The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Daniel Weintraub of the Sacramento Bee, probably the best-known of the journalist-bloggers (or "j-bloggers"), dropped some of his new-media knowledge recently at the Western Knight Center's "Business of Online Journalism" seminar.

Included in this brief recap are three tips Weintraub gave for writing a blog. They pertain specifically to journalist/reporter blogging, but I think they apply generally to any sort of topical (i.e., non-personal journal) blog. I figured I'd take a quick look at how "The Critical 'I'" stacks up:
- Blogs work best when they address a narrow, specific beat.
Anyone who visits this blog on any random day can see that it flunks this criterion with flying colors. The lack of concentration on any topic or topic area is by design, because ultimately, I don't want to constrain myself to a single theme. I could easily devote this space to just sports, just media, just pop culture or any of the various zones I regularly hit; but I would get bored with that real quick, so I don't. I realize the cost of that is (probably) a more difficult road toward building a large readership, simply because a lot of people prefer a single-purpose blog. I believe, another blog that's sort of all-over-the-place, at one point noted that this scattershot approach is generally on the decline. If it is, it's probably for this reason. Regardless, for my purposes, which are largely non-commercial, I don't foresee changing my approach here. If I do get the itch for something more focused, I can always start a separate blog.
- Successful bloggers post frequently -- usually daily.
I've got this one covered, in spades: In the year-and-a-half (or so) that I've been writing this thing, I've missed only a couple of days, including weekends and holidays. If I do have a theme for this blog, it's a personal commitment to posting something every single day; so if nothing else, regular visitors know they'll find something new every day.

When I started blogging, I recall running across another beginner who asked me, of all people, for advice on how to attract visitors and feedback. Not sure why he had asked me for this advice, but also not wanting to blow him off, I recommended the only thing I felt confident in suggesting: Blog on a regular schedule. It doesn't necessarily have to be daily, but if it's going to be every other day, or three days a week, or even once a month, then establish it and stick with it. I explained that, if the object was to attract readers, you then have an obligation to keep the content on the blog fresh on a regular, predictable basis. In essence, you aren't blogging on your schedule, but really, on your audience's schedule.

That's how you cultivate an audience. If you don't want to stick with that regimen, that's fine, but don't expect to have a regular readership (let alone much in the way of feedback) when potential regular readers are left wondering when the next post is coming--or if it's coming at all. If that's not the motivation, then an irregularly-updated blog is the way to go, without any expectation of building an audience through it (although I'm generally skeptical that anyone keeps an online weblog while eschewing a wider audience; if that were the case, there'd be little point in putting it online for the world to see).
- Writers must remember that the readers of a blog represent a much different audience than those for a mainstream publication. It is appropriate to assume that they are a knowledgeable audience with a large amount of background, interest, and experience in the topic area.
This is a concept that, I must confess, I struggle with quite a bit. It comes into play for me on the dumbest things, like deciding whether or not to hyperlink "NBA" or "Nielsens" or "Disney", or any other references which I consider to not require anything further in the way of explanation. It's often a fine line with assumptions: Are readers of this blog familiar with certain topics to get the context? Should I even worry about that--if someone is really curious, they could always plug the name/concept/idea into a search engine themselves and satisfy themselves that way. But to me, that's something of a failing in the original written piece, in that you don't want the reader to have to go elsewhere. On the other hand, the idea of loading up a post with a hundred hyperlinks isn't all that appealing; it tends to bog me down.

This goes back to the general lack of focus for this blog: Because there is no overarching theme, I can't make many assumptions about the reader's interests and backgrounds, and so probably tend to overcompensate. I do make certain blanket assumptions, like that the reader is American (and so I often frame posts with that perspective). But beyond that, it's kind of a crapshoot.

So, overall, I guess "The Critical 'I'" doesn't conform neatly into the suggested format for a j-blog, or even the typical topical blog. I guess I'm okay with that, and will keep on keepin' on, regardless.