To stay true to my core journalistic principles (and here I'd like to refer you back to my guiding motto from yesterday: "Making others do the work for us since August 2006") I thought I should find out more about this whole blogging thing before I got too deeply into it.
(This will come as an unpleasant shock to my actual editors, who are presumably already paying me to know all about blogs as their media correspondent. Tough.)
So I've asked two people who blog frequently, and frequently blog about the media, to answer a few rudimentary questions about this online world. First, I'll start with the Los Angeles-based Cathy Seipp, who runs a blog called Cathy's World and who also writes a weekly column for the National Review Online (NRO).
Among her observations:
· Remarks dismissive of the power of blogging from the mainstream media sound like "the last wistful moans of a dying brontosaurus."
· A posting from a reader of her National Review Online column inspired a column for the Los Angeles Times in a surprising way.
· Seipp says she doesn't have time to read many blogs -- now that she writes her own.
· And, impressively, Seipp slips in a plug for her teenage daughter's blog.
Later on, I'll be posting the answers to similar questions I posed to Rachel Sklar, who writes the "Eat the Press" media blog for the liberal Huffington Post.
Mixed Signals: So tell us what you did before starting your blog.
Cathy Seipp: The same thing I do now: Write columns and other freelance pieces. The difference is that the blog has made all that easier, because it serves as an online notebook, and I rarely have to start from scratch anymore.
MS: How do you decide what to include in your blog?
Seipp: I don't think I spent much time working myself up into an actual decision; it just seemed to evolve naturally that for me this would be an online diary and commentary rather than a source of links. And I don't update more than once a day, and take weekends off. (Although usually I get a head start Sunday evenings, and that counts as Monday's post.) I used to only refer to my daughter, who was 13 when she set up the blog for me, by a pseudonym. But then when she turned 16, I decided that was silly and she was old enough to go by her real name on her own blog as well as on mine.
MS: How is it different from your writing for NRO or other outlets?
Seipp: There's not a huge difference except that the blog is naturally rougher and more meandering... usually more of a diary of all the thoughts I had that day, while the NRO column is more polished in the writing and more carefully fact-checked in the reporting. One of the great and useful things about blogs is that the commenters and other readers serve as an army of unpaid fact-checkers and researchers, and they often correct me or point me in directions I hadn't known about. An example of that is the NRO column I did on C.S. Lewis and his lefty critics when the Narnia movie came out, and a commenter pointed me to a bizarre Web site as an example of Lewis's religious fundamentalist critics on the right -- which I hadn't known about. I got a whole new piece out of that... for the L.A. Times op-ed pages rather than NRO.
MS: What's the most recent delight you've found online that you wouldn't have discovered through the establishment press?
Seipp: I confess that once I started writing my own blog I spend little time reading other blogs, but I did discover -- through a reader who later became a friend -- Dooce.com, which is a remarkably charming and well-written blog by a young mother named Heather Armstrong who lives in Utah. (And I usually have no interest in Mommy blogs.) Dooce is quite a big blog, though -- far bigger than mine -- so it's not like I'm turning you on to some undiscovered secret here.
Anyway, I remember when I discovered Dooce I thought it pointed to yet another failing of the MSM. Why doesn't the Salt Lake City Tribune (or another paper) hire her to do a column for their features pages? Why not, you know, do something to attract readers by bringing in someone who already has a huge and fanatically loyal audience? These old newspaper dinosaurs, though, tend to be remarkably defensive as well as oblivious about blogs.
Oh, and here's an interesting footnote: The commenter/friend who turned me on to Dooce, Kate Coe, is now blogging for the L.A. media gossip site FishbowlLA because I recommended her to them... as I know Kate's a total media junkie.
MS: In what way have blogs affected the mainstream media?
Seipp: Well, see the defensiveness referenced above. That's probably the biggest thing I notice on a day-to-day basis. The other week, for instance, I was sitting at a press conference/lunch and overheard some guy across the table insist that "Nobody's ever made any money from blogs." A fact he was certain about, even though, as he also said, he never reads them. I asked if he wasn't at least curious about something that affects his own industry. "No. I'm not worried about my job at all," he said. I felt as if I were listening to the last wistful moans of a dying brontosaurus or something.
MS: What do you make of mainstream media outlets creating their own blogs?
Seipp: Alas, most of the newspaper blogs are not very good, at least not the ones that I've read. They're stolid, responsible things, but not very grabby. I guess newspaper feature writing and blogging are two different things. Also, the newspapers seem unable or unwilling to spend any time or money pointing readers to the blogs, so what's the point? Some exceptions that really are very good are Ray Richmond's "Past Deadline" for the Hollywood Reporter, Michael Ausiello's TV Guide blog and Melanie McFarland's TV blog for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.