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Jul 21

Is Blogging Dying?

My pal. Fran, over at There Will Be Bread, posted about Blogging today.  I found her thoughts to be both provocative and interesting and I think there’s a larger, nay, much larger conversation that needs to happen around this.

Fran writes:

“Earlier in the week I was at my home parish of St. Edward the Confessor, at a meeting with someone from a website design firm and the topic of the parish blog came up. This gentleman implied that blogging was on life support, a soon-to-be thing of the past. It did not make me happy to hear that, but there is some truth to it.”

If you are a marketer. If you are a marketer or a news organization or anyone trying only to get quick attention, forget blogging. A 300 word post on your new product or service will be lost in the ad clutter. I did not spend 29 years in the media business for nothing; I get that. If I had a business it would be Twitter and Facebook, all the way.

Right.  And you’d be tweeting and Facebooking into the ether.  I think you might need another 29 years to realize that you’re in the COMMUNICATION business.  Marketing is about having a conversation with people that forms a RELATIONSHIP with people.   Your tweets and facebooks and soon (if not already) your Google Plus and Tmblr posts (which the so-called expert didn’t even reference) need to lead people into a search for depth and breadth most of the time by Tumblr posting directly to all of these social nets.

And it’s not just marketers who face that challenge of getting and more importantly, keeping people’s attention.

Harvey Cox, the great Harvard theologian, whom I have long admired, once said something about the need to grab student’s attention.  He noted that when he handed out his syllabus that the students would routinely ask “Why should I have to read all of these books and  articles?”  The push back was that they really didn’t have TIME.

So yes, while a 300-400 or dare I say 1000 word article can get lost amongst the smaller and punchier sound bytes, it’s not the final word.

Cox, would, at times, give students “small form” powerpoint (and probably prezis now) presentation and sum up what was in the books and articles.  Having digested the material the students wanted someone to synthesize the material for them into easier bits of chew for them.   Each time Cox did this, however, something interesting would also happen.  Cox became the person that they trusted.  And when that happened Cox could get them to read anything he wanted them to.  They would even go beyond the syllabus.

The idea with blogging or any other media initiative (video, newspapers, etc.) is for the author to be “an expert.”   And as an expert, younger people will rely on you for information.  These experts are often “shared” with friends, a type of virtual introduction.  This gives the expert a huge opportunity because people, especially young people, turn to trusted friends first for information.  Often that friend knows no more than they do about the information, but they do know some other “expert trusted sources.”  Many of those people are bloggers.

So while the random 400-1000 word reflection might not be read often by the casual blog reader.  Making that reflection interesting by posing a provocative question might get them to read and respond and be part of the conversation.  It may even lead them to some kind of action.

But first and foremost, you need to be a trusted source of information.  And that takes time and relationships.  I know a good deal of my students read my blog and many will respond to various things.  But my main job is to make the headline provocative.  That grabs their attention and in a busy world it gives me a chance to have their ear for at least 30 seconds.  I often make the headline a question.  People like questions and like to respond quickly to them.  Some don’t even read the article–they just respond to the question (much like I’d do when I hadn’t read a book for class–I’d still jump into the conversation–even if much of what I would say was pulled out of my rectum!).

So no, I do not think blogging is dying.  However, it is changing.  Blogging is becoming, believe it or not, “long-form” programming on the internet.  Facebook and twitter posts are now passé methods that we continue to use to try to get people to go deeper.  Like Dr. Cox would with students we need to continue to evolve this into tumblr and Google + as time moves forward.  We gain people’s trust by blogging about something we know well and want to share.  We have something to say and need to earn the right to be heard by today’s younger consumers of media.

The bottom line is that there are too many blogs.  So many that people need to choose a few that they like and that they can depend on for reasonable information.  That makes our job as bloggers filled with a lot more responsibility because our readers truly have made a choice.  That choice makes us a legit source.  And good bloggers beckon people to go even further beyond their words to the posts of others and of mainstream news sources.  Blogging has become more about depth and breadth and a particular expertise than we ever could have imagined.

Felix Salmon at Reuters agrees:

One of the foremost exceptions to that rule is Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic, so I asked him how he managed to break out as a name-brand blogger in a world where most big blogs are now written by pretty substantial teams. His home at the Atlantic is clearly part of it, as is the fact that he’s incredibly talented. But even he agreed that old-fashioned single-person blogs are largely a thing of the past, with the exception of enthusiastic practitioners in the fields they write about, be it banking or science or anything else. And those people normally blog independently, rather than as part of an old- or new-media company.

So I plan to keep blogging.  I hope that all of you plan to keep reading.  And when I get lazy and do something stupid here, I need each one of you to be my editor.  To tell me what you depend on me for.  I know many like it when I translate Catholicese for those who don’t have theology degrees.  Others like it when I talk about marriage or campus ministry or young adult ministry.  Some just like silly dog stories and more like provocative questions that they engage with me in discussion.

It’s all good.  And it ain’t dead yet.  Even when it’s over 1100 words.

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5 comments

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  1. Mark Mossa, SJ

    I think there is definitely something to this. The blogging community doesn’t seem to have the vibrancy it did when I first got into it, and my interest in it has certainly waned. At my height, I was posting every day and reading about a dozen other blogs regularly. Now I have an occasional look at certain blogs, like yours, to see what folks are up to, and my own blog posts have become very occasional, especially lately (part of that is guilt-driven, since I feel like I shouldn’t be spending too much time blogging when I have other writing projects that need to get done!). Still, I think blogs are generating some good dialogue about various things.

  2. Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

    Well, since I would not even know you dearest Mike, without the gift of the blog, I remain grateful for this medium! (Of course I would have known of you, but I have grown rather fond of the human person Mike, not just the author and Busted Halo guy!)

    My own experiences are very similar to that of Mark Mossa, SJ. I simply do not have the time to read blogs like I used to and I choose what I do read carefully.

    Moreover, I used to post all the time and for a variety of reasons that has waned. I am trying to do some blog revival at the time as you can see.

    Like Mark and very much like you, I do think that good dialogue is happening and will continue to do so.

    Be assured that when that gentleman informed us that blogs were on the way out, I did not like the sweeping tone of his pronouncement!

  3. JMS

    And I plan to keep reading!

  4. Jared Dees

    Very astute observations! I never liked the term blogging. Today it is entirely insufficient in describing what content-creators actually do on the Internet. As you rightly put, blogging is changing. As bloggers we need to think about integrating new and more dynamic forms of media may it be video, slideshows, Prezis, mind-maps, images, podcasts, etc.

    Thanks for defending a powerful art!

  5. Angela Cave

    Thorough, interesting analysis and argument.
    I wonder: If it’s tough to keep blog readers interested in posts that exceed 1,000 words, what’s a journalist to do? Some say there’s still a place for true long-form journalism, but editors are often appalled at the idea of a story that’s even 900 words long.
    How can dewy-eyed rookies set out to change the world in today’s environment?

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