Terrance Heath

Are Reports of Blogging's Demise Exaggerated?

Filed By Terrance Heath | September 07, 2011 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: AdWeek, blogging, Glenn Greenwald, journalism, Twitter

Here we go again. Every time I hear news of the "death" of one medium or another, I take it with an entire box of Morton’s. But for the latest report on the death of blogging, I may need stock in a salt mine.

I talked to AdWeek about my worries about the future of the blog; regular readers of this one know I’ve shifted from jumping on mini-news, politicians’ utterances, and interesting links — which now invariably break on Twitter — to using this space for scoops and thoughts that need a few more characters to flesh out.

In any event, my doom and gloom thoughts:

Twitter, Smith says, is "sort of draining the life from the blog."

"Where people were hitting refresh on my blog because they wanted to see what my latest newsbreak was, now they'll just be on Twitter, and I'll tweet it out and they'll see it there," he says. "What I'm doing right now is just incredibly old school. I might as well have ink all over my fingers and be setting type."

And my boss seems to agree:

"I've had this discussion with Ben, and I think what Ben is wrestling with is, 'Are blogs as viable and essential today as they were four years ago, or is Twitter in the process of replacing blogs?'" VandeHei says. "Can a blog still thrive as robustly today as it did four years ago? The answer might very well be 'No,' that it's much harder for a blog to get and keep and cultivate that audience today than it was four years ago because of that competition, of Twitter pulling away that conversational immediacy element from the blog world."

If our culture has degenerated to the point that anything that can’t be said in 140 characters or less isn’t worth saying, then perhaps Michele Bachmann, the tea party, and Fox News are exactly what we deserve.

Having uttered my un-tweetable thought for the day, I should probably go lie down in traffic now, as there’s really very little someone like me has left to offer the world now.

But I’ll hold off on that for now, given how many times blogging has been declared dead. As early as 2005, conventional wisdom said that only the top 250 blogs were worth reading, and the rest us -- especially those of us blogging from the "long tail" of the blogosphere -- might as well be dead.  The question has been asked for years, and it’s been declared dead (or as least "blogging as we know it") since at least 2009. Back in February, so very long ago, the NY Times declared blogging dead at the hands of Twitter and Facebook, but .nearly a year ago it was email that killed the blog, as fairly prominent bloggers shut down their blogs. having called the time of death on the whole medium.

And I’ve been told that my own style of blogging was killing my blog.

The discussion of the blogroll purge has gone on much longer and spread much further than I expected. (And my original post has been describes on one hand as "dispassionate" and on the other as "whining." I can only hope it falls somewhere in between the two.) As I read through the posts, this one from Creek Running North caught my eye. Partly because it relates to some of my recent thinking about this blog, and party because it linked to a post from Atrios entitled "Why Your Blog Sucks." (The things you miss when you remove the "heavy hitters" from your RSS reader.)

Duncan need not shoot me in my face, because I’m apparently shooting myself in the blog, because of how I blog.

You don’t post often enough. People click on a website regularly when
they expect it to have new content. If you’re a thoughtful writer who
tends to write longer essays then you’re at a disadvantage.
On the
other hand, Glenn Greenwald provides a pretty good model of how to make
this work: generally one post per day, followed by a couple of updates,
and some participation in his comments section. Oh, and truly
excellent, original, and important content.

Chris continues with this.

"If you're a thoughtful writer who tends to write longer essays then you're at a disadvantage."

That's pretty much the issue right there, isn't it? For a number of reasons -- impatience, illiteracy, the eyestrain involved in reading a monitor as compared to curling up with a book or a magazine, the infrequency with which one finds people with high-speed internet hookups in their bathrooms -- people tend to drop out after the first screen of text.

... The problem, as has been pointed out by Noam Chomsky, whose name usually guarantees an immediate 35 percent reader attrition all by itself, is that short statements only work for the reader when they do not challenge preconceptions. Chomsky was speaking of political news when he said it, but it's just as true of many other topics. "American society is founded on freedom" works as a short statement: people will read it, nod, grunt assent and move on. "American society is founded on wars of conquest and slavery" doesn't work quite that well, unless your readership is composed entirely of Trotskyists. Otherwise, you'll have to give a short course in history with footnotes and primary sources for each sentence. (This is why you rarely see Howard Zinn on Hardball.)

Short statements on complex topics, in other words, can only work when they contribute to, and are in essence supported by, the status quo. Question that status quo, quibble with received wisdom, try to kick the chocks out from underneath the wheels of society, and you got some splainin' to do.

