Thursday, June 26, 2008

When is a blogger not a blogger?

A New York magazine article from last October* trumpeted "blogger" Laurel Ptak's coup in nailing a gallery curating gig. A while back, Ptak, a photographer by passion, designer by trade, and apparently inveterate Web surfer, had noticed how many amazing photographs she was discovering tucked away in various nooks and cranies of the Internet. Wanting to help others discover these works of art, she decided to use a blog as a way to collect them all in one place and share them with whoever might be interested.

As things sometimes happen in the blogosphere, Ptak's project gained a following. And where a following develops, big shots eventually take notice. So last year, Higher Pictures, a Madison Avenue gallery founded by a former exec at Magnum Photos, invited Ptak to curate a show.

New York breathlessly reported on the feat. A blogger, it exclaimed, curating a show! A real live show! It observed this was a rising trend. "Shows curated by bloggers," it said, were becoming increasingly common. Ptak was part of a growing breed who have "translated blogging success into the realm of real-world galleries."

None of this is inaccurate. Technically. But the framing is all wrong. Which is problematic. It's this wrongheaded framing that is making many in the traditional media struggle with understanding what digital media is all about. And until we understand the online world correctly, we can't move into it effectively.

New York magazine framed Ptak as blogger. The piece seems to marvel at the fact that a blogger, one of those great unwashed masses who sit at their keyboards and alternately pontificate about world happenings and navel-gaze about the flotsam of their own lives... it seemed to marvel that one of those people could have made it into the rarefied world of New York art galleries.

And yet, this is wrong. Ptak is not a "blogger." She's a photographer, a designer, an artist, a curator, who decided to use the Internet as her medium for creating her own gallery. And in leveraging these tools, gained notice. She did the same thing a physical-world gallery owner would have done. Just using different tools.

"If I wanted to start a gallery, I would not have the resources to do it," Ptak told (the online home of the group that publishes such magazines as Art+ Auction and Modern Painters), "but the tools that I use to make are completely free, totally modest. Blogs open the door to a lot of people to participate in the conversation about art and to be able to find an audience."

So here's my suggestion: Let's start getting more thoughtful about flinging around the term "blogger." It's both loaded on the one hand and used to refer to so many different things on the other as to have lost the specificity that we communicators strive for. It's as if we called anyone who used a building for something "buildingers." A gallery owner wouldn't be a "gallery owner," they'd be a "buildinger." A bakery wouldn't be a "bakery," it'd be a "buildinger." A florist wouldn't be a "florist," it'd be a "buildinger." Doesn't make much sense, does it?

So let's stop thinking of blogs as a product, and instead recognize them for what they are: a tool used for myriad purposes. And instead of thinking of people who use blogs as "bloggers," let's think of them as what they are: "people who use blogs." In Ptak's case, let's call her a photographer and curator who uses a blog to exhibit photographs. In Josh Marshall's case, a reporter and commentator to report on politics. Hey, even Perez Hilton... call him what he is: a gossip-monger.

* The magazines stack up, and I get to them when I can.

1 comment:

john bischoff said...

Hi Liza,

I've dropped by here a few times now and like the blog a lot. Your defense of the brave new world of news is compelling. I get that new methods of gathering/editing/presenting news are being improvised all the time... and that's mostly a good thing. But as a consumer, are there any reasons I should switch off NPR or burn the 90% of the Sunday NYT I haven't read yet and hunt for news online instead? (I'd hit the websites of the news organizations I know first, anyway.) I saw that McClatchy is getting raves for it's DC bureau site... I've also looked at Talking Points Memo, so I'll probably browse those. The thing about the internet I haven't come to terms with yet is how to wade through all the stuff being generated to fill the limitless space. (I totally agree that lots of mainstream news is schlock... but at least I know how to avoid it.) I doubt the 24-hr news cycle improved the overall quality of journalism. I think most talk or call-in radio is of dubious value (although some of it can be great). I'm willing to buy a newspaper or pledge to NPR (well, I did in Minnesota, anyway) because I rely on them to edit the news for me - with whatever biases they bring - and to cover stuff I'd never think to search out for myself. I'm sure the internet offers possibilities for doing great journalism, but it also amps up the noise... no?
Anyway, maybe you could toss in more suggestions of where to go to sample a diet of brave-new-world daily news...? Happy continued blogging!