9 Years of Blogging: Lessons from the Trenches

It is May 20 today and that means two things. First, it’s the 5 year birthday of this handsome boy. Without a doubt, his day will be filled with belly rubs and snacks… as it should be.

But secondly, this is my 9th anniversary of blogging. It’s also the 9th anniversary of me installing WordPress for the first time and embarking on, what would become, a career change and my livelihood. This month, WordPress celebrates it’s 10th birthday which makes me a WordPresser for almost all of the time it has been around.

In that time, I have dabbled in everything from traditional blogging (evolving from political blogging to personal blogging to blogging about blogging to social media blogging to business blogging…. and on and on), to writing code for bloggers use to writing a book for developers to consulting on WordPress projects, etc.

I may have learned something or other along the way. From my 9 years, let me share some of my thoughts:

Blogging Never Killed Journalism

In the hey day, everyone suspected that “old media” was a dying breed and that blogs would overtake old media and replace it. While it is certainly true that old media had to adjust to the digital age, I think it’s more relevant (and healthy!) that blogging began to complement traditional media, as I noted in 2010. Today, most of the major news organizations maintain blogs and journalists wear the hat of traditional reporters and maintain more loosely structured blogs as well.

The same can be said about other forms of digital media – Twitter, primarily, but Reddit and other Social Media destinations as well. While it’s certainly true that breaking news travels much faster on digital platforms (including blogs) than traditional, the fact is that traditional publications still have a relevancy and can get a job done in a better way that digital sometimes.

This is particularly true for long form content. On the internet, there is an inherent ADD that causes many readers (including myself) to get distracted easily and not be able to consume long-form content as easily. If I had to back-of-napkin guess, I’m guessing the sweet-spot for online articles is between 300-700 words. This article will, of course, blow that number out of the water. It is rare that you see great long-form content from publications other than The Atlantic, Ars Technica, the New Yorker, etc.

Notably, it was Sports Illustrated’s print edition that carried the story, that has since been published online, about NBA Center Jason Collins coming out as gay. That was an important piece of journalism with far-reaching political and cultural fallout. And it wasn’t printed online first. It was printed in traditional media.

Get Rich Quick with Blogging? Fugghedabotit!

Oh boy, do I remember the days when everyone fashioned themselves a pro-blogger. Throws some ads up, write content and PROFIT!

While there’s a part of me that wished that model worked (Damn, that would be so easy… I’d never have to work again!!!), life is never that easy. First of all, the advertising bubble was just that… a bubble. The fact that usable metrics (that advertisers with real money wanted) around long-tail sites could boost income was (and still is) a farce. You need to be able to show some level of guarantee of traffic (CPM) or relevancy with a user propensity for buying (CPA). Otherwise, why buy the ad spots at more than “remnant” (i.e. cheap) rates. Remnants aren’t going to pay your salary, much less your coffee bill for the month. I abandoned advertising on this site a long time ago.

Protip: Affiliate advertising still can convert very well and, if handled properly, could potentially earn someone a living.

Data Portability is actually important

Data portability – the ability to take all your content and pick up and go somewhere else – used to be the domain of radical, technarchists like Dave Winer. However, with recent acquisitions of companies like Instagram by Facebook or the very recent Tumblr acquisition by Yahoo!, where reportedly 72,000 Tumblr blogs were moved into the WordPress.com silo in a single day, the ability for users to take their content somewhere else is actually a primary concern these days. It didn’t use to be like this, but notably enough of these events have scared users into wondering what happens when their platform of choice goes out of business or is bought.

Personally, for these reasons as well as things like SEO and domain canonicalization, I’d always recommend people have their own site and use open source self-hosted solutions like WordPress.org or even one of the (in my opinion) inferior open source content management systems out there. Control your own destiny.

Journalistic Integrity

Many bloggers fancy themselves as journalists. They’ve never gone to J school. Never got a degree. Never learned the art of sourcing. All they have is a laptop, a loud mouth and something to rant about.

