I am a lousy blogger. I'm good with essays and I've got a decent touch for columns. But blogging? I've discovered this old dog needs to learn a new trick or two when it comes to adapting to this unique literary form.
Blogging requires frequency and regularity. Blog readers and subscribers want to know that a blogger will have a new post on the Web at regular intervals. But I have a conceptual difficulty to overcome. I have a hard time writing unless I've actually got something to say.
Another problem I have with blogging is the idea that it's OK to post little blurbs about things. Me? I sit down at my keyboard and don't come up for air until I've got a thousand words on my screen. The first draft usually comes out of me in one big whoosh. It's almost involuntary. It usually happens first thing, in the predawn darkness of my kitchen. It's an idea that's been knocking around in my head for several days that erupts into a column, even before I've poured my second mug of coffee.
After the initial spewing forth, I read what I've written and start editing, whittling it down to a manageable 650 words or so. Usually the editing process takes me longer than it takes me to write the first draft. That's because the real work is in the reworking — the scrubbing, polishing and finessing. That's also the fun part for me. That's my chance to try and make my writing sing.
Often I'm reminded that I'm just plain tone deaf. But sometimes, well, it can be sweet.
A blog is a different animal, though. That much I've learned. It's not just putting my column on the Web, which is pretty much what I've been doing since I started my own blog back in August 2005.
A blog is supposed to be more spontaneous than any column-writing I've ever undertaken. It should be informal, less structured, more conversational. And it's supposed to be interactive. That is, bloggers are supposed to engage readers in discussion — a back-and-forth exchange between blogger and reader and among readers themselves.
To this end, posting short, informal entries regularly — daily, even — is crucial. And that's where I fall flat on my face. Maybe it's my lawyer background that compels me to be long-winded. Maybe it's just that I'm such a creature of habit and my habit is to write 700-word columns. But I've got a hard time with brevity. And spontaneity. Not to mention forgoing all the editing and polishing. I've got to learn to go with the initial whoosh (and have shorter, more frequent whooshes) and leave it at that.
But what's the big deal? Why should I care? Is blogging so important anyway? Blogging, along with all the other bells and whistles of the World Wide Web, is the way of the future. They've even got a cool name for it as it relates to the craft we practice here in the newsroom: citizen journalism.
When it comes to journalism, everything about the Web requires lots of big changes in how we do what we do. Brevity is just the beginning. Interactivity is key. No longer do news editors alone define what is and isn't "news." People are no longer "readers" on the receiving end of news editors' decisions. Now they are "users" who get to pick and choose their "content" from a variety of sources. And in this brave new world we live in, "users" are even able to create "content" themselves and put it up on Web sites for all to see — and comment on.
In other words, the monopoly previously enjoyed by the news media on the identification and reporting of news is now a thing of the past. This isn't all bad — even if you're in the news business. But there are certainly some dangers. We've all learned that the Internet is not always the most reliable source of accurate information. A lot of the stuff floating around out there isn't vetted for accuracy. Rumors spread like wild fire — and the fire is fueled by the anonymity of the Internet.
Travel on the information highway is fast and treacherous. The trick for journalists is to take advantage of the great things the Web has to offer — for example, new sources of information, an incredible opportunity for research, the ability to reach the entire world with a story or image — without compromising the standards that make journalism more than rumor-mongering.
The trick for me, in particular, is to let go of some old habits. I'm starting tomorrow. I'm going to blog often and blog briefly. No more 700-word essays on my blog. No more simply posting the columns that I write for our newspapers. From now on, my blog takes on a life of its own. I'm scared but willing. Come along for the ride. Go to civiletti.blogspot.com and — whoosh. Interact with me and with each other. It is the 21st century, after all.
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