more diarists and Web logs

Not all journalists learn from bloggers. My cranky rant and op-ed went unnoticed by the NYTimes, who proceeded to run an article entitled Wry Hoaxes Enliven the World of Web Diarists that talks about “Web logs.”

I should note that i’m by no means upset with the authors of either NYTimes articles, as i’m fully aware that they are at the whim of their editorial stuff. Unlike Xeni, i don’t have a c’est la vie attitude about it. [Update: Xeni does not have this attitude and often stops working with editors who pull this shit. Apologies.]

One way of asserting power and marginalizing people is to own the language by reframing the terms of the oppressed into the terms of the privileged, thereby degrading the original terminology (think ‘liberal’). This is why one of the most powerful tactics of oppressed people is to reclaim their terminology, to own it as empowering (think ‘queer’). The US civil rights battles were ripe with oppressive uses and reclaiming of black terminology (think ‘nigger’).

One of the rules of anthropology is to always use the terms of the people. By reframing a people’s language into hegemonic terminology, the writer oppresses the people, owns the people. It is not only a lack of respect, but an attempt to assert authority and power.

This doesn’t just apply to anthropology. I continue to be cranky with the NYTimes.

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16 thoughts on “more diarists and Web logs

  1. Stef

    DANAH: GO FOR IT!!!!!

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  2. robyn

    Along the lines of co-opting/recycling (not reclaiming in this case), have you noticed that Kerry has adopted the phrase “speak truth to power”? I used to hear those words a lot in feminist or survivor or anti-capitalist circles. For most people who use that phrase, I think Kerry would qualify as “power”.

  3. Mel

    Could you suggest a few terms you’re thinking about in terms of being ripe for appropriation?

    Web diarist is used a lot as a diminunative term. Especially funny, coming from “journalists”…

  4. zephoria

    Robyn – totally. ::laugh:: I wonder what he means by it. Is it referring to the Republicans as power? ::shudder::

    Mel – i don’t know that the bloggers’ terms are being appropriated yet, so much as not used. It’s also funny because i can’t remember the last time i met a bloggers/journalers who identify as a diarist. People are pretty comfortably split between being a blogger or a journaler, with morphings of LJ and Xanga being used in the latter camp (i.e. “i’m a journaler who writes in my Xanga”). The term diarist does not come from the community being represented.

  5. Anonymous

    I think you’re wildly overreacting. The term “web diarist” appears only in the title, and it looks to me like it’s just an attempt to make the title clear and accessible. (After all, I’d be very surprised if even a third of the population could tell you what a “blogger” is.) I would have chosen a different word, but I don’t think there’s much wrong with this one, and it certainly isn’t evidence that the NYT is engaged in a hegemonic conspiracy to crush the world of blogging.

    The “Web log” vs. “weblog” issue is just silly. This comes up twice in an article that refers numerous times to “blogs” and even to the “blogosphere”. Sure, I think the copyeditors made it look a little funny, but overall the body of the article does a first rate job of using the community’s own terminology.

    Do you really want to send journalists the message that if they write about blogging and get it 95% right, with pretty good excuses for the other 5%, the result will be angry letters to the editor? Why would you alienate the journalists who are already on your side, and make many readers of the letter think bloggers are a bunch of terminology-obsessed cranks?

  6. Xeni

    > Unlike Xeni, i don’t have a
    > c’est la vie attitude about it.

    That’s really an unfair slam, danah.

    The comment I made on BB to which I presume you’re alluding simply referred to the fact that the writer knew better — it was a matter of the New York Times’ editorial policy, rather than the writer’s own ignorance. The point of that tongue-in-cheek remark was simply to point out that the party responsible for that decision was the Times’ editors, not Daniel Terdiman.

  7. zephoria

    Anonymous – I have no desire to write a NYTimes editorial. I just find it problematic that bloggers’ story is constantly reframed outside of their terminology.

    Xeni – i am not slamming you and i am in complete agreement that it is the editorial staff, not the writer. I am taking issue with the editorial staff’s policy and not just excusing it as something that editors always do.

  8. neilfred

    I just find it problematic that bloggers’ story is constantly reframed outside of their terminology.

    Hm. Still, it seems to me that a journalist or editor (or for that matter any kind of writer) should always attempt to frame things in terms that their readers can grasp. That’s why new technologies consistently get described via metaphors, even though those metaphors are consistently inadequate…

  9. Xeni

    > I am taking issue with the editorial staff’s
    > policy and not just excusing it
    > as something that editors always do.

    Neither was I, which is why your characerization of my remark as revealing a “c’est la vie attitude” still feels very much like an unfair public slam.

  10. zephoria

    Xeni – i very much appreciate the fact that you point out that it is the editorial process, not Daniel. My reference to you was to cite that publicly and in appreciation, but to clarify that i can’t simply accept that as “c’est la editorial policy” because in my book, that’s not good enough. I read you having a much higher tolerance for editorial privilege.

    I’m very sorry if this came across as a public slam and take full accountability for that impression because it was not my intended one.

  11. Sean Bonner

    > I am taking issue with the editorial staff’s
    > policy and not just excusing it
    > as something that editors always do.

    > I have no desire to write a NYTimes editorial.

    Guess you aren’t taking *too much* of an issue with it then are you?

  12. Xeni

    > I read you having a much
    > higher tolerance for
    > editorial privilege.

    Then you read wrong.

    My post said one thing, and one thing only: the choice to refer to blogs/weblogs in the way the NYT did was the editor’s call, not Daniel Terdiman’s.

    When I posted that pointer to his piece on BB, I thought it only fair to draw attention to the fact that he hadn’t made this decision, his editor had.

    This has happened to me before with other publications, and it infuriates me to no end when it does. I have before, and may yet again, terminated relationships with publications over this very issue. Naturally, the choice of exactly which words are used matters a lot to people like me who make their living from words.

  13. RobinGoodfellow


    When the ye old printing press came out,the clerics feared the masses would revolt. Olde and young folks would read the bible.What use would the clerics be,if books were massed produced?

    Control would be loss and worse they could read other books. Belittle and bring out the fears.Knowledge is so dangerous and if anything,Robin knows once ye has worn the glove of power,it comes off with great difficulty.

    Forgive them of the press,they feel cold without their gloves. What happened? is it 1590 or 2004?

    Alas off to my woods…

  14. josh

    Are you angrier about “web logs” in the opening sentence or “web diarists” in the headline? While I think that web diarist is a silly term, it is appropriate for the subject of the piece — fake diaries on the web.

    I agree that there is still ground to be gained in the perception of weblogs and journaling in general (look at how Bob Graham’s presidential campaign was derailed by his journal). Do you think that by now the Times would have adopted a consistent style rule given that they’ve published dozens of “look! people are writing journals on the web!” stories. If so, is blog inherently better than weblog or than web log?

    I think that weblog is nicer looking.

  15. beau


    I won’t be surprised to learn you are already familiar with George Lakoff’s work and the Rockridge Institute. Still, just in case, you might enjoy a trip to:

    You’ll note this is not a top-level link; it’s worth visiting their home page too. I picked this particular page because it seems spot-on for relevance to your frustrations with choice-of-nomenclature as choice-of-weapons.

  16. zephoria

    Yes – Lakoff is wonderful and i’m certain that his ideas are seeping into my posts because they’ve certainly been on my mind. I can’t wait to take his class this fall.

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