Happy Birthday to my weblog. It turns one today. I started paying attention to weblogs in late 2000 while researching a Wired article on Dave Winer, but I didn’t really grasp their power until I started writing one of my own.
My first post, from May 9, 2002: “I'm a little nervous. Not about writing, which I do for a living, but about writing without filters and ending up with a bunch of banal crap on my screen. Uh-oh it's happening already.”
Banal crap still happens on this page, to be sure, but between the brainfarts some interesting things have happened, too.
One of the biggest surprises for me as I work in this seemingly ephemeral medium has been the endurance of certain posts. A weblog can be an archive and a reusable resource. Certain past posts at my site get a small but steady stream of hits from search engines – the three biggest draws over time being an old interview with Jerry Garcia, information on the Greensboro Klan-Nazi killings of 1979, and a eulogy for my friend Calvin Gooding, who died on 9/11.
Writing a weblog has helped me as a journalist in many ways. For one thing, writing more makes me write better. Putting thoughts into words on a daily basis, instead of just writing a weekly newspaper column and monthly magazine features, keeps me mentally limber and also increases the number of subjects I spend a little time learning about, perhaps to revisit in detail in another venue.
“If journalism is the first draft of history, then blogging is sometimes the first draft of journalism.” I wrote that last year after doping out a hard-to-write newspaper column by thinking onto my weblog. And blogging is often more than the first draft of journalism, too, it is frequently a finished journalistic product in and of itself. Sometimes it’s both things at the same time.
I use my weblog to pimp my newspaper columns, and to inform them and supplement them, and when I write about something of widespread interest it gets linked to and read far beyond my little corner of North Carolina.
Last year I was lucky – my Congressman, Howard Coble, kept stepping into controversies, first as an industry stooge on P2P piracy and then on Japanese-American internment. He even attracted opposition from the first weblog-wielding candidate to run for the US House of Representatives, which drew lots of national coverage. Here weblogs helped drive the stories as well as reporting them.
These local stories helped illustrate a key element of a weblog’s journalistic potential—the means to leverage the Web’s distributed nature. A blogger situated in a place where news is breaking can cover a story in depth and with a local perspective in ways that large news organizations can only follow.
But the weblog has been much more than a journalistic tool for me, even considering the thin line I walk between vocation and avocation. It’s a hobby, an entrée into a community I value, an enhancer of a life of the mind.
This weblog could go in other directions—it could be more specialized, for example, or function as a link clearinghouse—but I think I’ll keep it as it is, more or less, a running version of my newspaper column crossed with a personal journal, with recurrent themes (weblogs, Greensboro, UNC basketball, politics, etc.) and the natural lack of focus of a generalist.
As EdCone.com heads into year two, I’m sticking with this line from the Garcia interview as my credo: “Try weird stuff, see what works.”