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B l o g g i n g

"I read the blogs today, oh boy..."

There is something elementally good about them. There is something excellent about the independent individual wrangling with the truth or projecting a world view that is his or hers. We do see some problems, however much we support the idea.

Most of the bloggers make the mistake of beginning writers. They believe everything they think and write is important. Good writers chase this fantasy out as quickly as possible. Blogging seems to encourage it. Tant pis. Millions of useless words dance along the daily landscape, why add to it?

Well, why do people with no talent sing in the shower? Because it's fun and liberating to do so.

The attention thus far has been on journalism. To quote the late baseball announcer, "Holy Cow."

Why? Well, it's mainly because journalism is filled with wonderfully idealistic types who are also very resourceful. It's a natural fit for them.

There will be definite contributions made by the bloggers even as the revolution dies a peaceful death in a few years. The motivation for some of the journalism bloggers is purely a gross kind of socialism to fight the media empires. I don't blame them. And I encourage it even though I have yet to see anything approaching a new journalism.

The French Revolution was motivated in much the same way and ended up with streets-full of babbling and insane ideas that quickly lost favor. However, the aftermath was significant.

There will be more collaboration, no question. Journalists and editors will use bloggers and vice versa. The blogosphere will be a kind of grooming area for new talent. Most of the bloggers will feel rather exploited down the line and give up the ghost.

But to say nothing will happen or there will be no impact is rather stupid. And I wouldn't make that argument. And on a good day the net/blogosphere is the most exciting playpen on Earth.

The question to ask is, "what do people want from the news? What are they looking for?" That depends on many demographic factors like age, income, education, region and so forth. I want historical context and some degree of intelligence playing in the middle of "whatever." I find it in decent journals, some newspapers, few if any blogs. I know what the news is. I know a helicopter went down in Baghdad today. Would it improve the story if a guy was on the ground as it was happening tapping the sad story out? A helicopter goes down and good men and women die. This is a story. It's not a story that should die soon but then what about the Tsunami, the American hostage, the train derailment, and other fractured moments of our reality? Or, is it our reality?

To say reality is so fragile that the press can construct or destroy it is saying too much. The press can only construct or destroy what the people believe. And the people have abandoned the press as a "belief system." That is where the crisis in journalism exists. And reconstituting a "belief system" through blogs doesn't look credible to me. It's going to take something a good deal more fundamental.

So even though blogging in journalism has received a good deal of coverage from, of course, journalists where is blogging going to take off? That's a hard one to answer. Blogs, in even more precise ways, are where writing, information, knowledge, and technology meet. But, absent from them are the same jewels necessary for a website: Business models. And without that model(s) people tire of doing things for free, the novelty loses its steam and the restless people move to a new adventure.

They are, then, another piece of the self-publishing puzzle and join with self-published books, websites, e-books, chapbooks of poetry, and other products of doing it oneself. And the huge problem in that area is simple: There is nothing demanding what you are doing. You have to create the demand. The bloggers are trying to create that demand just like the e-book people did. "Create buzz around the activity itself and then those participating in the activity will, en masse, benefit! Yeah, man, what a game this is!"

But, the sad truth is that there is no real demand. There is curiosity. And until there is demand there won't be a business model. That's why the self-publisher has to help create the demand and do some marketing.

The best thing bloggers can do is find those who have created and secured a demand from the market and then offer their services to further enhance the demand-side.

It reminds me of a lesser counter-culture that I experienced from the mid-60's to the mid-70's. People underestimate the power that the counter-culture had at that time and how it managed to change a few things. In the counter-culture the idea of personal computers was cultivated, as was solar power, better eating habits, ecological values, senses cleaned of the modern muck, and an appreciation for art and beauty.

Good things will emerge from the present fascination with the dot.com rage and the good things will lodge in the mainstream that, still, doesn't know what is upon it.

Some of the absurd claims I've heard in relation to blogging:

  1. It decentralizes power by undermining "corporate interests." I wish; all it does is provide another tool for corporate interests. When all the rebel bloggers have burnt out on the exercise the corporate world will be hiring young bloggers from State U. at pretty decent salaries. "Make us sound real good. Connect to our customers." They will be given the Cluetrain Manifesto to read and go from there.
  2. Blogging creates new forms of community. This is closer to the truth but then what is a community? I suspect the virtual community is as real as the virtual love affair. Yes, on a certain level there is a connection but it leaves too much out and the community quickly folds when people lose interest.
  3. Blogging makes everyone a writer and publisher. Oh boy. As we've noted before, the one salutary effect will be the production of new readers.

More than a few bloggers are full-time journalists and these activities can produce a conflict of interest.

N i c h e s

This article by Roxanne McDonald is a good introduction into what we've harped on here: The need for the writer to find a niche. It's difficult for writers because, as we mentioned last issue, writers come from humanities programs that teach a holistic approach to things. To fragment, separate, exclude is not politically correct. But, the world does that very deed and if you are going to write professionally you have to play along with the world. Or, as Kafka said, "If you're in a race with the world, bet on the world."

She actually defines where the word, "niche" comes from so for no other reason go read the article.

"Senior memoirs are booming," said Calvin Reid, an editor at Publishers Weekly in New York. "Print-on-demand vendors are publishing hundreds of thousands of books each year, the overwhelming majority of which are meant only for an audience of family and friends."

Here's an example of a niche, a growing market, and yet little expectation for the book except as something to pass on to family and friends.

Magazine ad revenues are up for the first time in four years. This article delves into the economics of magazine publishing and is useful for anyone connected with the world of magazines.

R e s o u r c e s

I went through a few bookstores over the holidays. They get very lively a week before Christmas or so. One thing struck me more than anything. When I am in a bookstore I am surrounded by enormous talent of the past and present. I saw a new line of classic novels selling at $5 a copy. These are dense, complex Victorian novels that show enormous capacity. I even saw people milling around the poetry section.

I'm sorry to say they've reduced the writing resource section at the Barnes and Noble I go to.

A good bookstore can be about the most resourceful place in the world. Books are quintessentially about the liberation of mind. It's interesting to me that right around the corner from the bookstore is a multiplex movie theater. When I go into the movie theater and watch a movie I am reformatted in a way. The movies are a modern sort of opera where everything is magnified and mythical. Live theater is still more memorable than movies; live sporting events or lectures are more memorable than movies or TV.

Books are still the most useful, profound, quixotic, imaginative creatures around. Books are written for other people, not for oneself. Books are written because people like to travel to Paris and want to know how to get around. They are written because people want to read about the D-Day invasion or the latest information about diabetes. And writers have to orientate themselves to what they know that other people want to know. If I have traveled to Paris and know my way around, can write, then I can put that talent at the service of others.

The whole area of book publishing is a fascinating one. We've had more than a few writers on sunoasis.com mailing list who have published books at excellent houses. It's a very competitive environment, sometimes it appear irrational. And one function of a publication like this is to try and make the process much more rational so a writer doesn't feel like they are in a dust storm looking for small pieces of gold.

If book writing is your thing, your goal, then do a lot of research on the topics of your interest. Research who publishes these subjects and what agents handle the material. Every book that is published on your topic is a competitor. Remember, editors want to reduce competition. They want to publish a book that has little competition. Use some imagination to take a topic and put a slant on it that is original and can be enriched by research.

Find the topics of interest that drive through you with fascination. Take two or three subjects and keep rolling them over in time.

* * * * * * * *

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David Eide
Copyright 2000-2005



A Definition of Weblog from Whatis.com
Better yet, read this panel discussion on blogging and journalism.
Slate weighs in on the cultural impact of blogging.

David Eide
copyright 2000-2005