Did blogs come first or newspapers? The Daily Courant, first published in 1702, was the first British daily newspaper, we are told. It was a one-page newspaper, with advertisements on the reverse side, according to Wikipedia. Better known by far, however, are the periodical Tatler (1709-1711) and the daily Spectator (1711-1712) founded by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele – and what they wrote were essays.
Dr Samuel Johnson continued that tradition, writing essays which appeared in the periodical, The Rambler (1750-1752). He even wrote about not wanting to write. This essay, which appeared in The Rambler, begins almost like an entry in a personal blog:
I sat yesterday morning employed in deliberating on which, among the various subjects that occurred to my imagination, I should bestow the paper of today. After a short effort of meditation by which nothing was determined, I grew every moment more irresolute, my ideas wandered from the first intention, and I rather wished to think, than thought upon any settled subject; till at last I was awakened from this dream of study by a summons from the press: the time was come for which I had been thus negligently purposing to provide, and, however dubious or sluggish, I was now necessitated to write.
The Spectator could be just as personal. Here is Addison writing in The Spectator:
When I am in a serious humour, I very often walk by myself in Westminster Abbey; where the gloominess of the place, and the use to which it is applied, with the solemnity of the building, and the condition of the people who lie in it, are apt to fill the mind with a kind of melancholy, or rather thoughtfulness, that is not disagreeable. I yesterday passed a whole afternoon in the churchyard, the cloisters, and the church, amusing myself with the tombstones and inscriptions that I met with in those several regions of the dead. Most of them recorded nothing else of the buried person, but that he was born upon one day, and died upon another: the whole history of his life being comprehended in those two circumstances, that are common to all mankind
He had a wide readership. Wikipedia says: “Despite a modest daily circulation of approximately 3,000 copies, The Spectator was widely read; Joseph Addison estimated that each number was read by 60,000 Londoners, about a tenth of the capital’s population at the time.”
Readership could be much higher than circulation because people read these journals in coffee houses.
Now we expect hard news from daily newspapers. But there was a time when a publication could come out twice or thrice a week, or even every day like The Spectator, with a marked literary flavour.
I was reminded of that by an article in PaidContent, which says the present-day mass media with its focus on hard news and celebrities is a “blip in history”. Media has always been personal and social, it says. As recently as the late 19th century, it was common for people to read each other’s journals as a way of catching up with what they had been doing, it says.
So personal blogs have a long history, only the medium has changed.
True, bloggers are not expected to range from literature to morality like Addison and Johnson did.
Bloggers have to be much more focused, concentrating on a particular niche – food, lifestyle, entertainment – because readers and search engines alike want everything indexed and categorized. They can’t be Lifehacker one day and Mashable the next.
But when they muse, reminisce, rave and rant, they are striking a personal vein that has a long history in journalism.