Looking for meaning in the blogosphere

I started this blog on January 1st, 2011. I didn’t really know what all my goals were at the time, but I knew a few things.

I knew I was spending too much time engaged in discussions on Facebook that simply vanished the next day. Sure, those threads would be on someone’s wall or timeline, maybe for years, but the conversations were in effect dead.

And I knew too that people like me — ones with large numbers of Facebook contacts and who treat Facebook as a public forum — are basically supplying the for-profit Facebook with free content. YouTube has a compensation method for users who create content that drives the most traffic, but not Facebook.

I knew I was reading and thinking about some issues with more depth and breadth than I could reflect in my Savannah Morning News columns, which add up to somewhere around 1700 words in a typical week. In those columns I’m also largely limited to local issues, so I didn’t really have a place to share thoughts and information about bigger economic and political issues. Nor was there an easy way to make a public endorsement of a band, an idea, a particular article, or other things that wouldn’t fit neatly in a column.

I knew that journalists of today are probably going to be better off in the long run if they put some real effort into their personal brands. I love my longstanding freelance gig as a Savannah Morning News columnist, but that can’t — and shouldn’t — last forever.

Early on, against the advice of several smart people, I opted to create one blog with a catch-all of categories. Maybe I’d still be better off if I had a separate economics blog or a separate music blog, but that’s not really how my mind works. In my mind, advocating for a band that I’ve just heard for the first time in Savannah is closely connected to other issues regarding urban form, effective zoning, economic vibrancy, and cultural enrichment. So the seemingly scattered subjects of my posts don’t seem scattered to me.

Now that I’ve seen how easy it actually is to create, develop, and maintain a blog, I’m not surprised that there are so many blogs out there. But I am increasingly surprised that there aren’t more bloggers stepping forward to fill obvious niches. For example, Savannah’s music scene could benefit from several ambitious music blogs — it’s puzzling that we don’t have more in that regard.

We probably use the word “community” too often when describing online interactions, but I do feel like my blog, with all its various topics, and my subsequently beefed up Twitter presence have made me more engaged with broader societal conversations. It’s easy to get lost in this huge town square of sometimes-competing and often-redundant ideas — and it’s easy to feel really small in that square.

But there are myriad benefits to being part of the conversation(s).

In a recent post — My Own Crossroads — on his fairly new blog AtlCrossroads, Michael Mumper finds that the divergences and crossroads about which he writes — the need for us all to come together in crafting good public policy — can apply to his personal life too. Along the way, he gives me and a few others nice shout outs:

But taking a lesson from writers Maria Saporta in Atlanta, Bill Dawers in Savannah, and Jason Pye in Covington, we’re more than one-track people, and it might be good for us every once in a while to acknowledge some other interests, challenges, strivings and victories.

Over at Peach Pundit, Charlie Harper has lately made a couple of introspective posts connecting the public and the personal: My Award Is Your Award and Two Anniversaries. In the latter post, he writes compellingly about the transition from anonymous blogger to named blogger:

I had assumed that would be the end of my writing, as people were paying attention to this mystery character because someone had decided I was an influential insider and I did nothing to change that perception. Once revealed as a nobody and a public failure, I assumed there would be no interest in anyone reading, or my continuing. Luckily, I was wrong, and instead, I became busier. Three years later I’m now the editor of Peach Pundit, have a daily column appearing in print media, and make occasional appearances on radio and TV.

Compelling ideas, clear and concise writing, and finding ways to make oneself heard without shouting — those qualities are a lot more important for serious bloggers than political connections, educational backgrounds, or job histories. I occasionally tell my writing students at Armstrong that writers are like chefs — they’re both constantly judged and their education is irrelevant if consumers feel like they’re getting a quality product.

As Michael Mumper says, “We’re more than one-track people.” We are not forced to narrow our interests, our beliefs, and our circles as we get older — we can expand them. We don’t have to see a clear goal before we launch ourselves into a new project.

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