Color me conflicted — lessons of a new blogger
As some of you know, I survived my first adventure as a live blogger a few days ago at the Akron Press Club luncheon. It was a good, bad, ugly and exhilarating experience.
So here’s the post-game wrap. The Technical: I can do this, met my self-imposed deadline and goals for the event. 1) I was online live as the event unfolded…and 2) I was online live as the event unfolded while I also was posting on my Facebook and LinkedIn pages that I was online live and folks should please go take a look…and 3) I was live blogging, had successfully posted to my social networks… all the while taking notes in a separate document for (what I thought at the time would be ) a more traditional journalism piece to run on my blog immediately after the luncheon …and (big breath) 4) As I was live blogging, social mediating, note taking I also was shooting the panel discussion with my itty-bitty video camera on a tabletop tripod that I occasionally remembered to move in order to catch the person speaking…usually only a word or two late and.. finally, 5) As I was live blogging, note taking, social media and video er, ing, I once or twice managed to tiptoe across the room to the mult box (thing by the speakers with all the recording cables snaking out) to make sure that my recorder truly was making a clear digital audio copy of the discussion – just in case I got the opportunity to sell a news spot to a local radio station. (Thanks Time Warner Cable guys, you rock. And I really, REALLY tried to make sure I ducked out of your shots — if not, the disembodied head was me.)
The Philosophical: What ended up in my posts was OK, but just. Here’s what I think turned out to be the root of the problem. While we were all sitting around a table between lunch and the panel my friend, Akron Press Club colleague and much, much, more experienced blogger Scott Piepho http://phosnorkapages.blogspot.com/ asked me what I was going to post. I told him I was going to blog live and experiment with getting the audio and images in real time — which for me was before I would have had to file to a newspaper or produce for the 5 p.m. newscast. Then we went back to small talk. I told him how tough it was for me to break my professional lifelong habit as a journalist of keeping my own personality out of my reporting.
Then Scott looked up and said something that pretty much lays out the difference between my perception of journalism and blogging. He said, “Let me know when you write about that — I want to link it.”
The truth is I’m not timid. Catch me in a newsroom, a bar or even a press club luncheon and I can make you laugh, make my point and (trust me) I am never at a loss for words. But I’m surprised to tell you that the wall that divides opinion and news/personality and gravitas turns out to be strong and invisible for me — even though I’ve aimed a shotgun mic at it and tried to batter it down with computers, digital tape and video recorders, and now this blog.
Having said that, my experiment in live blogging has taught me that blogging isn’t all that incompatible with news. Pho does it well, so does Jill Miller Zimon http://www.writeslikeshetalks.com/
But here’s what still creeps me out — when comparing myself as a journalist to the eight rules of the Huffington Post’s Complete Guide to Blogging (yes, shoot me, I bought a book…made of paper…). http://www.amazon.com/Huffington-Post-Complete-Guide-Blogging/dp/1439105006
1) Blog Often — I can talk forever, have opinions for days. My evolution as a journalist will depend on me finding the place where “Is it worth the ink?” comfortably meets “It’s worth the bandwidth.”
2) Perfect is the Enemy of Done — RU kidding me? I just finished a freelance piece for the Cleveland Plain Dealer that took me three months to report, a month to fact check and another two weeks to edit. It was as perfect as I could make it. If it wasn’t, I still wouldn’t sleep at night.
I’ve got to admit that my main thrill was seeing the headline, “Financier on the Lam, Accused of New Fraud”and my byline, above the fold, on the right rail in the Jan. 3 2010 PD, but I now love, love LOVE the fact that Cleveland.com also found it worth the bandwidth, along with two audio pieces. http://www.cleveland.com/business/index.ssf/2010/01/investors_say_eric_bartoli_che.html
In terms of watchdog journalism, there’s no bigger hammer than a story that zips around the world on the internet within minutes of it hitting the streets in Cleveland. Hopefully that means more politicians will be held accountable and more bad guys will be made to answer for their alleged crimes.
3) Write like you speak — Big trouble. Frankly, I’ve been known to use the occasional expletive. Shocking, I know. And here’s the thing. I don’t like the sound (not sonic, I mean tone, in a gravitas kind of way) of my actual email voice. Like many journalists, I suspect, I like the sound of my reporter voice — the words you see under a byline, not below an email. That’s why my Facebook site is only for friends and family. It’s a little like giving someone the opportunity to pull back the Oz-like curtain of the reporter who chased a bad guy to Peru and uncovered millions in nepotism in Summit County government to find, what? A regular person who sometimes is guilty of using grammar that would give E.B. White a stroke, the Portage County girl who occasionally still swears like a sailor and still cannot figure out how to make peanut butter fudge set?
4) Own your topic. I can do that. I can fact check until you drag me away from the screen. It will be my security blanket while I struggle with Rule #3, and Rule #5…
5) Write short – There should be a 12-step group for this.
6) Know your audience — Heck, I’ll be happy when I have an audience. This is one I think scares the beejeeezus out of every print and radio reporter I know. Page views and comments are personal stuff. Can’t blame it on any other department or staff. On a blog or web site, it’s all about you…or not. Like having a party when no one shows up.
7) Become part of the conversation – I’m so happy to finally be able to comment, not just read the blogs that interest me. For years I didn’t — figured someone would accuse me of having an opinion on a story I would someday have to report on. There’s an eighth rule in the book, but I’ve scrambled the order and dumped it for brevity. See Rule # 5.
I’m working on it all, folks, finding my new voice and evolving as a journalist/blogger/author in this new multimedia world. Stop back sometime and watch me hack away at the walls. -KH