Personal Publishing

Weblogs and Journalism (Part One)

In which Tom publishes his responses to an e-mail survey about the relationship between weblog publishing and online journalism. Part one is about my personal experience of weblogging and my motivations for writing…

Last month – along with many other people – I agreed to participate in a questionaire about the relationship between weblog publishing and online journalism. I’ll be putting my responses online as I finish each major section of the questionaire. Today – it’s about my personal experience of weblogging…
1a) Can you give some details about how long youve been writing your weblog, how much you write, whether anyone else contributes to it?
I’ve been writing for just over three years now. I write something almost every day, to the extent that I’ve probably only missed thirty or forty days in total over that period. No one else contributes to it – except in the form of friends suggesting links to me or me sourcing links and/or things I wish to talk about from other sites (at which point, where possible, credit is given). Guest-blogging – where someone takes over your site while you go on holiday – is something that I’ve never understood or allowed to happen on (although I have on occasion guest-blogged for other people).
1b) What motivated you to start? Has your motivation changed?
The motivation to start was a desire for novelty – nothing more or less. Three years ago there wasn’t any kind of inter-weblogging ‘culture’ of any kind. At the time, I was much more interested in assembling little projects or micro-sites and seeing if people came to them. Occasionally I’d make a stab at something larger – like The Bomb – but I’d never really thought of (or even heard of) weblogs.
When I bought my first domain, I put some of the sites that I had developed on some subdirectories, but I didn’t have anything to put on the front of the site. I think I managed somehow to get exposed to or (I was a complete follower of Jason’s work, which I still love) and through them found Blogger. At that point I think I literally went, “Well why the hell not stick this up… It’s quick and easy and it doesn’t particularly matter if no one looks at the damn thing…” Within a couple of months it was the busiest thing (in terms of page-views and in terms of the response I was getting over e-mail) I’d ever done.
My motivation for running the site has changed a lot over the years. Initially I think the freedom of being able to talk about your life completely freely and without any anxiety that anyone you know will ever find out was tremendously liberating. I think a lot of people who start off with weblogging as a form of personal publishing feel that way. But that’s almost inevitably doomed, since unless you’re very isolationist and incredibly careful about your identity, at some point your on and offline lives inevitably merge to some extent. You tell a couple of friends in real life, or people you meet online start to become more important to you. At some point you have to start acting with a bit of discretion.
I think for many people (and I count myself among them), even if you didn’t start your site as a way to have ‘a voice’ of some kind, that soon becomes the reason to maintain it. People feel pretty disenfranchised from the world around them – mostly their voices – their opinions – don’t really matter in the slightest. Weblogs – for good or ill – make people feel that they’re being listened to – that their opinions matter. If that was all they did, then I’d say that was enough – but sometimes these opinions are actually useful or well-informed or reflect a kind of expertise you don’t often see in the mainstream media – and then you’re actually doing something useful that helps the world or pushes a creative process further.
1c) How has your weblog changed, in style or content, over time?
I’ve answered many of these questions above, but clearly yes. Graphically it’s changed a lot – the design has gone further into the background, but more importantly the content has changed from undirected rantings to a less personal and more commentary/ideas-based type of writing. I feel I’ve moved from writing a diary or journal to writing a kind of fragmentary column. Other people manage this transition (if they make it) in different ways – some, like Meg from NotSoSoft have shifted from diary to a kind of lifestyle / creative writing column.
1d) Has blogging changed the ways or extent that you relate to public
events and issues?

Yes. Absolutely. Totally. In the sense that if an event seems particularly significant to me, or I think I have something to add to the debate surrounding it, then now I feel I can write something about it – something that might have some meaning for someone other than just myself. The sense of political impotence is reduced – there is finally something to do that’s between talking about it to friends and going on a march! I think it’s really that simple. That’s not to say that you can or will always react to every news story that comes along. A huge number of webloggers just didn’t know what to say or do when the World Trade Center came crashing down. For all the people talking about their experiences, there were others who couldn’t put finger to keyboard – didn’t feel qualified or entitled to comment… But at least these are now personal decisions. We can choose when to be silent…
Next: Ideas of weblogs as journalism