Just let go and blog

Here is a long-winded, quite fancy manifesto in favor of the art of blogging from Andrew Sullivan, who has more than made the conversion from magazine scold to, er, blogging scold.

Interestingly, he lays this out in the print edition of the The Atlantic, on whose web site he incessantly blogs in much shorter, and pithier, form than his previous online incarnations. I link to this nearly breathless essay because of how Sullivan compares and contrasts blogging to traditional, print-oriented journalism. His gift for hyperbole can be grating, as can his political mood swings, which have ranged from fervent support of the Iraq invasion to head-over-heels love for Barack Obama.

But if you struggle to get comfortable with blogging, as I occasionally do, because of that cautious newspaper background, he offers plenty of encouragement to get rid of of old constrictions. The dangling high-wire act that bloggers indulge in daily is one of the drawbacks old print hacks have pointed to for their reluctance to take the plunge, along with the Web’s relentless transparency that starkly exposes their mistakes and shortcomings. Just deal with it:

“So blogging found its own answer to the defensive counterblast from the journalistic establishment. To the charges of inaccuracy and unprofessionalism, bloggers could point to the fierce, immediate scrutiny of their readers. Unlike newspapers, which would eventually publish corrections in a box of printed spinach far from the original error, bloggers had to walk the walk of self-correction in the same space and in the same format as the original screwup.”

The liberation of the writer, and of the creative impulse, does come with greater accountability, but also the opportunity to build an audience, learn from it, and use it to bolster individual journalism:

“To blog is therefore to let go of your writing in a way, to hold it at arm’s length, open it to scrutiny, allow it to float in the ether for a while, and to let others, as Montaigne did, pivot you toward relative truth. A blogger will notice this almost immediately upon starting. Some e-mailers, unsurprisingly, know more about a subject than the blogger does. They will send links, stories, and facts, challenging the blogger’s view of the world, sometimes outright refuting it, but more frequently adding context and nuance and complexity to an idea. The role of a blogger is not to defend against this but to embrace it. He is similar in this way to the host of a dinner party. He can provoke discussion or take a position, even passionately, but he also must create an atmosphere in which others want to participate.”

Well, after reading that paragraph my arms are exhausted from holding them out for so long. As I said, Sullivan’s prose is quite a mouthful and prone to induce eye-rolling. (Not all are enamored with how he goes about his business: Here, and here.)

But for post-newsroom journalists reinvigorating their work through blogging and the Web, this should be an invitation to find their own voices, their own niches, their own online personae, their own marketing vehicles. For me, this is a gradual process, and some days it feels like a slog. As much as I embrace the Web and its possibilities, I’m finding that even two months removed from a traditional newsroom, it’s not as simple to blog as it seems.

I’m writing this entry today to push myself through a recurring obstacle: Giving myself permission to blog freely. Bloggers, and their readers, are their own editors. Writing with a “distinctive voice” is also difficult for those of us trained not to leak out even the most mundane opinions, or the slightest bit of personality. We have been creatures of a formalized print medium that’s meant to be read silently. There’s no conversational element involved in composing a typical newspaper piece.

But in blogging, writing as you speak is vital, and quite often that means dropping the twin blinders of objectivity and neutrality:

” . . . next time you write a blog entry, get to the last word then take ten or fifteen minutes to do something completely unrelated, leaving it unpublished. After you’ve had a chance to switch gears, go back to your editing screen, scroll to the top, and read what you’ve written out loud to your cat, the far wall, your cube-mate, whomever. Does it really sound like you talking?”

If you can make your way through Sullivan’s piece, practice writing in your own voice, are emboldened to show your readers your true, passionate self but still have qualms about jumping into the blogging mosh pit, think about this: “How will you introduce yourself and your message/story to others?”

I tried the above suggestion and I must admit that I’ve got a long way to go toward understanding, and succeeding, at blogging. Old habits are truly hard to shake.

But here’s a pretty robust screed against blogs as passé. If you haven’t started one already, it suggests that you fuggedaboutit:

The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge. Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths. It’s almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter.

Beware, blogging newbies, that this is an increasingly popular stance for some Web veterans to espouse. Some are bored, eager to try the hot new toys, and they don’t like their turf being invaded by “cut-rate” anythings and, I suspect, the unwashed masses. They feel as Yogi Berra did about a popular restaurant:  “Nobody goes there any more. It’s too crowded.”

Many must be where “the buzz” is. To this crowd, blogs are hardy liberating. Read the comments at the end of the post — including an equally zealous post in response — for a truly Web-centric flogging of this blogger’s snottiness. (via 10,000 Words)

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