And it’s the ‘splaining that’s the bugaboo. It’s also at the heart of the kind of blogging I try to do and enjoy doing; which tends to mean longer posts, with lots of links, that attempt to pull various items and issues into a particular context.

And I’ve explained why I do the kind of blogging I do.

I could probably generate 10 or more posts a day if most of them consisted of one word, maybe one sentence, a link, and a blockquote. But that’s hardly what I’d call "original content." ("Excellence" and "importance" are subjective, I think, and depend entirely on the audience you’re writing for.) Besides, that’s not writing. That’s aggregating, and there are already plenty of aggregators out there.

It’s also just the way my mind works, in a kind of perpetual "associative mode." I can’t think of just one thing at a time. That is, I can’t think of one thing without also thinking of how it relates to something else. How it plays out in my blogging is that I read something, and immediatly think about how it relates to something I read before and/or posted earlier. Once that happens, leaving out those other threads feels like an incomplete picture to me. So I end up with longer posts that link all over the place, or series of posts.

...I guess whether I’m shooting myself in the blog depends on what I’m aiming for. After the brouhaha over the Clinton blogger lunch, I took a long hard look at what I’m doing as a blogger and why I’m doing it.

The bottom line is that the kind of blogging I do, and the stuff that I’m passionate about, isn’t a major draw as far as traffic is concerned, and I’m not willing to make the changes I’d have to make to have a shot at broader appeal and more traffic. But I think I’ve been pretty successful based on the response for the audience that does exist for what I do here. Add a full time job and a family to the mix, and even I’m surprised I’ve been able to do as much as I have. (Actually, I’m not once I factor in how much sleep I’m not getting, because I’m often up until 2am writing.)

...I decided a while back that my goal is to do the kind of writing I enjoy doing, for whomever wants to read it. (And, for the record, I also stopped caring who links to me and whose blogroll I’m on, even though some people seem to read any attempt at analysis as "whining" if it’s longer than three short paragraphs.) It was a kind of epiphany, actually. I realized that what I wanted to do was exactly what I was already doing, and that I’d been doing it pretty well. What I kept tripping over was my own unquestioning acceptance of the contentional definition of "success." Well, no more.

From where I sit right now, I haven’t so much shot myself in the blog as I’ve managed to hit just the right spot to do exactly what I want to do.

I’ve been told that bigger is better, smaller is better, shorter is better and longer is better.

And I will be eternally grateful for Tony's post, which lead me to this article from Jakob Nielsen, "Write Articles, Not Blog Posting."

Blog postings will always be commodity content: there's a limit to the value you can provide with a short comment on somebody else's work. Such postings are good for generating controversy and short-term traffic, and they're definitely easy to write. But they don't build sustainable value. Think of how disappointing it feels when you're searching for something and get directed to short postings in the middle of a debate that occurred years before, and is thus irrelevant.

...It might take you only an hour to write a blog posting on some current controversy, but a thousand other people can do that as well (in fact, they'll sometimes do it better, as shown above). And customers don't want to pay for such a tiny increment of knowledge. Sure, sometimes a single paragraph holds the idea that can increase a site's conversion rate so much that a reader should have paid a million dollars to read it. But they don't know that in advance, so they won't pay.

In contrast, in-depth content that takes much longer to create is beyond the abilities of the lesser experts. A thousand monkeys writing for 1,000 hours doesn't add up to Shakespeare. They'll actually create a thousand low-to-medium-quality postings that aren't integrated and that don't give readers a comprehensive understanding of the topic -- even if those readers suffer through all 1,000 blogs.

My experience has been that there's a definite audience for longer, in-depth posts that require more research. And breaking them up into a series of posts helps like "The Myth of a Bush Recovery parts one, two and three; "The Queer Thing About School Shooters" parts one, two and three; How To Create a School Shooter; or Who's It OK To Hate?.

If there's an advantage to offering in-depth writing, I'm glad to hear it, and even gladder to hear about developments that might increase that advantage.

I write because I have to in order to stay sane. Writing is as necessary to me as breathing, and when I can’t do it I feel like I’m drowning. So, ultimately, I’ve come to realize that I write first and foremost for myself. The result has been, in the nearly eight years since I started doing this, moving from hobbyist blogger to professional blogger. So, despite never being among the top 100 political blogs, and despite doing the kind of writing that is supposed to be the kiss of death for blogging, I’ve done alright, I guess.

I don’t kid myself. As I writer -- even as a pretty good one at times, if I do say so myself -- I know that people like me are a dime a dozen. If the world needs, us, it probably already has way more of us than it needs. Thus most of us will never make a dime from writing, let alone do it for a living, and almost none of us will ever get rich doing it. But we do it anyway; whenever, wherever, and however we can -- in the week hours while the rest of the family is sleeping, on napkins during long train rides, in journals and diaries no one will read until we’re dead (if even then), etc.

