Two blog formats – magazines and journals

by / Filed under Web

Not much has been written (at least, not much I’m aware of) about the format of blogs. This occurred to me after receiving several emails asking if I could change theme x so that the writer could display x number of posts on the front page. In fact, I’m asked this more than anything else.

I have to admit that I found these requests annoying in the past. I mean, you’ve seen the theme and how it works: could you not just use the theme as is or find a more appropriate one?

And then it occurred to me: I’m writing magazine themes for people publishing online journals. No wonder they want to change it.

So, what’s the difference?

Magazines

Magazine blogs take their design cues from (yes!) print magazines: they may well have a ‘front cover’ which highlights a ‘lead’ story or article, which is often embellished by a graphic. Posts have a definite sense of being published.

Magazines consist of discreet articles that discuss a particular topic in some depth. They’ll stick to a particular theme over time while perhaps using several authors: the magazine’s ‘brand’ is more important than any individual writer’s (even if there is only one writer).

Journals

Journals, on the other hand, focus on an individual’s experience. He or she may be an expert in a particular field, but his or her personality will act as a prism for their experience. The blog’s identity is inextricable from the author’s.

[caption id=”attachment_639” align=”aligncenter” width=”590” caption=”Jason Santa Maria’s blog: magazine or journal?”]Jason Santa Maria's blog: magazine or journal or what?[/caption]

Journals are far more likely to go off topic, while posts will not have such a clearly defined, consistent subject matter as magazine articles. Indeed, the language used in journals will not be as structured or conventional (although not necessarily more informal) than that used in magazines. Journals employ more of a stream of consciousness.

Design and structure

All these factors should affect the blog’s design. Broadly speaking, a magazine will employ some sort of ‘teaser’ structure to its content, where readers scan a headline or front page before clicking through to full articles.

Journals allow readers to ‘dive straight in’: the front page of a journal may consist of several complete posts; the overall appearance is less structured and more wordy than a magazine.

Journals often use less imagery, or whizzy graphical effects: they perhaps look ‘plainer’.

[caption id=”attachment_640” align=”aligncenter” width=”590” caption=”Daring Fireball - a journal”]Daring Fireball - a journal[/caption]

Taxonomy

The way in which posts are labelled and organised will differ between the two blog forms. Because journals are more personal and idiosynchratic than magazines, a small set of categories will often prove inadequate in classifying posts. The natural way to organise a journal is therefore through improvised tags. Over time, certain patterns may develop. The reader will browse through these tags, hopping from one loosely connected thought to another.

Magazines often have a clearer purpose and will direct readers down a few prescriptive channels (most likely through categories rather than tags.) A web design magazine could therefore publish articles under topic headings such as graphic design, typography, accessibility, code etc., while the journal might tag posts with labels such as ‘mood’, ‘the weather’, ‘random’, ‘ipswich town’, ‘politics’, ‘rant’ etc.

Walking the line

Very few websites (mine included) could be categorised as simply a ‘journal’ or a ‘magazine’; sites I would describe as magazines often use tags, while some journals will only display excerpts on their front pages. Others walk the line between the two formats, some are simply confused. However, I think an attempt to classify blogs will help designers and writers focus their efforts when publishing new work.

So what type of blog are you writing? A magazine or a journal?