Blogging Frustrations

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.

FILED UNDER: General, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. To address (kinda) one of Bernard’s observations: it is my experience that links these days don’t mean what links used to mean. When we both started this affair over 7 years ago, links were the lifeblood of blogging and getting links (even to fairly small blogs) seem to have a multiplier effect on hits and whatnot. That stopped being the case some time a go. Part of it is RSS readers and the like, but it is also, I think, just the fact that there is so much to read on online these days that the demand for commentary on blogs, which at one time was novel and filled a need, simply isn’t there like it was.

  2. john personna says:

    Well, it’s about the transition from scarcity to plenty, isn’t it?

    We have in our minds old-world models of scarcity. Perhaps in this domain we’d be thinking of newspaper editorial boards and op-ed contributors. They are rare. Valuable. When that type of ed, op-ed, writer came onto the web there was a bit of a vacuum. It was filled, and then really filled, and then over filled.

    My comment after the first few years of web growth (five years ago) was that “everything is becoming ephemera.” Maybe not everything, but an awful lot has. So I think Steven’s right, that there … really is just too much opinion out there.

    (The sites I value most these days are the ones that teach me how to do things. Those are still semi-scarce. I mean, there are maybe only 47 people who want to help me tie an Adams fly

    http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=tie+adams+fly&aq=f

    In our world, that’s scarcity … even if it is in-old terms an amazing gift.)

  3. “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.”

    I’d bet that this is true of many of your commenters.

  4. 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.”

    Indeed.

    I have to say that I had similar concerns when I had first started out. In my first two years of blogging, I was cranking out somewhere between 15 and 25 posts per day and was seeing a minimal increase in traffic (and that’s being generous). Needless to say, I was more-than-somewhat disappointed when I would look at the overall trends.

    Now? I simply stopped checking my site analytics. Seriously. Cold turkey.

    Granted, I think that it helps that I went from being a stay-at-home-dad to working full-time which, as you might imagine, has a sizable effect on the time that I have to devote to my site.

    I also think that Steven raises a very good point; the blogosphere is an ever-changing environment, and linking is no longer the all-consuming, all-important factor that it once was.

    That’s my two coppers.