To be fair, there have been hundreds of bloggers who have turned into amazing journalists in their own right, broke stories, developed sources, protected their integrity with confirmations, etc. Then there’s the rest of bloggers who hear something, run with it, write a story that is poorly sourced (“a source inside Congress told me…”) with little to no confirmable facts and want to be respected as journalists. There’s a reason why real journalists look down their noses at bloggers like this. And rightly so. Also, why everyone looks down their nose at CNN… ahem *cough cough* )

Not to mention the spate of bloggers who have historically expected freebies for “review” or otherwise. Another thing separating real journalists from bloggers.


There are probably dozens of lessons learned from the past 9 years. Don’t hold yourself to a posting schedule… write when you have something to say. I do that here. Maybe a lesser known thing… write drunk, edit sober. Yeah, I have some of my most creative time when drinking. Dumping that stuff onto the proverbial canvas while in that state and hitting “Save Draft” instead of “Publish” means I can come back later and review what I wrote with a clear head.

What tips would you give?

David Simon on Debate and Journalism

It’s why I used to love a healthy newsroom, which I have described as a magical place where everyone disagrees with everything all of the time.  Arguments make the work better; when people stop arguing, or at least arguing intelligently, absent the usual half-assed, rhetorical cheating, the work invariably suffers.

(Source: davidsimon.com)

Convergence of technology, journalism and sports

Sheer erudition — and erudition of a very specific type — throws up large barriers to entry. Too often, newer, younger, and more casual sports fans “can sort of get to a certain point of enthusiasm before they hit the ‘stat wall’ where discussion of sports becomes pedantic and quantitative for no discernible reason other than as a social indicator of investment/knowlegeability,” says Grantland’s Katie Baker. “In particular, I constantly see women driven away from sports because they are fed it as a zero-sum game: either you know everything about everyone or you don’t.” [via Tim Carmody]

Steve McNair and the Failure of Breaking News Reporting

It’s a late Fourth of July afternoon here in Bethesda, Maryland and I am sitting here working on a chapter in the new book. Peacefully minding my own business while the steady stream of chips from Tweetdeck occurred, I did not realize what was happening.

Steve McNair died. Putting aside the tragedy (he was a former Raven, a hero among athletes and, by all acounts, men – NFL MVP, a warrior known to play through countless injuries, mature in his approach to life and the game), we witnessed a catastrophic failure of major media. Again.

I’m not one to crucify major media. Indeed, I may be one of the few in my industry to want to see the newspaper and other forms of traditional media succeed in a huge fashion. The problem is that, even in the days of blogs and Twitter, we still rely on major media to report the news. To do the journalism. To find the sources and produce the confirmation.

As much as we in new media claim to be journalists, major media still does the job better than most of us could hope too.

We rely on Twitter and sometimes we’re wrong. Take the example of the report that actor Jeff Goldblum had died. Highly inaccurate. Stephen Colbert even fucked around with us in new media claiming that if it happens on Twitter, it must be true.

This afternoon, Twitter was ablaze with reports that Nashville Police has found former Tennessee Titan and Baltimore Raven quarterback, Steve McNair, dead in an apparent murder suicide. WKRN, in Nashville, was the first with the news and it quickly disappeared off their page – a result of too much traffic or erroring on the side of caution, who is to really know.

NBC Affiliate WTVF, Channel 5, was the second to report it filling the gap where WKRN dropped off.

It was a long time (30 minutes or so) before national media picked it up. ESPN, the Worldwide Leader in Sports by their own slogan, didn’t have it. No one did. We were left gasping for more. Is the rumor true? Can anyone confirm? Can police confirm?

Was any of us on Twitter making calls? Maybe. A few possibly. Not many.

Major media got a little jittery in the past. After 9/11. With other reports that turned into an overcompensation. Fact is, major media can safely report on a rumor as long as it is billed as such. No one has to say that this is confirmed. But people want to know. We get our news on the internet.

We find out about things happening in Iran via Twitter. We find out about Michael Jackson dying… on Twitter. We read blogs that deal with Sarah Palin’s awkwardly bizarre resignation at Alaska governor. We’re not watchoing your TV stations. We’re not in Nashville. Welcome to the global economy.

Report the damn news and report it as a rumor to hedge your bets. But report the news.

Photo Credit: mdu2boy

Update: Most media organizations are reporting a double homicide now, not a murder sucide. WKRV, who was first with the story, had reported a possible murder-suicide.