As I was reading Zappen’s take on rhetoric, the first idea that popped into my head was my interpretation of written or verbal communication: this is an idea or belief I have, and here is how I express it. As a participant in this dialogue people are expected to ingest this information and question or confirm these beliefs. The passage below distills the relationship between two participants of a conversation and how they are expected to interact with one another:
“Dialogue is not simply a way of persuading others to accept our ideas, but a way of holding ourselves, and others, accountable for all of our thoughts, words, and actions. . . . Bakhtin’s dialogical rhetoric is not restricted to oral discourse, but is possible in any medium, including written, graphic, and digital.” – James Zappen
To examine how this view of dialogue and rhetoric applies to digital content, I chose to analyze an entertainment blog: Grantland.
Grantland is primarily a sports blog created by Bill Simmons, a writer for ESPN. Where the site differs from other sports blogs, however, is the approach of intertwining articles about sports with pop culture pieces, ranging from movie reviews to retrospectives of classic albums and interviews with entertainers.
In Chapter One of “Letting Go of the Words”, Janice Redish provides a summation of why we go to entertaining , non-informational or news related web sites in the first place:
We read social media messages, blog articles, news that interests us. We read to do. We read to learn. We read for fun.
This passage is what made me think of Grantland when brainstorming for a site to focus on. Grantland is what I would consider a “fun” website with a clear view of its content and audience.
I usually enjoy about half of new content on Grantland, but what I do fully appreciate is their approach to providing what I call “stacking” content in their articles. Due to Grantland being a relatively modestly staffed blog in the scheme of things, there is a cohesiveness to the writing that allows callbacks and asides to current and previously published articles that gives readers a good deal of information on a topic.
I chose to spotlight Grantland because this information “overload” is an example of what I consider effective writing and dialogue for the web, especially in the form of the footnotes they employ. There is plenty of content, but you can grab only what you want and go.
Before Grantland came about, I couldn’t name a site I last encountered that used footnotes in any meaningful way, but here they supplement the content without being essential reading. Also highlighted in the above screenshot is a link to a previous article by the author that provides background to the topic. By giving an additional stream of dialogue, the author can engage the reader past the superficial.
In Chapter Two, Redish reinforces the importance of the dialogue between creator and participant:
Your site = you = one side of the conversation. You have to know what you want that conversation to accomplish.
Your site visitor = the other side of the conversation. To have successful conversations with your site visitors, you must understand them and what they need and want.
Steering users towards information they need (or might not know they need) has gotten progressively easier using links. Links are plentiful on the site, most with the added benefit of accompanying images that allow readers to associate the information with visual stimulation as seen on the landing page above. Grantland takes advantage of a true multimedia blog format, leading users to targeted content that provides entertainment (and ad revenue). Writing for the web has evolved in such a way that linking to content both internal and external is natural and follows along a trail of information that leads readers to desired outcomes.
Many blogs today are effective at both written and non-written dialogue between author and reader, especially those that dispense news or educational content. Entertainment blogs are different because they are much more passive in their approach to how they present “useful” information or dialogue threads. Grantland was a slightly difficult example to analyze because of this, but I feel it illustrates a strong connection between author and reader. They present their side of the story and as a reader you have the power to agree or disagree; vote with your continued readership or find a new source of info. Dialogue has evolved along with the web and our forums for discussion are plentiful.