And if blogging is ever really "dead" most of us will keep right on doing it, whether anybody reads it, or almost nobody reads it. It’s not, in my case, because I have something to say that I think the worlds needs to hear it, and that I’m the only one who can say it. If I stopped blogging today and never wrote another word, a few people might miss my voice, but the vast majority of the world would take no notice, the world would keep right on spinning; and someone else would say what I wanted to say, and say it as well or even better than I would have. I’d keep writing because there’s just stuff that I have to get out of my head before it explodes.

If anything, sometimes I think this blog is dying. I’ve gone from watching its readership grow since I started it, to watching it dwindle in the past few years. For a while I agonized over it, but now as ascribe it to something simple: change. My life has changed since I started this blog. Our family has grown, and my job has changed such that I have far less time for the reading and writing it requires. The kind of things that get posted here have changed as a result, because I usually crosspost the stuff I write at work. So, that adds up to fewer readers, probably because people have dropped off as they no longer found what they were looking for here. Plus, new readers added were probably fewer, because I’m writing more about subjects that can be found elsewhere.

Plus, it’s also because of how blogging has changed. Most of the stuff I write is more popular and gets more responses on other blogs, and sometimes on sites like Facebook. And that’s fine with me. As I writer, I feel privileged if anything I write finds any kind of readership.

Reports of blogging’s demise are probably exaggerated. As long as there are writers seeking a more immediate route to reaching and audience, there will be bloggers and blogs.They will matter to the people who read them and the people who write them, if no one else.

That, if you ask me, is enough.

(Crossposted at The Republic of T)

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What kind of silly people think Twitter will replace blogging? Twitter is an amazing medium in terms of viewing news and content headlines faster, but it can't actually develop that content in a substantive way. Twitter is useful, but simple and limited in its function; and blogging isn't going anywhere.

I don't think Twitter will replace blogging, because Twitter itself is going to be out of style in another 4-5 years. But I do think that blogging mostly appeals to a much older demographic. You don't see nearly as many young people (I mean like 16-24 year olds) into blogging and most of their 'war of the words' get acted out on Facebook or IM'ing. Most likely blogging will morph into some other method of delivery and the blog will survive but in very different form.

"If our culture has degenerated to the point that anything that can’t be said in 140 characters or less isn’t worth saying, then perhaps Michele Bachmann, the tea party, and Fox News are exactly what we deserve."

You said everything you needed to say right there. Amen, Shalom, So Be It, and Good Night.

I remember while watching the documentary Outrage by Kirby Dick and thinking to myself, what's the point of this material being covered in a documentary? The video format adds nothing essential to what's already been done by blogactive in other journalists.

Maybe it's just me though and my preference for getting news through text sources, rather then video/tv sources. Watching television news, outside of The Daily Show/Colbert Report usually makes me want to tear my hair out.

And naturally I forgot to mention that the whole point I wanted to get at was that blogs can do certain things better then other mediums and formats, so no point in crying about their demise yet.

I'm glad that "small talk" has found a home outside traditional blogging. Also, I never felt that a news aggregator was really a blogger. Different animal.

When the smoke from this transition clears, we'll find that surviving bloggers are the ones who craft beautiful words and sentences. They deliver pleasure, not info or news.

Beautiful minds, beautifully expressed. Those are the ones you'll read, with Twitter and FB tipping you off to new entries.

"If you're a thoughtful writer who tends to write longer essays then you're at a disadvantage."

Yikes. That's precisely my schtick, and why I believe people visit my blog. And I break another cardinal rule: I only post once per week, and sometimes two weeks goes by, and yet my traffic continues to grow. I am of the opinion that "if you build it they will come." Strong and original content is the key -- in my case, writing with "humor and a sweet spot" about my HIV and drug addiction.

I can't seem to write "casually" for my blog. Every entry is carefully written, because my blog is a creative outlet more than anything else. I write the posts as a columnist would, and as a result I believe only 10% of those who read my content see it on my actual blog -- because it is cross-posted on much bigger sites such as Bilerico and others, who appreciate the ready-to-post format of my articles.

Maybe I'm whistling past a cyber graveyard, who knows. The internet is evolving so fast I've become a relic since I started writing this comment. And hell, Terrance, this posting of yours is five days old so who the crap is gonna read it, or my comment, anyway? We're all passe' the moment we stop typing.

Ya'll come visit my blog, you hear?