Multi-Writer Blogzine Thingies

yawn Time for some roundtable chat internet-style hot air.  A couple of days ago The Pop Cop had a bit of a dig at The Scotsman’s Under the Radar blog, and today UtR responded.  The accusation was of a lack of quality control, and how the volume of writing which their six writers produces has led to some very mediocre bands being covered.  UtR responded by saying that they aren’t necessarily setting all of these bands up as the Next Great Big Thing, and that they’re under no pressure to fill column inches, so bands really only do get covered if one of their writers likes them enough to devote the necessary time.

Everyone involved agrees that the primary issue is one of taste.  Of course, I personally think both blogs praise some bloody awful music.  They in turn must look at some of the stuff I like and wonder what the fuck I am thinking.  Then again, there are plenty of times where all three of us (and everyone else) are in total accord, which is when bands tend to get famous.  That’s fine – that’s just how taste works, we’re supposed to disagree.  So far, so obvious.

The big difference between the two is that The Pop Cop is written by one person and UtR by six, and once that many people are involved you are increasingly likely to find someone who likes pretty much anything.  As Ally from The Skinny and Clash Magazine responded when I said that he should have declined to write the review of the Broken Records album: ‘what do you expect The Skinny to do – pass it round the office until they find someone who likes it?’  Well with a group blog where people only write about bands they like that is inevitably what is going to happen.

So what’s the consequence?  A lot of content and a muddying of any consistent editorial voice, I suppose, although I do find that UtR is nicely unified by the interspersed editorial articles, almost always written by the two main editors.  The stuff inbetween can be a bit difficult to hold together, though.  I may write a lot of content as well, and all of you will think at least some of it is total and utter shite, but it is distinctly and obviously my voice.  This is something which you will either come to like or you will presumably cease to read after a while, but it certainly gives the site itself a very distinctive personal identity.

This all comes down to the success of blogs and their intersection with proper journalism again, I think. Basically, to get big you need to involve more people, because one person can’t do the requisite amount of work themselves.  But do that and you risk diluting the personal voice which makes blogs so special, and it’s rare that people really get around that problem successfully.  Glasgow PodcART is also produced by a team of people and can suffer from the same scattershot effect, but their constant bickering amongst themselves dilutes it rather effectively.  That interaction itself becomes the disctinctive voice – the defining character of the publication – and crucially it also mitigates against the danger of liking everything by virtue of asking enough people.

In the case of UtR it’s the editorials which punctuate the flow of posts about specific bands and hold the whole thing together, but to really address the specific accusation of the publication itself professing to like too many mediocre bands I think you’d have to treat it more like a blog-magazine.  Basically, I think you’d have to separate out the writers and give them their own columns within the larger UtR banner, with perhaps an aggregated feed as the main column of the page, so people could actually get to know an individual writer’s style and taste, rather than thinking that UtR itself liked pretty much everything, which might seem to be the case sometimes.  It would mean an extensive redesign of the site itself, and it would suddenly turn into a far bigger beast than it is at the moment, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this might be the best way for blogging techniques to be integrated into wider online magazines.  It’s not a new idea, of course, because basically you’d be treating everyone like a columnist.

So there you go, maybe an idea for Under the Radar, and perhaps one for the future of blogzines or whatever you want to call them.  I’d have been tempted to start something like this myself ages ago, but the idea of getting bloggers together is about as ambitious as trying to herd cats, and I’ve got far too much on my plate as it is.  For an example of it being done well, albeit at a far greater scale than necessary, try ScienceBlogs, which is one of my favourite sites on the whole of the internets.

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