The Job of Blogging

By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, October 16, 2014

Blogging is an interesting hobby, but strange in some ways.  Most blogs are like diaries, yet before the Internet most folks would be horrified to have their diaries read before they died.  Blogging is a bit like writing papers for school, and most students absolutely hated writing research papers and book reports. Blogging has an element of journalism, so maybe its popularity reflects a strong desire for bloggers to be reporters. However, there’s tens of millions of blogs, most going unread, as are most daily newspapers. If I really wanted to be read I should try and write stuff for popular web sites, that’s where the readers are going. Writing for professional sites should be my ambition, but its easier to just to be my own editor.

In some ways blogging is confessional, and that doesn’t require readers. Writing is therapeutic. But I don’t think I’d take all this time to write if I didn’t think I had readers. The urge to write encompasses the urge to inform and entertain. I’m not sure how entertaining and informative I am, but I keep trying. Before I changed my domain name, I was getting 200-400 hits a day, with occasional spikes.  My best day ever was 4,521. Evidently switching names has screwed up things with Google, because now I only get 100-150 hits a day. Most of those lost hits were for product review pages. And that tells me something – web surfers mostly want information from the Internet. And that’s reasonable. Most of the pages I still get hits on deal with science fiction. When I write about me I get no hits.

The common advice to bloggers from successful bloggers is to publish regularly.  At least once a week. That means writing 52 read-worthy essays a year. Most popular bloggers publish several times a week, but often, they are the subject of their writing. My life is not as entertaining as The Bloggess. Even if I was more fascinating, I doubt I could handle the stress of making myself more interesting. Besides I love writing about interesting things that aren’t me.  For instance, last night on PBS I started watching a new series, How We Got to Now.  The first episode was called “Clean” and it was about how America started cleaning up its act. It featured a fascinating segment about how Chicago first built sewers.  They actually raised up the buildings to make space. Now that grabbed my attention!

Street_Raising_on_Lake_Street

[Click to enlarge]

If I could, I’d want to write nonfiction books on science and history, but I’m not that disciplined and dedicated. Thus, blogging for me is a way to write tiny reports about the books I read, the documentaries I see, and the web pages I discover, that are worthy of wider attention. People do the exact same thing on Facebook and Twitter.  Blogging is just more verbose. Blogging gives me more time to make my case.

Few writers write original content. They report on people, places and events. Most journalism is a kind of history. Reviewers report on other content creators. For example, the raising of Chicago’s buildings is something I could research and write about, but why should I compete with what Wikipedia has published, or PBS? Blogging is more liked linked lists in computer programming. If you read other web sites about the topic, for instance Gizmodo, you’ll see no one writes much on the Internet about any particular subject, and they often share the same facts, links and images. The image above is at every site I visited. If you follow the links, you will get more information, but not much. Following several links give a bigger picture. If you want true in-depth reporting, you have to read books.

A great blogger will consolidate a greater amount of information, closer to magazine pieces in size. Open Culture and Brain Pickings are my favorite examples. Open Culture just provided me with a wonderful piece about Alice Guy-Blaché, a women director also mentioned in last week’s Makers on PBS that I wanted to research. I wonder if Jonathan Crow was inspired to write his piece because of Makers? Or was it an interesting coincidence.

As a bookworm and documentary junky, I’m constantly finding new facts that startle me. For example, the other night I watched The Galapagos Affair, about a tiny historical incidence from the 1930s, involving a German couple moving to an uninhabited island in the Galapagos. Their letters home made them world famous as a modern day Adam and Eve. Eventually five more people join them, and two were murdered, leaving an interesting mystery. I found this bizarre history riveting, and highly recommend the documentary that’s available on Netflix Streaming.

eve and adam

If I was a better journalist, say up to Maria Popova’s standards, I’d go research to see if more people in history have tried to play Adam and Eve. If Dore Strauch and Friedrich Ritter got the idea, so must have others. As a kid I was always fascinated with Swiss Family Robinson type stories. As a blogger, that should be my job, to track down more information. But to be honest, that requires a lot of work, and I don’t know if I’m up to it. I’m now working in a space beyond Twitter and Facebook, but not yet a full article.

That’s what this essay is about. Even though I’m not being paid, I feel blogging is a kind of job, and comes with responsibilities. While I have been nattering about blogging, I hope I’ve provided some useful information, and maybe turned you onto some interesting reading. Is that enough though?  How much information do I have to provide to make it worth your time to read what I write?

JWH

6 thoughts on “The Job of Blogging”

  1. My favorite post of yours are the ones like this one. The ones you write mostly about yourself or your thoughts on stuff.

  2. Ditto Gary. Your thoughts bring something unique to the subjects you discuss. Unless it’s for a job, I think blogging should be relaxing: something you do because you want to. I guess that’s why people can get personal though they might be horrified about having their diaries read and students may write long posts though they dislike writing research papers and book reports (like me).

    Btw, I love Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings. That’s an awesome website. And is that PBS show based on the new science book on innovations– ‘How We Got to Now’ by Steven Johnson? I’ll click on the link to find out.

    1. Yep, that’s the guy. Johnson is like James Burke, like Marzaat said. I wonder if Connections would hold up to watching again after all these years. Maybe there’s a blog post in comparing the two.

  3. I like both kinds of bloggers — the synthesizers who have put together a post, coherent and entertaining, on information elsewhere on the web.

    I like the “scholars”. For internet purposes, I’m using the term loosely for all those bloggers who bring information previously not on the Internet into it.

    I like real scholars too – but they’re a rare breed on or off the Net.

    I’ve heard professional essayists and columnists say they never can tell what will grab someone’s fancy: a personal anecdote whipped off in a 15 minutes or the long post that took two days of research. I suspect a bit of that is true of the audience bloggers find.

    And I second the Johnson show — a tamer version of James Burke’s Connections.

  4. Jim, for years I’ve been trying to remember the details of a man who lived alone on an otherwise deserted Pacific island. He was a Brit, fairly mature (maybe in his fifties or sixties?), and determined to live a civilized life, obeying all the “rules” of his society. He had tea at exactly the same time each day, having set his table with a tablecloth and proper tea set. Shaved each day, carefully dressed, etc. IIRC, he lived there for many years. Ring any bells?

    I enjoy your blog very much, so you must be doing something right! I assume the second picture is of the original German couple in the Galapagos. The wife is wearing an interesting outfit for working in the tropics!

    Kate Bulman

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