I started blogging 10 years ago this month. Supposedly, I was one of the first newspaper editors to do so actively, writing about why we did what we did. I say supposedly because I know that only because people told me so at the time. Because the News & Record had so many blogs, we were written about by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and several other publications. One Greensboro reader of the paper wrote me to say that she saw a story about us in the Hong Kong paper when she was in China.
It was a fun time.
Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your outlook – those early blog posts are buried deep inside the Internet’s mausoleum of broken links. The News & Record has changed content management systems a few times since I left the paper. The blog posts are probably cached somewhere within Google’s vault, but I don’t care about wasting the time to find them.
Since my first blog post in 2004, here are some things I’ve learned:
* It’s important — to me, at least — to think and to write in public. Knowing that people could and would question and improve my work inspired me to up my game. I learned to think beyond my own insular view and consider how others would read my words. Am I saying exactly what I intend? Could I avoid misinterpretation if I rework? Am I prepared for disagreement? Blogging made me appear smarter. It also helps me listen to comments and suggestions more openly and actively.
* It fulfilled one important goal: Readers who cared about newspapers got to know me. Some didn’t like me or the way I ran the newsroom. Some of those had an ax to grind on an issue, and I heard from them often. (I can’t find the citation but someone smart once said there are three things a man thinks he can do better than anyone: build a fire, make love to a woman and edit a newspaper. I assure you that is true.)
But I also heard from people who appreciated learning about me and the paper. Jon Lowder, who lives in Winston-Salem and didn’t read the News & Record, wrote this in January 2005: “I get all of the N&R blogs via RSS. I don’t get their paper…yet. But I still feel closer to the N&R, and in a way I feel it is my hometown paper. And I think it’s going to eat the Journal’s lunch if the folks at the Journal don’t act fast….Anyway, it would probably pain the editor at the Journal (I have no idea what his/her name is) to know that I feel like I’m on a first name basis with the editor of the Greensboro News & Record (Hi John!). If I happen across a hot story or issue, who do you think I’m going to ping with it?”
* So many commenters on the newspaper site were trolls. I know that’s not news now. At the time, I was told traffic was not the goal, conversation was. But the conversation often turned out to be shouting matches in the cafeteria that turned into food fights. Some, I suspect, spread out into the parking lot for a fistfight. It took me a long time to learn to not to rise to the bait. It’s actually a lesson I still have trouble with. (Commenters on this blog are smart and helpful. Thank you for that.)
Consequently, my contacts on the social networks — Twitter, Facebook and, now, Instagram — are much more civil and constructive. The networks are walled gardens, yes. Some people choose not to join, and therefore can’t comment. I can live with that. As I said about Twitter years ago, it’s like a cocktail party where you can join and leave conversations at will whenever you like.
* My blog posts go nowhere if I don’t link to them on the social networks. When I was blogging for the newspaper, I got a readership boost simply from being on the paper’s website. But once I started on Twitter and Facebook, those mentions brought in more traffic, primarily because people would share, retweet and comment. In essence, the conversation that I wanted occurred on the social networks, rather than the blog. That was fine by me. The conversation was smarter. As an aside, the links from other bloggers — heralded as viral before viral was commonplace terminology — drove conversation, but little traffic.
* While I was blogging at the paper, I was forced to make some hard decisions about coverage, about staffing, about economics and about layoffs. I tried to tell the truth on my blog, even as it embarrassed me or my boss. Two examples: When I eliminated the New York Times news service, I mentioned how much it cost us. (It was a lot of money, and I thought it would be persuasive to readers. It wasn’t.) When I had to lay off journalists, I said it would hurt our coverage. I am proud of that, as many other news executives either don’t acknowledge staff cuts or proclaim that local coverage will not be affected. I don’t have any sense that transparency had any widespread benefit, but it made me sleep better.
* Is blogging dead? I was blogging before I was on Twitter, and I was tweeting before I was on Facebook. I use all three now, using them differently and writing different things on each. I get different reactions, too, which I like. I don’t plan on dropping any of the three platforms, but if I do, blogging will be the first to go. I like the communities that I’m a part of with Twitter and Facebook.