Why blog?

When I started this blog, blogs were dead exciting. They were the Future. They were New Media, and I was a new journalist, and I desperately loved working online. I wanted to throw myself into the exciting new future of online journalism as hard as I possibly could, so I did the best thing I could think of: I started writing about online journalism, as a sort of add-on to my day job, writing in the cracks. I read everything I could find. I used to get home after 10-hour days writing and demand my brain to produce something else, another few hundred words of analysis or a quick pointer to something else interesting on the internet that someone had said, because I thought it was hugely important.

It was. Honestly, it was. I treated it with such seriousness, and I’m pretty sure that without it I wouldn’t have moved on in the way that I have. Blogging made me, in some ways more than newsrooms did: blogging made me think about reaching specific audiences, it honed my research and collaboration skills, it made me capable of synthesising an argument in 500 words for humans (rather than 2,000 words for academics), it stopped me being scared of speaking my mind in public. What it did for me has been invaluable.

Then I moved on. I started work at the Guardian, and that has a certain chilling effect on writing: for one thing, I can’t use this blog to kvetch about minor work frustrations, because Private Eye exists. There’s a tendency for some people to think that if a journalist works for a national or international news organisation, their words in a personal space reflect back on that organisation. And there’s also the fact that a great many of the things I worked on at the Guardian have been the things I couldn’t work on back when I started out. There’s no need to come home and get fired up about online journalism when I can put that fire to action at work. That’s a very satisfying place to be.

But blogging matters. Late last year, inspired by Adam Tinworth, I tried to blow the dust off this place and pick up the pace a little: I forced myself to write about something every day for ten days. Sometimes games, sometimes journalism, sometimes politics, sometimes creative work, sometimes criticism, sometimes just notes – a broader palette than the one I started with, and perhaps a more mature one. (Perhaps a more confusing one; I’ve stopped trying to separate those parts of my life, because each of them informs all of the others, but if you’re looking for a single-subject blog I can imagine the combination can be strange.)

Since then I’ve slacked off somewhat, but since the new year started I’ve been trying to write posts with ideas in them, thoughts or analysis or at least contextualising a link to something else. One a week at least, on top of the weekly Pocket Lint email. In fact, that Pocket Lint links post every Saturday is a deliberate strategy to force myself to write more: I don’t want my blog to only consist of links posts, like the Delicious-powered graveyards that scattered the web a few years back, when everyone stopped writing and just auto-posted links instead.

Adam’s currently doing another challenge: one month of 500-word posts, substantive things, every day. He linked to this post on writing yourself into existence:

Once you have a blog you notice more, you start to think “I might write about this on my blog” “What do I want to say?” “What will people’s reaction be?”. Over time you get better at noticing and the better at noticing you get the more noticed you get! You end up in the wonderful collective web of “Oooh that’s interesting” which I now wouldn’t ever want to be without.

That’s right. When I wasn’t blogging, I wasn’t thinking about what I read in the same way. Now, finding myself falling out of the habit after a couple of months, that’s a useful reminder to keep writing, to keep sharing what I find interesting, as much for the process of finding, thinking, synthesising and creating as for publishing the end result. Blogging’s been very good for me. I should be doing it more.

Back to blogging: 10 days on

back to blogging11 days ago I decided to blog every day for 10 days, in an attempt to kickstart myself into writing more online for lots of sensible reasons. It’s gone… OK, I think. The quality has been dramatically variable, which is to be expected: I said at the start I was rusty, and that’s still true. I can hear bits of me creaking when I write. And without the luxury of time to let my writing sit and then come back to edit it, a lot of what’s gone up here has been rough and ready.

Despite that, the world has not ended, and my crazy perfectionist brain hasn’t given me too much grief about what I’ve posted. I’ve put something vaguely readable out every day. Some of it’s obviously been interesting – I had more than a thousand views in a day for the IGN piece, which for this blog is a significant number. Some of it’s just me thinking out loud, which is also fine. One of the reasons for doing this was to get better at thinking, after all.

It hasn’t been particularly easy to fit around a standard day. That’s partly because right now there are no standard days – the one real constant is that I’m very busy with work – and partly because I’ve not set aside a set block of time to blog. Days when I spot something first thing in the morning, or when I’ve got something brewing in the back of my head, have been relatively easy – I can knock something into shape over lunch. Days when I’m struggling for a subject or when I can’t get words to flow quite right have been much harder. And if I hadn’t written almost all of this post yesterday, there’s no way I could have gotten it up today.

But that will change as I get back into the groove, and as my magpie habits return. I’m finding myself squirrelling away interesting links for analysis, not just tweeting them and leaving them. I’m reading more deeply, forcing myself to articulate what’s relevant in more depth than 140 characters minus a link. I’m also realising there are lots of things I want to write that need a bit more care and attention than the average day can provide. I’ve not talked about my work, or written that piece about movement in Morrowind and the problem of fast travel, or gotten really snarky about Snowfall-related news commentary. Yet.

So the experiment will continue for a while. I’m not going to commit 100% to posting every day, but when Grant recovers from PAX I am going to ask him to join me in doing this again. If it takes 60 days to build a habit, then perhaps that should be the goal: in 60 days time, I’d like to be blogging more days than not. I’d like to be posting better quality pieces, too, but it’s more important that something exists than that it’s perfect.

What is a blog, anyway?

This post by Andy Boyle seems to have struck a nerve on Twitter today. It exhorts news organisations to stop referring to things they produce as blogs just because they use different CMS or are branded differently to regular content. While I don’t think it quite applies across the board – this, for instance, is definitely a blog – Andy makes some very good points.

Sadly, blogs brought along a stigma that people still use  – which is wrong — that they’re done by people in their pajamas in a basement somewhere. Blogs are not the same as regular news content, some media folks thought, because they weren’t in your “main” CMS. They had a wall between them and they are different. They may even be branded differently, with a different header and logo. They weren’t the same as regular content because they were in a different system! Right?


It’s time to stop bifurcating your content as blogs and news because they run on separate systems. It is all content, so why not call it that? Even if you have outside people writing posts on your website that are unmoderated by your staff — that’s still content that’s part of your media outlet’s website. I don’t have any research proving this, but in my short journalism career many media outlets just slapped the name “blog” on something because it lived in a different CMS. We should stop this. Please.

While I don’t have any hard stats or user testing data on how readers react to the word “blog”, my gut instinct is that their readings are very different from the way news organisations tend to use the term. To a newsroom, the word blog might signify a lighter tone than news or feature. It might imply a home for specialised subject matter that might not fit with the rest of the site. It might be used to signify a linked, ongoing set of posts like the word “series”. It might mean “something done through WordPress” or “something put online without subbing first” or “a side project we give the juniors to prove themselves”. To some, in some newsrooms, it almost certainly means “not proper journalism”, despite the (somehow, still ongoing) conversations about whether bloggers can be journalists.

The question is what it means to our readers. My fear is that for them it may have more resonance with the meanings towards the end of that little list than the ones at the start. Blog shouldn’t be a dirty word or one that’s used to put down the effort of the people creating something – but in the minds of many, at the moment it still is. It’s important to set readers’ expectations by what’s on the page, but we don’t need to distinguish web-only or web-first or even tone in this way – there are other words that might make just as much sense to us, and even more to readers.