Who gets to decide what is “content”? –Towards a definition of “Content”

I have been following a discussion on John Scalzi’s blog, http://whatever.scalzi.com, about an article that the New York Times published about bloggers starting blogs and then realizing that they did not have an audience and abandoning the blogs. The conversation has wandered into the territory of what constitutes “content”.

While I can understand that personal communication between people could be considered to not be content, isn’t that the reason for writing? One person wrote in on the discussion that content used to mean anything that there was a permanent record of and that conversations were not considered content because there was no record of the conversations. But now there is potentially a written record. I would also argue that what might not be news to some, and therefore not “content”, may indeed be substantiative information to others. I have read the newspapers of small towns, newspapers that were healthier than some of the big city papers, that read as a daily listing of almost gossipy happenings. I would say that this is “content”.

I have read books that were a collection of anonymous postcards or found lists. Are these very personal communications “content”? Not “content”?

Are brief twitter tweets “content”? I would argue yes, depending on intent and interpretation.

I am going to propose a definition of content. This is my definition of content. Content is some communication that relays information of value to a reader. Only the reader of the communication gets to decide if it is actually content and this is based on their subjective experience and evaluation.

To my mind, anything else potentially creates restrictive categories that limit freedom of expression. And who gets to decide the categories?

Why would the New York Times think that it is news to report that many bloggers quit blogging after starting?

I was just reading John Scalzi’s blog http://whatever.scalzi.com and the most recent post as of just a wee bit ago was about the New York Times writing a piece about how bloggers quit blogging once they realize that just because they are writing on a blog does not mean that anyone knows it is there or reading it.

I subscribe and read many different blogs. I read more well known blogs such as whatever and http://boingboing.net. I read lesser known blogs such as Jim Wright’s www.stonekettle.com, and http://writetodone.com. I read the blogs of different friends. If I like a blog I put it on my google reader and read it daily. For me, I like reading different people’s thoughts and I believe that blogging is a very democratic form of self expression that allows anyone the opportunity to enter their observations into the grand societal dialogue. Blogging gives the “everyman” the opportunity to have a voice. It is another weapon in the arsenal to defend freedom of speech and encourage the free flow of information in an era when large newspapers are either being bought by monolithic corporations or going under and when news could potentially suffer from an editorial sanitization by a limited number of editorial overseers.

Having said all this. That doesn’t mean that all content is equal nor everyone’s writing abilities are equally as compelling. Writing is work. But if someone wants to blog, even if it is only mom reading it, they should without having the NYT dismissing the effort before it has even begun and putting out the idea that blogging is a futile endeavor because there will be no readership. One would almost think that “The Gray Lady” might be feeling her age in comparison to all these baby blogs available to potential readers. While the NYT has won 101 Pulitzer Prizes and has millions of visitors to its website and hence might know a thing or two about “All the News that’s Fit to Print”, they only get that say in regards to their publication.

If I want to write about my cats, that is my choice. If I want to write about my view of the recession that despite what the news keeps reporting does not seem to be abating, that is my choice as well. The NYT reporting that many blogs start and end with no readership seems to me as though they were looking for material to fill their pages. Perhaps, I should send them one of the pictures of my cats.