former Boston Herald sports columnist who was fired from his teaching post at Boston University after writing online about his heavy-duty attraction to a young female student in his class.

I rounded up some of the news about the columnist and tied it together with the headline, "Don't Blog So Close to Me." It's catchy, or as Sholin wrote in his blog, "juicy." No argument there. We both liked the headline.

The problem, Sholin pointed out, is that the professor wasn't blogging. On July 20th, Sholin wrote on his blog: "The Washington Post doesn't know a blog from a message board." He added: "By calling this a 'blog,' MacMillan stamps this sordid little episode with a certain stigma -- throw in blogging vs. journalism and 'should educators blog?' ... This is misinformation that plays up a few recent articles on the 'dangers' of blogging, playing to a crowd waiting for people speaking their minds to put their feet in their mouths. Mr. MacMillan, what if a blogger started referring to you as someone who wrote a column in the local newsletter called The Washington Post? What would your reaction be?"

I don't know. Indifference, I guess.

But perhaps not. Sholin got me thinking. I made a mistake; he is right. It's a message board, not a blog.

That immediately led to another conclusion: Big deal, what's the difference? Sholin and I wrote back and forth, and he published excerpts online. Here's a point and counterpoint from that exchange.

Sholin: "However, you still stamped [the professor] with the stigma of 'blogger' as opposed to 'guy spouting off on a message board.' If he had said these things in a chat room on AOL, wouldn't there be a different stigma attached? Different media come with different baggage: do you write for a daily newspaper or an alternative weekly? There's a difference, right?"

Me: "I maintain that for the readers, one is as good as another, especially as the meanings of these terms undergo a constant metamorphosis, regardless of how people define these ever-evolving platforms."

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