Time to retire the term “blogger”?

Has the word “blogger” become meaningless?

Consider this item (from Mediabistro’s Fishbowl LA):

We asked [Jay] Rosen what he thought of the term “blogger” and how there is not a word to distinguish a journalist who blogs and a numbnut who blogs.

“Blogger will become such a broad term it will lose all meaning,” he told FBLA.

Rosen later elaborated on Twitter:

We don’t say “Emailer James Fallows,” even though he uses email. Eventually, it will be the same with the term “blogger.”

Let’s unpack this.

“Blogger” confuses us today because we’ve conflated two different meanings of “blogging.” There is the formal definition: personal website, reverse chronological order, lots of links. Then there is what I would call the ideological definition: a bundle of associations many observers made with blogs in their formative years, having to do with DIY authenticity, amateur self-expression, defiant “disintermediation” (cutting out the media middleman), and so on.

Today professional journalism has embraced the blog form, since it is a versatile and effective Web-native format for posting news. But once you have dozens of bloggers at the New York Times, or entire media companies built around blogs, the ideological trappings of blogging are only going to cause confusion.

Still — wary as I am of taking issue with Rosen, whose prescience is formidable — I don’t think we will see the term “blogger” fade away any time soon. There’s a difference between a term that’s so broad it’s lost all meaning and a term that has a couple of useful meanings that may conflict with each other.

After all, we still use the word “journalist,” even though it has cracked in two (“journalist” as professional label vs. “journalist” as descriptor of an activity). This is where human language (what programmers call “natural language”) differs from computer languages: our usage of individual words changes as it records our experience with their evolving meanings.

In other words, the multiple meanings of the word “blogger” may bedevil us, but they also tell a story.