What a blog “should be”

Alright, so the two posts is just added are my last two blog entries I prepared for our class. The reason I didn’t publish them before is that they could potentially have been published on our school’s news site, The Thunderbird, and I hate double-posting. Today, however, I got feedback on these last two entries, and was given the opportunity to make some suggested edits in order to have the posts published in Friday.

I will not be making those edits.

There are a few problems I have with this feedback. In general, they gave us very few guidelines on what to write and how to write it. I could be forgiven then, for thinking a blog is more of a free-writing exercise, and a way to be more personal, not just in experience but in opinion. Style can vary. But it seems my faculty editor in fact had a very clear idea in her mind of what a blog should be: and that is essentially the same as everything else we’ve written. There should be a central thesis, one idea, that is somehow current. It should be summed up at the beginning with what’s known in the business at a nut graf: a paragraph hinting at what will be expanded upon in the rest of the post. Everything in the post should be about furthering the understanding of that thesis. There is nothing extraneous.

Honestly, the two major criticisms I expected. In the ‘global warming’ one, my editor objected the the strength of the final line. She thought the title was stupid, I mean, everyone knows about global warming (obviously my irony is lost in type…). She also didn’t really get the idea, global warming has always been about science, hasn’t it? So, did I really do such a bad job making the point that we often get embroiled in the nitty gritty of climate change and it’s good sometimes to be reminded of the fundamental, basic, physical truths? My editor also constantly talks about “advancing the dialogue” – what am I adding to the conversation? Is it not clear that a head-clearing common-sense moment is good for those lost in the conversation?

Even if you don’t think it is – why does a blog always have to advance the conversation? Can’t you sometimes just write about things that are interesting? Can’t it be personal, a reflection that some might find entertaining and thoughtful? Can’t it just be… nice to read? That’s why I wrote such a lyrical opening to the second post “Look Up More”. Which, of course, my editor would have me delete entirely from the published version for being completely extraneous to the point. And what is the point in the post anyway, Hayley? The point is, the sky is awesome, we don’t look up at it enough, and those that do can even now, discover and destroy planets.

It’s something I think a lot of us in J-School struggle with. We are always told to write about something that’s news, there has to be a reason we’re writing about something now. Many of us wonder, why can’t we write about things that people should know about, that are interesting, even if they are not currently exploding?

 

Well, this is my blog and this is the way I choose to write in it. I choose the share my opinions, like I can’t in my news writing. I choose to me lyrical, like I can’t in my news writing. I choose to write about things that are fun and interesting and have no currency, like I can’t in my news writing.

This blog does not harm my journalistic integrity, this blog lets me be who I am, so that I can write my professional things professionally, and still have somewhere to vent my opinion and creativity.

Welcome to my blog.

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5 thoughts on “What a blog “should be”

  1. I think there’s a lot of value in the “why am I writing about this now” question, but “because I want to” isn’t always a bad answer. I don’t know what sort of context your school is putting “blogs” in, but if they’re restricting you to making it be the same as everything else journalists do, that sure sounds limiting as hell.

    For one, attempting to do everything the way it’s always been done is one of the contributing factors to the “crisis” journalism finds itself in. Not that there isn’t value in the kind of blog posts they seem to be trying to teach, but as far as what a blog “should be,” that question is going to be open for a very long time. To kind of tie it back to print, you might as well ask what a column “should be.” Yes there’s a tried-and-true method of writing a straight opinion piece, but one columnist who came to NASH talked about one he wrote about his dogs. It shouldn’t really matter what you’re “adding to the conversation” if your stuff is interesting. As long as there are no specific newsy expectations, being interesting is the only justification you need.

    Insofar as you want to ultimately get paid for writing a blog, the only limits should be what you can convince a publication or website to run. So if they’re teaching you that there’s one way, and that’s gonna be essentially be the way it’s always been done, you should link them to some of the awesome blogs out there that are successful in spite of being different. Since you’re into science writing, show them sites like Bad Astronomy. He often posts stuff relevant to cutting-edge astronomy, but he’s also happy to put up general musings on science, and write about, well, what he knows. A lot of scientists run blogs where they pretty much talk about what they do and what they know, and they get a lot of hits. Why? Because there are people who want to read about science.

    That said, you have to know your audience, obviously. But as long as you’re happy shopping around until you find a particular publication that has the audience you’re looking for, that shouldn’t be an issue — and there’s sure as hell an audience hungry for clear explanations of science. Though as you want to be a journalist, and given that’ll mean that you’ll have to write stuff you don’t want to write for a long time, you should know how to write in as many styles as possible.

