Tab explosions (and other things Gee and Swales never saw coming)

Blog » Tab explosions (and other things Gee and Swales never saw coming)

Posted on 07 Mar 2013 02:56

Internet journalism – the particular type of short-form journalism that can be seen on sites like BuzzFeed and io9 – is a discourse community all its own. Ironically, for a community predicated upon information sharing, it's quite difficult to find any information about the actual people involved – Buzzfeed, for example, has particularly spartan profile pages; at most, they list the person's name, position at Buzzfeed, and any recent activity or articles written. Possibly the most useful piece of information there would be the journalist's profile picture, though that may also be misleading in terms of surface judgements. io9 is even more sparing with information on the people within its community – their profile pages include the standard roster of posts, comments, and replies, but give no information about them as either people or contributors, something long-form journalists and works such as the New York Times Online do significantly differently. A New York Times profile page might list work experience, specific position within the Times, accolades and awards, and so forth.

Something clearly different about short-form Internet journalism is its tone – io9 and Buzzfeed are both relatively tongue-in-cheek, something that is appealing to those sick of the permanent doom-and-gloom that, frankly, sells newspapers, and is therefore favored by more long-form news organizations. This irreverence, on the other hand, makes Internet journalism seem less serious and relevant than print journalism; only one of the two is likely to ever be dismissed for being about cats with mustaches, for example. Both Internet and print journalism rely on headlines for their initial hook, though a print newspaper is admittedly less likely to cause the sort of infamous new-tab explosion of interesting articles for which Cracked.com is well-known. Regardless, such online short-form journalism tends to have multiple purposes; primarily, of course the dissemination of information, but also financial profit (in the form of pageviews and embedded ads), as well as attention-seeking – articles tend to be written from a point of condescension, whether the reader is invited to join the writer at their vantage point or not. The writer, though they may acknowledge their own ignorance, still tries to come out of every piece ahead – there is a conversational quality to these articles, certainly, but also a sense of intellectual competition.

I would be hesitant to assign the lexis used in these articles any particular label, as colloquialisms and dialects and jargon shift faster on the Internet than perhaps in any other medium. Generally, however, I think it's safe to say that this community (and particularly this genre) is particularly informal in communication style; words may be shortened, ironically or not, and acronyms tend to come into play. In the context of the Internet, I think we must redefine “lexis” to include more than just words; animated .gif images may also be used to communicate emotions and concepts, for example. Many of these concepts, including genres such as articles and occupations such as journalism, frankly become rather ill-defined on the Internet, where many borders become significantly more blurry. Communities are certainly less closed, as nobody grows up reading or writing for BuzzFeed; induction is more a matter of experience and time. As such communities are constantly shifting, with members leaving and new members arriving, there is perhaps a peak level of the degree to which one is an insider, but such things are in flux, as is the case with many aspects of any online discourse community.

While short-form Internet journalism and the sites it occupies may fit Gee and Swales' definitions of a discourse community in the most general terms, the devil is in the details; when so many people bring up forums and social networking sites and online publications as discourse communities, though, it is perhaps the definition that should be challenged, and not the validity of the communities.

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