Blogging on Blogging

Outside of posting pictures of your cats, perhaps the most stereotypically self-indulgent type of blog post is one about blog posting. But who am I to resist stereotypical self-indulgence? A colleague recently expressed interest in teaming up with others on a potentially high-profile group-edited blog using the same content management applications that I use here and on other blogs I administer. He asked for my thoughts about blogging workload, opportunities and pitfalls, in general terms, which I provided, and share below (edited to protect the names of the guilty and innocent alike, to add some later thoughts, and with his concurrence to sharing our correspondence):

I’d love to see you take up a blog! This WordPress software application is very simple to learn and use. A couple of clicks, type your piece, hit “publish” and it’s up there. You can set it up so that reader comments generate an e-mail to you with the option to approve, disapprove or spam. That can be as much or as little work as you want to make it. If you tend to push the envelope on provocative topics, you’ll obviously get more comments. You also can decide how many of them you want to respond to, directly or online. Honestly, I’m probably a “bad blogger” in that I don’t really care about traffic that much at this point, so I don’t do some of the blog basics, like responding to every commenter to build a sense of “community” around my blog. In the case of what you’re proposing, I suspect you would want to build that sense of community, so you may find that you want to spend more time and effort in this piece than I do.

There’s another thing to be aware of, in regards to reader comments, best summarized by this now-famous internet image (note: language warning in link). There are some truly deplorable trolls out there who will say some truly awful things in blog comments anonymously, just because they can. Again, if you’re not pushing the provocative edge, you won’t likely see that kind of volume, but you’ll want to be prepared to have some thick skin about what people might say on your posts, and I recommend liberally refusing to publish offensive garbage in comments. Once they see that you won’t accept it, the trolls will first scream “censorship,” not knowing what that word really means, since neither the government nor the media own your blog, and you can decide who or what you choose to allow there, within rules and guidelines that you define and enforce, just as you can in your “real world” home. If you stay firm about blocking the idiots with nothing to add, then they will generally go away. Or at least go somewhere else to criticize you for your “censorious” ways.

To be clear: I don’t have a problem with people disagreeing with me online, anonymously or otherwise, and I always publish those kinds of comments, but I do have a problem with racist, sexist, violent, or other attack-oriented anonymous posts. My blog is pretty “troll free” at this point, though, again, if I was more traffic oriented, I might get more of them.  Unfortunately, for some readers, those garbage comments are what it’s all about when it comes to blogs, and some of the high-traffic local sites draw hits less for the content in the blogs themselves, and more for the “community” action that happens in the comments section, complete with sock puppet wars, competition for attention from the blog host(s), trolls picking on the weaker members of the tribe, strident absolutist sloganeering, and deliberately provocative posting just to get a reaction. That all feels like junior high school redux to me, and I’m really not interested in encouraging it, though I do always like thoughtful discourse and discussion in the comments section if it’s about the topic at hand, not about the commenter’s wants and needs, and not about how I might respond to them. That sort of online relationship/community gets really creepy, really fast.

Finally, I think the most important thing to say to someone who’s considering blogging in a potentially high-profile local capacity  is that you really have to like writing. I’m probably borderline OCD about it, and it sort of takes some degree of obsessiveness to want to spend time regularly recording and sharing your thoughts in writing. The nice thing about starting with a group blog could be that it wouldn’t all be on your back, conceptually, so if you found that you really didn’t want to keep it up over time, there wouldn’t be a page out there with your name in the headline pointing to an out-of-date page. On the flip side, if you find that you really love the writing and are getting a lot out of it, I would suggest that you start your own personal blog as well, since that gives you a degree of freedom and autonomy that doesn’t exist in a group blog setting.

At bottom line, I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of blogging, because it’s a relatively simple way to record and share thoughts, and I can type in WordPress a whole lot faster than I can write in a Moleskine notebook these days. I’ve actually had a blog since September 2000, back before most folks knew what they were, and I moved to the TU about three years ago, since it was easier than coding and maintaining my own pages. I recommend it to anyone who really likes the written word. Hopefully you find this encouraging in terms of your interest in doing your proposed blog! Good luck with it!

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