Mark Safranski rounds up and expands on a recent cross-blog discussion about the continuing fragmentation between the blogosphere’s Haves and Have Nots.
He points to musings by Bernard Finel about why he’s thinking of throwing in the towel on the blogging thing and his reaction to it that I missed. Safranksi and others (including our own Dave Schuler, who weighs in via the comments section) note that it’s just unreasonable for those who’ve gotten into blogging recently without prior fame to expect to become A-listers at this point. While there are some exceptions to that rule, with Nate Silver being a recent example, that’s probably right. (Yes, Silver had some niche fame from his Baseball Prospectus/SABR contributions but recall that he quickly achieved blogging success pseudonymously, so his bounce from his name was negligible.)
Most of the advice in the cross-exchange has been along the lines of “write for yourself” and “define success in ways other than traffic and recognition from the big boys.” Which is fine insofar as it goes. That’s how I got started and, while OTB will never achieve the mega-status of InstaPundit, Daily Dish, DailyKos, and other superblogs, the recognition and income that I’ve received from my efforts far, far exceeded any hopes I had at the outset.
But Bernard’s frustrations are actually somewhat different than those of most trying to break in as bloggers:
(1) It gets me in a lot of trouble. I work professionally in the same field that I often blog about. Which would be fine if I were a congenital kiss-ass, but I’m not. It isn’t so much that I don’t suffer fools gladly, as much as I think that idiotic arguments needs to be called out as such and not just subject to tepid criticisms couched in otherwise fulsome praise of the wisdom of the author in question. Needless to say, this has not made me popular, and there is no doubt that I have severely harmed my future job prospects by pissing off a number of very powerful people in my field.
This is a legitimate concern. Creating a paper trail of your thoughts can be professionally hazardous to begin with, much less if you do it in your professional field. And adopting a frank, caustic attitude toward the work of significant players in your field is doubtless hazardous.
This is actually somewhat amusing in Bernard’s case, in that his blogging personality is much different than his real world persona. While I wouldn’t say that we’re close, I’ve known Bernard off and on for something like fifteen years and he’s exceedingly thoughtful, polite, and measured. As a blogger, though, he’s more blunt, prickly, and snarky. This is doubly amusing to me in that probably the opposite is true of my personalities: I’m almost certainly more of a jerk in person than I am as a writer.
(2) Which would be okay if it was either opening up other doors or making me rich, but it isn’t. What it comes down to is that my readership is really, really low. High-quality, but small. I am not looking to make money on the blog, but I’d like to think I could be influencing the debate through my posts, but really that is not the case. Several possible reasons for that:
(2a) I don’t seem to be able to get posts out in a sufficiently timely fashion. I usually prefer to mull things over for a day or two, and that is an eternity in the blogosphere. By the time I weight in on most debates, everyone has moved on.
(2b) But more importantly. I think I am not a very good blogger. It isn’t like I haven’t gotten great links from excellent blogs. James Joyner over at OTB has linked to me often. The guys at Newshoggers do so as well. Fabius Maximus, Zenpundit, Schmedlap, Michael Cohen, and several others have linked to me often. But if anyone is following those links, there are not impressed. Which is fine, but my point, I guess is that despite some solid links, I’ve never really built a larger audience. And at some point, I think it is time to confront the possibility that the problem isn’t that people are failing to recognize my genius, but rather than my stuff is either boring, inaccessible, or uninteresting.
One of my talents as a blogger, especially in my early days, was the ability to quickly process information and dash off posts. When I got started in January 2003, I was solo-blogging fifteen or more posts a day. Over time, my style has evolved into longer form writing and the addition of co-bloggers has enabled me to more easily skip writing about things that were “out there” but where I didn’t have much to say. Still, barring travel or other major distractions, I manage to write several posts a day, day in and day out, year after year.
Interestingly, though, I’m increasingly less prolific as a foreign policy blogger in my day job. Because I’ve built a very high caliber readership and cadre of contributors (including Bernard) I’m more reluctant to weigh in with, as Steven Taylor describes it at his own digs, “the first rough draft of my thoughts.” I’ve begun and abandoned more posts at New Atlanticist than I do at OTB, because I’m writing there as an “expert” and here as merely a knowledgeable fellow spouting off.