I’ve been quietly observing the whole blogging scene for the past few years. First as part of the old media (or mainstream media, whatever you may call it), and now as a PR guy on the other side of the fence. And through it all, as a “blogger” myself with my own website and constant flow of entries outside of my official comms work.
From all my observations, I’ve realized that a lot of people have no idea that blogging is just another form of communication. When you say “I’m a blogger”, it often implies that suddenly, your smallest online opinion has some sort of intrinsic value to the world. That anything you put on your blog is worth reading, worth linking to, and hopefully, worth some revenue as well.
I was amused when bloggers suddenly saw themselves as “the new media”, as if they knew the workings of the old media and knew how to improve on it. The funniest was when the old media started to buy that story themselves!
Can it be? Does it mean when everyone’s opinion is now in the public sphere, that it qualifies them to become the messenger to the masses?
But many bloggers (not all, lest you get offended, dear reader) fail to understand that – to reuse a common mass comms cliche – the medium is not the message. More precisely, what’s your message and how you intend to deliver it is more important than anything else.
Some homepage history first.
This blog has been around for four years plus, but I’ve always maintained a personal website on free sites like Geocities or Tripod. When I started out in about 1996 or so, I only knew how to write pretty infantile stuff online like my love for mee pok. Nobody (or at least me) knew back then what really constituted a good personal website.
Only a few years later, did the Internet correct itself and people begin to realize that no matter what sort of interesting personal snippet you’d like to boast about on your website, nothing mattered more than great content delivered in the way most pleasing to the largest audience.
So recently, when I read this emotional blog post by a Straits Times journalist, I was reminded that blogging doesn’t come naturally to everyone at first try. This is presumably his first blog post for ST.com and it shows. If the link still exists when you read this, you’ll see the comments from outraged readers attacking his assumptions, approach and attitude relentlessly. I didn’t add my comment into the website because at 143 comments and counting, any new comment would probably get lost and not get read.
Or how about Catherine Lim’s controversial letter to parents following the AWARE saga? A lot of people pointed out in the comments section she had no basis for her recommendations on AWARE’s sex education curriculum since she never did read it. But she blithely ignored everyone and never addressed the issue even in her follow up posting here.
I took issue with her on other matters but that’s another blog post for another day.
So here are some of my thoughts, and if you don’t mind me, recommendations for people who want to make a difference with their blog contents. They are derived from “old media” principles, which are in turn, derived from centuries of publishing practice. Unfortunately, when everyone becomes an author, few people even grasp that they need to know the fundamentals of using the written word that people in the past learnt by severe trial and error.
1. What makes your content worth reading?
Above all other new fads, Twitter is reminding everyone that few people really care for what’s on your mind unless you’re able to convey something impactful. Who cares if you’re eating your breakfast now?
But people will care if your eggs exploded in your face or you’ve discovered some secret recipe that will bring greatness to your bloodline.
My take is : Opinions are worth nothing if they don’t change other people’s lives in significant ways.
2. Do you want to be respected for what you write?
This boils down to asking yourself – what actions make you credible? What actions make you worth being listened to again and again? I’ve learnt the hard way that to be respected, your writings have to put your base emotions aside and acknowledge that other people’s feelings can be hurt by your wanton words. Put reason, logic, empathy and compassion first, and you’ll realize rational people will step forth to appreciate that.
Remember that this is explicitly different from your words having a real significant impact on society. A sentence of rubbish won’t help anyone, but a sentence of wisdom can save lives.
As a journalist, you can either choose to hanker after the glory of the byline, or learn to care for your newsmakers’ well-being. If you only want to write a hot news story for tomorrow’s paper and not be accountable to your newsmaker, why should they ever want to talk to you again? A lot of young rookie journos burn bridges by the hundreds because they only seek the story, but not the humans behind the story.
Being honest and transparent with your newsmaker is the best way to make him trust you – there are some senior journos I’ve heard about who demand information from newsmakers or PR departments without coming clean. Belonging to a newspaper doesn’t automatically confer you the right to all information. Bloggers should remind themselves of that too – having a virtual space to blog doesn’t give you the right to say anything you want because other people can be impacted by your actions.
In short, some things are better kept out of print. People have forgotten that not too long ago, diaries were highly private items. You are free to expose every dark corner of your soul online, but can you deal with the consequences?
3. Edit, edit, and edit. And edit again.
Ever shot out an email you wrote in a hurry and regretted that afterwards? Same with blog posts!
And the scary thing about blog posts is that Google can cache your post within minutes if its bots scan your blog frequently enough. Great writers always edit themselves to death to write their best piece ever. You’ll never read a blockbuster novel that has been untouched by an editor, but aspiring bloggers often just blab whatever come to mind.
A reason why people have continued to consume old media materials is because they often trust that it’s been properly vetted, edited and approved by someone of a certain standing. When your publication appears to its readers that it hasn’t been vigorously edited or that its written by talented folks, that’s where your circulation begins to fall and no amount of redesign is going to bring it back up.
Remember, your personality and emotions comes through.
The beauty of writing is that no two people have the exact same style and tone. Like fingerprints, our writings are unique to ourselves. That’s because our personality influences the way we write (yes, even on some boring research paper).
The more you write, the more you develop your style that conveys your characteristics. If you are furious with something, your writings will transmit that no matter how you think you’re not. If you’re antisocial, your words naturally will give off a scent of your attitudes and your disdain for social company.
Bottom line here? If you want to project an online persona different from who you really are (ie. make yourself sound nicer than you really are), you’ll find that more difficult than you think.