I can still remember the exact conversation I had with my publisher that launched this blog five years ago this week:
Her: For this reporting book, we are going to want you to have a complete digital presence, so that means Facebook posts, a new Twitter account and a blog you’ll be running.
Me: Wait, what the hell do I know about blogging?
Her: You’ll learn. Anyway…
I initially hated this idea, because I saw it as a kitschy marketing idea that would have me constantly yammering about why people needed to check out the book and how cool stuff in there really is. I am many things (and students have no compunction about writing those things on Rate My Professor), but a “rah-rah” guy for my own self-interest is not one of them. Still, SAGE had been really good to me, so I figured I’d give it a shot.
Nearly 700 posts, 130,000 visitors, two more books, and one giant pandemic later, we’re still up and running. I’ve seen stats that say the average blog lasts about 100 days with the average website dying off in about 2.5 years or so, which means we’ve managed to beat the odds here. I’ll call that a win.
Over that time, I learned a lot about blogging formats, posting schedules and that I curse too much for quite a few people. I also learned that in reaching out to an interested and engaged audience in a relevant and meaningful way, we could do some really good stuff together.
The Corona Hot Line is the obvious example of that. Between stuff I’d stockpiled and things people sent me, we built a pretty good collection of stuff that helped people teach online in a pinch during a life-changing pandemic. Someone (not at SAGE) sent me a note asking if “giving away all that good stuff” was smart from a “marketing and brand approach.” That thought never occurred to me and if it had, I would have punched it in the throat. The goal of this has always been to help people and if anything gets in the way of that, it gets removed, ignored or otherwise dealt with.
However, that collection of stuff wasn’t the best of what we (and that means you all and me) do here together. That hit home when I reported on my own university and its control of student media access to sources. After the big stories hit, I emailed the university marketing people for a quick follow up, only to find my email went up the chain of command and all over the place. The chancellor himself emailed me back a polite no comment, but not before a couple people had emailed my chairwoman with some, “What the hell is going on?” inquiries.
Again, another conversation ensued that stuck in my brain:
Boss: They’re very concerned about what you’re writing because it’s having a significant impact. You called someone out BY NAME and now there are ramifications for her out there.
Me: Really? They’re upset about me? I’m a chimp with a blog. I dress like a homeless elf. They need thicker skin or something.
Boss: You’re a prestigious textbook author with a blog that apparently can mobilize people to a cause.
It dawned on me that, although I’ll never see myself in the way she outlined, you all have done some amazing things to help a lot of folks over the years after we talked about them on the blog. We bugged people at various universities who were shafting student media. We provided help to high school journalists who were getting their rights trampled on. We shared some truly great student journalism after riots, floods and more.
We also developed a few weird terms that now show up frequently in folks’ vocabulary like “chucklehead,” “junk drawer” and “non-denominational skeptic.”
Here’s the thing, and there’s no good way of getting around it: I still don’t know exactly what I’m supposed to be doing here. I kind of just do stuff and see what people think about it. My hope is that I’m doing something helpful every day, even though I know I have a few misses in there with the hits.
That’s where you all come in: I need to know what you want more of, less of, some of, or none of going forward. Hit me up through the contact link and tell me what you want going forward and I’ll do my level best to make that happen.
In the mean time, I’m going back to the once-a-week summer schedule until school kicks in. Then, it’s back to the grind.
(a.k.a. The Doctor of Paper)