A couple of interesting posts today on the workings of Weblogging, one pretty positive from Jay Rosen, the other less so from John Grillo (via James Farmer.) They come at it from different angles, Jay the established blogger/journalist, John the upstart neophyte publisher, but both allow us to get inside their process and thinking in a variety of ways.
Jay has quickly become one of the most widely read bloggers out there, due in small part, I think, to the reputation he brought with him and in larger part to the quality and depth of his posts. As he says, “I try to write short, snappy things, but they turn into long ones.” I love it when I see a post at Jay’s site turn up in my aggregator, but I also know it means I have to wait until I’ve cleared most of my decks before I delve into it. Seems like I’m his target reader:
“…the whole purpose in starting PressThink was liberation: wow, my own magazine. I’m sure it’s the same for most webloggers. I was interested in users who did have time for depth, in whatever number they may prove to exist, ocean to ocean, post to post.
I like the way he articulates the flexible nature of Weblogs, and how difficult it is to find the focus and voice of your own space:
…the Web is good for many opposite things. For quick hitting information. For clicking across a field. For talk and interaction. It’s also a depth finder, a memory device, a library. Not to use a weblog for extended analysis because most users won’t pick that option… is Web dumb but media smart… I probably should learn the more classical blogger form– title, link, quick comment. But there are many doing it that way, and many who do it well. Every good blog asks the Web a question at the start: is there any demand out there for an original… for a me? You have to do the actual blog for a while to find out.
Also interesting is his take on process, not only of how he finds topics to write about but how he crafts his posts.
Hmm. I read the press, watch the news, click around in my blogroll, and hunt for something juicy, current, interesting. Then I collect links, and start writing. Or someone emails me something and it leads to a post. That’s it, method-wise. What I have instead of method is a kind of style sheet, which has self-imposed instructions for how to do a PressThink post.
In this example, The Tipping Point, there are five fields that get filled in: the title, the subtitle, the essay, the “aftermath” (with notes, reactions and links) and the comments. Each requires a different kind of writing. The title condenses what the post is about, and arrests attention. The subheading explains the argument, previewing what’s going to happen in the essay. The essay is an essay, but with links– a gesture unto themselves. The “after” section edits and tracks the wider discussion in the blog sphere. The comments begin the dialogue.
A successful post is when all five parts talk to each other as they are read against one another. A PressThink entry is not “done” until the after matter, trackbacks and comments come in, which sometimes takes more than a week. That’s one cycle in the turning of a weblog. When it works (always a hit and miss thing) the post at some point turns into a forum on the subject that occasioned the post– and the fourm is what “thinks.” Of course, I didn’t know about this stylesheet and the posting logic it enforces until after I had stumbled on it through trial and error.
In contrast, John reflects on his process as one of struggle, particularly with the concept of building community.
As time progressed, I came to realize that online community building takes takes a persistence bordering on lunacy and the patience of a seasoned fisherman to be realized – It doesn’t happen overnight, nor over the course of a few weeks. Community building certainly doesn’t have the instant gratification of a fast-food restaurant. And it took me a long time to realize that.
Which of course echoes what a lot of students might say given the task of blogging for readers. Another point of contrast with Jay’s post is the impetus for blogging in the first place.
When I originally started blogging, I was writing about my life and the experiences which made up my day to day existence. I was satisfied that I could continue indefinitely in that vein, but I wanted to be a community builder so badly that I altered nearly ever aspect of my blog possible. I changed my writing style in an attempt to be more academic, I removed elements, such as a ‘current mood’ status bar, which I thought were too personal, and I gave up on other projects which I had once thought were really interesting, such as daily journaling. I was trying to make my site more accessible to prospective community members, but all I did was make my site more boring for those who were already following me.
It’s a pretty poignant description of what can happen when you start blogging for your audience. It’s something probably every blogger struggles with. There’s no point to putting it up there if no one’s going to read it…right?