As many of you know, I am a reluctant blogger. The distribution itself fascinates me, and the conversation draws me in. But the shear act of blogging - the pull of feeding a small audience for free, creating all those pesky links, answering comments - can sometimes feel like a burden. I love to write, I only like to blog. Plus, you know, it's overdone. Why, nearly two years ago I wrote these words:
...Blogs are yesterday's news. Dead. Unbreathing. Anachronistic folly of the followers. Mere digital entrails. We're talking lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Fury lay buried dead. The crooked crosses and headstones, the spears of the little gate, the barren thorns, the whole deal. The Dead. Another trendline I've followed to the downward side of the peak.
That rant doesn't exactly haunt me; it still rings true in many ways. Today, I filled out the survey of a doctoral student studying the effects of blogging on politics and many of the questions centered around the standards of journalism (paid media) versus the standards of bloggers (unpaid amateur media). Fair enough, though simple; blogs have gained some influence but to me, real news product is still real news product. It's just that I want to get a bunch of that product in my feed reader and on my phone, and I want to be able to talk back at it. But yeah, I still value journalistic standards - they help separate our species from the rest of the animal kingdom.
Anyway, the survey got me thinking - especially this question:
|What is the MOST important event to occur in the blogosphere?|
Is that all we've got? Credentials to the blowhardathons. Some slight assistance in the self-destruction of a once-brilliant career (Rather, not Lott). Disaster diaries (chilling as some were). Even Lamont's victory - surely the "biggest" blogging victory yet - was the result of the incumbent's disastrous political missteps, assisted by enthusiastic bloggers. Besides, it misses the point.
Because there is none. Blogging isn't about big stories or mainstream journalism. It's about giving voices to thousands and thousands who didn't have them before (beyond their dens and livingrooms and local barstools), providing real open distribution, and creating a vast patchwork quilt of conversation, thought, and passionate argument.
Which brings me to the latest hot theory of media monetization, the "long tail." A book followed a fascinating Wired story by Chris Anderson, and both posited that in the digital age, the very vastness of content libraries - the ability to offer everything at any time - mitigated the need for mass marketing only the big hits, the juggernauts, the blockbusters. I think there's some truth to it. Esoterica reigns in my media-buying universe. But it's not just about the big media libraries and how to monetize them, anbd it's not all about YouTube or MySpace or any of the other defenseless supersites out there.
Blogs have long tails too - this one certainly does. I'll give you two examples, two posts actually, that continue to drive both traffic and comment years after their publication date. (There are others, but these two both popped up - yet again - this week).
One was a post about the Guitar Center, the chain of supermarket-sized music shops that has grown and prospered by selling aging boomers the kinds of guitars and amps they couldn't afford when they were following bands around in the 60s and 70s. "A trip to the Guitar Center," I wrote, "is like a trip to the amusement park."
Apparently, not for the employees - the ones who treat me so well when I want to sit around and blast an SG through a massive amp without buying a thing. My little post has become a center for anti-GC sentiment expressed in stunning detail by the people who work there. I now know that most of these guys work mainly for commission, with their (small) guaranteed salary being deducted from their paychecks against that commission - and yet they keep the sales pressure incredibly low and take care of all the other grunt work around the large, bright, easily accessible stores. I had some GC stock based on my own experience and good feelings about the company. I told it today, because employees are leaving - and the GC is an "experience" business. That welcoming playground for geezer rockers like myself is why they're successful. The employees make that happen. As one commenter said: "GC needs to realize that the salesperson is the first and last impression." I learned this over two years on the long tail of my original post. So I'm no longer a shareholder.
I remain, however, one of the band of music fans who hold the late Johnny Thunders in tremendous esteem - and because of the long tail of this blog, I find myself somewhat responsible for maintaining that network. It all began with this post two and a half years ago, praising Johnny's seminal 1978 solo record So Alone. Ever since, Google has sent wayward Johnny fans my way and many leave comments; indeed, the comments to that post are far more interesting than the post itself - a real record of the Thunders legacy, and a source of some fascinating tidbits besides. There was this note from Gary Q last year:
I am proud to say that JT was my cousin. I never knew him but my dad knew him well, and even gave him a few lessons on the accordian. I have only recently discovered Johnny's music, as well as the dolls. I am amazed! What else is there to say. I feel lucky!
And then this one yesterday:
Funny I stumbled onto this old thread. I was Johnny's roadie/driver/guitar tech for the 1983 Cosa Nostra tour of Europe and Sweden. Ah, the memories. Foggy memories, but memories. Billy Rath got me that gig, as we met and played together when he took some classes at Berklee (I kid you not). I ought to write a book. LOL!
And then my friend Brendan weighed in with a comment - and I reminded him via IM that he'd commented on this post two full years ago - and that he was commenting again...on comments! The long tail indeed. That's when it's worth it, like a first class human being.
UPDATE: Lance Mannion (kindly) suggests that I sound "like a parish priest out of a Graham Greene novel who's lost his faith but keeps saying mass every Sunday in the hope that going through the motions will re-inspire him one day." It's a terrific line, really - and close to the bone. In that my faith in people is almost always shaken by people he's correct. Lance observes correctly:
It's the regular media---the MSM as they appear to like us to call them---who are obsessed with the idea that blogs are all about politics and nothing but politics, and this is not just unfortunate in that they are depriving themselves of some excellent and entertaining reading on movies, books, music, science, and life in general, on the job and in the home and on the farm and out in the woods and in the mind; it's potentially disasterous for us, the bloggers, and for our readers, and for the still inchoate art form known as blogging.
Yes, blogging can be an art form - and I'll return Lance's compliments of my political activism by suggesting he himself approaches that standard with amazing regularity. And he's right that I often find it a chore stems from lack of faith, sure. Also from spoilage: I was once paid for my public ruminations, and very well.
But that stuff paid the bills more than the writer, in some ways - the long tail can satisfying. Over at the Tattered Coat, Matt recalls Lance's own years-long dance with Lemony Snicket plotlines and details his own long-standing, er, conversation with the swelling fan ranks of young Carrie Underwood and a colloquy on dating advice. You never know.
But I'll add my voice to Lance's in urging readers here to visit Kim's post, Hanging On For Dear Life. Life in an emergency room in San Francisco, read it.