Rekindling the single-minded pursuit of passion

I’ve been busy the last couple of weeks working on the creation of two sports Web sites — one of my own and another startup idea with a friend. Both revolve around topics I’ve written about extensively during my newspaper days, and that I have dabbled with on the Web.

These topics brought out the passion in me to a point where some former colleagues wondered — sometimes within my earshot — that perhaps I was a bit too narrow in my interests. Who’s going to read this? Who cares about those “small” sports? Reality, as they defined it, was being crowded out.

Then reality did bite, and it chomped down rather hard on my little dream creation. After a couple of years of changing supervisors and the gradual chipping away of my hybrid beat, the only job I ever wanted — and one I had invented myself — was going away altogether. In one of many newsroom reorganizations at my former place in recent years (far too many to count), I was going over to the Web side of the operation.

I welcomed the change not only to learn some valuable Web skills, but also because I had become burned out and beaten down by the constant merry-go-round in the newsroom. The passion had been drained out of me, and so for most of the four years I worked on the Web site, I buried those passions and poured my energies into the world of online journalism.

While I’m glad I did the latter, I have regretted putting aside the sports passions that marked my work as a reporter. Since leaving the paper 10 months ago, I’ve been stoking those fires anew. While it’s impossible to feel the same surge of excitement at reporting and writing on a beat for the first time, I’d be foolish to toss away the the contacts, expertise and ideas I generated over the years. Especially when so many people I’ve gotten to know on those beats have been asking me if I’m going to “come back” someday.

Well, yes, I can say that I am making a comeback. I’m very close to relaunching my old beat on the Web, but in the split-up, niche ways that the Web demands. Which I think is ideal. Instead of writing for a mass audience, I’m honing in on those readers who are intensely interested in the subject and will aim to provide content and value they cannot get anywhere else.

The obvious question here is this: So, are you going to make money off this?

Clearly, not at the start, and while one of the sites has a business model in mind, it’s one that hasn’t been tested. So I’m not making any assumptions about cash rolling in.

There’s no magic bullet here to fame or fortune as a blogging journalist. If you go into a blog with that in mind, you’re bound to fail. Without the passion for your topic, there’s no way even a non-commercial blog has a chance of being noticed, or of giving the writer an ounce of satisfaction. I believe that’s probably why so many blogs go away as quickly as they were begun.

When I read this week that a leading NFL-oriented fan blog was being purchased by NBC Sports, I thought it was a fantastic victory for the idea of media convergence that I wholeheartedly support. But I truly love the story of Mike Florio, a West Virginia lawyer who started ProFootballTalk.com because of his unquenchable passion for the sport of pro football:

“I try to create the place where I would want to spend my time if I was on the other side of the screen. Where would I want to get my information about the NFL? What stories would be interesting to me and how would I want it to be presented? Would I want it to be just a cold, dry recitation of the facts, or would I want it to be something that makes me think, that makes me upset, that stirs my opinions and makes me laugh from time to time?”

Isn’t that a great mission statement for anybody starting a blog? Isn’t that what journalists have been trained to do all along?

All along, Florio kept his day job as a lawyer, but now he’s going to give it up to write full-time for his site, which he began seven years ago.

When Alex Ross, the respected classical music critic for The New Yorker, toots another critic’s horn, that’s truly high praise. Pierre Ruhe, until recently the full-time classical music critic at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, my former paper, has begun an Atlanta arts site with fellow ex-AJC critics Catherine Fox (visual art and architecture) and Wendell Brock (theater) after all three took recent buyouts. Ross, who like many of us has both feet planted on either side of the media divide, raises the usual questions about whether such ventures can sustain the journalists who started them. Any journalist worried about what is being lost with the decline of newspapers should keep this in mind:

“I’m generally a fan of the wacky world wide web, but I don’t believe that it will put traditional journalism out of business, any more than television replaced movies or recording replaced live performance. The false either/or of Internet vs. print should be put to rest. And publications should emphasize their strengths and not their weaknesses.”

Andrew Sullivan’s passion for rounding up the best news content on the Web and posting it on his well-read blog, The Daily Dish, has made him an indispensable curator and commenter on a number of major news topics over the years. But his work last weekend in conveying on-the-ground developments from Tehran following the controversial Iranian presidential elections is earning raves all across the blogosphere, and not just from fellow political and current affairs junkies. The terrific Open Culture site claims Sullivan “has been embarrassing America’s traditional news media” and adds:

“I ask, somewhat facetiously, would we really miss the beleaguered newspaper industry if it went away? Not this week, we wouldn’t.”

Of course, Sullivan has been a traditional journalist for many years, blending that background with blogging. And he’s a rare paid, full-time blogger too. But if you have some time and want to understand his journalistic transition, his “Why I Blog” piece for The Atlantic last fall is a classic, if lengthy, manifesto.

It also oozes with the kind of passion that’s necessary for anyone to have a chance of making something happen on the Web.

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