Present Tense blog: RIP
So, we come to the end. I’ve been writing this blog since April of last year, the original idea being to post my weekly column outside of the paywall, and to throw up a few bits and pieces every now and then. The “every now and then” became pretty much daily. Much of this was done outside my normal working hours – mornings, evenings, weekends – but it’s come to the stage where the demands of my day job, a book I’m working on and the fact that my working day has stretched too long means that something has to give. So, it’s bye-bye blog.
Another element involved the quality of the blog. It reached a certain level, but it could be much better. But to make it much better, I’d have to give it a lot more time that I just do not have. I wouldn’t be happy to let the blog drift on at this level.
It’s been a fascinating experiment, and one I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. It’s given me one very proud moment that sits on my mantelpiece at home. There have been a lot of regular readers, commenters, and passers-by, and I’d like to thank all of you for your contributions. Without them, the blog would have withered and died long ago.
I’ve learned a few things along the way. So here’s a few things I’ve picked up along the way:
- Blogging isn’t easy. It takes time. It takes effort. It means trying to be distinctive and interesting. It means trying to reach a standard that justifies your continued existence. It can be exhausting.
- But it can be fun. There is a camaraderie among bloggers, and their readers, that is really heartening. Let’s be honest: sometimes it leads to a bit too much back-slapping, and their needs to be a bit more self-examination rather than navel-gazing by the general “blogging community”. But there bloggers are continually driving traffic to each other, pushing each other on, striving for increased quality. And they put on a great awards party too, which helps.
- Blogs will never be central to an online newspaper, but they will be an important component of any site. Jim and Conor have shown just how much cross-fertilisation there can be between the main paper and a blog, although I think that blogs are generally better if they’re focussed. This one was a bit loose, although – if done sparingly – there can be an attraction in the pick and mix approach too.
- This blog has given me a communication with readers that I would never otherwise have had. An e-mail address at the bottom of a column opens a dialogue of sorts with readers, but nothing compared to this. Some journalists wouldn’t like it (know that, in fact), but others would thrive of it.
- The demands of doing the blog shouldn’t be an excuse for sloppiness. Biggest regret was that stupid post in which I buried The Chancer when it was very much alive and kicking. Should have checked it before I posted. The pressures of keeping a blog fresh doesn’t excuse anyone from that.
- The biggest reaction to any post? That following the recent one on the death of the motorcycle racer Martin Finnegan. There have so far been over 1,700 views of the YouTube footage I posted. Blogs can give newspapers a sense of just how much interest there is a subject – and unearth surprises here and there. You can’t stand over every reader and assess what they’re reading, and market research can be imprecise, but click-throughs, page views and visitor numbers should be vital tools for any media organisation.
- Actually, as a general rule, journalist bloggers should have as much access to their site stats as any other blogger. It’s an important tool for them too.
- I didn’t do it as often as I should have, but getting involved in the comment threads is important. This might seem obvious, but I don’t see it in a lot of newspaper blogs.
- When you become a blogger, building traffic involves posting as regularly as possible. It means having to continually think about what you want to throw up there, and how many times a day, while also dealing with the demands of the day job. The problem is that a blog can be a distraction from the day job; and the day job a distraction from the blog.
- If I didn’t post my column on a Saturday morning, my chances of getting a response to it diminished greatly. I am guessing that people read it in print and went straight to the computer to comment. If it wasn’t there, they didn’t go back. The blog was originally a way of getting the column online and letting people comment, but it turned out to be the least commented-upon part of the blog. It must have had a lot to do with the fact that people don’t really want to read 800 words in a blog format. That’s best kept for print.
This is likely to be a lengthy break, rather than a permanent retreat, from the web. Obviously, given the way the media is going I won’t have much choice in that anyway. The column will continue in the Weekend Review on Saturdays and some day, I’ll get back to blogging. But, for now, I’m just looking forward to reading everyone else’s.