11 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.
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.