    As far as your pieces below go, I found them both pretty interesting, but it felt like they should be longer. The astronomy one in particular felt like it would lend itself really well to something long-form — and you can get away with more flowery writing in long-form. Considering structure is still important, and it sort of felt like it ended just when it was getting good. There’s value in writing starting somewhere, going someplace else, but then coming back to something that just “feels right.” If you start somewhere, go somewhere else, and keep going other places, I find it doesn’t have closure. You’re left with a “what now?” feeling as opposed to a “aha, everything tied up nicely and we’re done!” feeling. But you can get away with a couple of paragraphs of setting the scene depending on the context.

    So in summary (and never say “in summary” when you’re ending), I wouldn’t say there’s a right answer to what a blog should be. But if I had to give a “right answer,” it’d be “write what you want so long as you know you have a receptive audience, and balance traditional techniques with the freedom allowed by the new medium.” Space isn’t a premium as it once was, so your only real obligation, and measure of success is being interesting enough that people will read. Experiment! If you fail, try something new. If you succeed, keep doing that, and keep experimenting more.

  2. Thanks Ryan!
    I swear your reply was longer than my post – which is great, because it was INTERESTING.
    Which is another point I forgot to bring up: our assignment limited our blog posts to around 400 words. Even my astro one broke the “rules” by being as long as it was – nearly 700 words.

  3. OMG, you are expressing exactly what I was thinking, too!!!!! Couldn’t have said it better! Yay Hayley for having the guts to say out loud what probably many of us are thinking and feeling right now!!!!

  4. Hi H,

    Re: what a blog “should be” .

    Ok let us take that ‘final line’ first, well I happen to think ‘Naive’ was rather tame by some standards and certainly not ‘stupid’ which I suspect was added to try and make you feel the way somone might react to being called naive? If so it was a cheap shot unworthy of somone in such a position. To be honest I think ‘ignorant’ would have worked even better and speaking as someone who was once painfully ignorant of the facts I think it is a well deserved indictment. On a side note I think it is wise to avoid irony as it, like sarcasm, can be lost in translation, your average British reader may well see your point but globally, well it usually doesn’t work too well.

    However I have to agree that global warming is most certainly underpinned by science and always has been even if some of it remains a bit open to interpretation but that’s how science works … surely?

    So what is a blog then? The best definition I could find states that a blog is…
    “A Web site on which an individual or group of users record opinions, information, etc. on a regular basis.” But no mention is made of a running narrative in there so I see no precedence for “advancing the dialogue” that’s the stuff of the forum threads whereas a blog entry is usually a stand alone statement that invokes comments but not actual discussion. It is by its very nature personal and a reflection of the authors thoughts in a way that a diary might read. So with all due respect to your editor I think she may have misunderstood the concept of what a blog actually is?
    Then as if to confirm my concerns further the point of your “Look Up More” is questioned! Goodness! Remind me please, you are studying towards some sort of career in Science Journalism aren’t you? Anything that encourages the general public to do even the smallest thing related to scientific endeavour is surely something that must be applauded not stifled?

    On the subject of Pluto it sadly became a victim of theory over observational evidence, in as much as its orbit and mass were predicted by its apparent effect upon the other outer planets and thus is designation as a true planet was defined long before it was actually observed directly. Unfortunately no-one seems to have considered the possibility that it might not have been just one planet but indeed several bodies each with an individual mass somewhat less than what was predicted.

    So your

    With reference to your photo, may I recommend downloading Stellarium http://www.stellarium.org/ then you can explore the nights sky even when its cloudy?

    What I’m seeing here is a lot of journalistic rules being applied and I suspect that if you are to get through your course successfully you will have to jump through the hoops and obey said rules. Later on you can chuck the rule book out and apply your engaging style to your work, a style that I have and continue to feel makes your work so much more readable than some stuffy, hidebound, drivel. I’ll offer an example if I may? I’m very interested in spaceflight and so a copy of First Man (Simon & Schuster, 2005), the biography of Neil Armstrong would be something I would find most fascinating and entertaining.
    Sadly this is not the case and to be honest I gave up a third of the way in because it is one of the driest and most tedious of reads I have ever struggled through, and you know why? Because its written in a style that obeys those rules that do not allow a bit of personal input from the author, its just a catalogue of facts strung together in chronological order and the result is dull and uninteresting. By contrast Moon Dust by Andrew Smith is absolutely fascinating, a real page turner that I just could not put down. And that, I believe, is because it is engaging and reflects the authors enthusiasum for the subject.

    I don’t know if the opinion of a listed contributor to BBC Focus magazine counts for anything but if you think it might you are most welcome to forward this to your editor.

    Cheers M.

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