Lessons learned along the blogging trail

Some links I’ve been referring to as I sort out my own ideas about what I want to achieve through blogging (here and elsewhere) and as I try to de-stigmatize (with a little bit of success) the form for skeptical old-school journalists:

• Getting started remains one of the biggest obstacles for many print types I know. But then what? Gina Chen, as usual, has a great starter’s guide which extends to the realm of getting all over social media. Above all:

“Have fun. . . . Don’t worry about traffic at first. . . . But the real value of blogging, at least to me, is connecting with other people and getting to ‘talk’ with them about a topic I love.”

It seems so simple and quite obvious, but it’s something I find far too easy to forget. Why waste time blogging on a subject you can’t get excited about, or at least just a little bit interested in, exploring?

• How often should you post? This is something I agonize about all the time. This week, for example, I’m posting every weekday (I’ve given myself tight deadlines, although I’m about to miss this one by a few minutes.) Lately it’s gone down to once or twice a week. So much of it depends on inspiration, marshaling material (links) and wondering whether you believe you have anything interesting to say. Pat Thornton believes that “quantity matters:”

“Someone who blogs a few times a month will get a lot less traffic than someone who blogs a few times a week. Both of them will get less traffic than someone who blogs daily. All of them will get less traffic than someone who blogs multiple times a day.”

I get too carried away on this blog with long winding narrative, which isn’t a bad way to blog on occasion. But I have found that shorter posts (many of them curated or aggregated, in fact) not only have spiked up traffic, but tend to get retweeted on Twitter and distributed across the Web in other ways.

Readers do appreciate a concise roundup of links on a particular topic (as I served up yesterday). Time and brevity mean everything on the Web, and I’m learning quite profoundly that providing a service instead of just bloviating endlessly is of far greater value.

• Some journalists commonly accuse bloggers of “stealing” their material via the apparently subversive act of linking. (Some people, in fact, want to make it a crime.) Nicholas Carr, a noted skeptic of techno-Utopianism, has a brief response: So what? Not only is the “parasitic” nature of blogging fine by him, you can go ahead and label his blog as such. He doesn’t mind. In fact, he believes the parasitic nature of blogging is an inherently good thing:

“Bloggers blog for a host of reasons, but what sets blogging apart as a literary form is that it offers a writer an easy way to document his or her responses to their day-to-day reading. The constant flow of text through the eye and mind is a characteristic of many people’s lives, but it has never been possible before to capture the experience so thoroughly and with such immediacy as it can be through blogging. Diaries come closest, but they’re private, and I’d argue that they place more distance between the act of reading and the act of writing about reading.

“The least interesting blogs are the ones that simply replicate existing journalistic forms such as news articles, company profiles or product reviews. They can be very useful, and they can certainly be very popular, but they’re blogs in a technical sense only.”

What drives me insane is to see longtime print journalists treating a blog as an idyllic venue for cranking out the kinds of material they’ve always longed to do for their papers, but for a lack of space. No linking. More personal rumination than reporting. And endlessly, endlessly long. Yes, we want to know what you think, on a certain level, but please try to be true to the form at a bare minimum. Is that so hard? Give your readers context, the ability to fact-check what you’ve written and other resources for their further exploration, and you will be doing them a great service.

• And most recently, Scott Rosenberg, author of a new book assessing the history, impact and importance of the blogging revolution, posted yesterday that journalists just “don’t get” why most people blog:

“For the great majority of participants, blogging is a social activity, not an aspiration to mass-media stardom. It is very hard for journalists to understand this because the opportunity to express themselves in public has always been a part of their professional birthright.”

In the comments below, Ryan Sholin, one of the bright lights of journalism’s future and who’s recently fled the newspaper industry, writes that journalists need to understand that blogging, rather than their print bylines, is the coin of the realm:

“Three jobs in a row now, the existence of my blog has been a crucial deciding factor — it’s how people know me, know my ideas, know where I think information and communication are headed.

“Oh, and the newspaper articles I wrote at the largest paper I ever worked for? They’re in an archive behind a paywall. So, journalists, good luck with those clips. I’ll keep pointing people to my blog.”

Here’s where Ryan does his primary blogging.

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