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Some Musings, After 10 Years of Blogging

I’ve missed blogging. Writing my first book has been taking most of my writing time and energy the past year and now that I’m almost done, I can truly say it’s been an amazing experience, but I miss blogging. Real blogging. Not microblogging like what we do on Facebook or Twitter. Not long feature articles, edited and re-edited to the point of a magazine and put up on an online publication that calls itself a blog. I miss just sitting down for an hour or so, writing what’s on my mind, publishing it on my own blog and seeing what happens. That’s what I’m doing now, and that’s one more reason I’m really happy to have this new website. I thought it was time to start blogging again, and I figured a good place to start was to write about why I miss blogging.

Blogging has given me much over the past decade. The practice of blogging has also changed significantly over time. Blogging technology now runs a lot of different types of publications. They may be called online newspapers or magazines, content sites or whatever, but they’re still run on blogs. How do you tell? Generally if there’s a space for comments or some sort of feedback, that means there’s a blogging system underneath. Not always, but usually. It’s nuance, but that’s the deal. The other thing that has changed is that there’s become what I consider a spectrum of digital media participants.

That spectrum consists of the following:

  • Basic bloggers – people who have not been trained in any kind of writing or journalism, just blogging for fun, not for money
  • Pro-am bloggers – people who have been blogging enough to either learn some journalistic skills through blogging or who have studied some sort of media and decided to start doing it semi-professionally, whether with sponsors, ads, or hourly compensation for group blogs or online magazines
  • Major bloggers – bloggers who have become so successful they have attained some sort of celebrity-like status in the blogosphere, becoming media businesses themselves
  • Journalists with blogs (sometimes called journobloggers) – professionally trained journalists who write for blogs and other digital media
  • Major journalists – professionally trained journalists who write for traditional ‘mainstream’ media who have columns for major publications

Any of these can also have a social media presence. Any of these can have any number of followers on social media. I’m not focused on that in this post. And many bloggers, journobloggers, digital media journalists move throughout the spectrum. For example, I know one tech journalist who started a moms’ blog for a while. I also know bloggers with backgrounds in other types of media like TV or radio. And now we’re seeing more people succeeding in digital media who began with blogs, moved to podcasts or vlogs and eventually to more traditional radio and TV. I fit best in the journoblogger category, having studied various forms of writing and having written professionally before I began blogging, but I’ve blogged for every kind of blog possible at one point or another, so it would seem.

I first dabbled in blogging when blogging tech was powered almost exclusively by Moveable Type, a system that needed to be installed on the server side, so blogging wasn’t easy to do. It was 2002, I had been writing and editing freelance technology articles on the side while working on IT and Internet startups and I wanted somewhere new to write, so I asked Cory Doctorow, a colleague of mine at the EFF who was one of the authors of Essential Blogging. Cory had read some of my writing and directed me to Mindjack, where I wrote my first few articles. Mindjack had some amazing writers, still very relevant in the field of  media – Douglas Rushkoff, J.D. Lasica, and Jon Lebkowsky to name a few. I knew nothing of them at the time, except that I liked what they wrote. I was the ingenue, but looking back now, it was a privilege to have my work alongside theirs.

After that, I launched what Wired News called the “first true weblog to be put up by a politician.” It’s a long story that I’ve probably blogged about before and I could write a lot more about what we did, what worked and what didn’t, but building and managing a major political blog from behind-the-scenes was an incredible learning experience. It taught me the power of blogging in terms of reaching the masses, but it also taught me the perils of blogging. During that time, I was also writing for two online magazines, Security Focus and Digital Landing, neither of which was technically a blog. I was gaining experience as a journalist in digital media, covering cybersecurity and digital life topics.

My first real efforts at blogging regularly came in 2005 when I was pregnant and on bed rest. I started a blog at ShareYourStory.org, a project run by the March of Dimes. This was my first experience in the meaning of community of blogging. I had run a BBS in high school for four years and I knew all about online communities from listservs and other types of communicating online, so I knew plenty about building relationships online, but I hadn’t ever poured my heart out to total strangers in public just to see what would come back, and I was truly humbled by the experience. Women in totally different parts of the country, likely with very different backgrounds and views from me, supporting me through my pregnancy, holding me up when I was down, providing comfort when I was sad. Therein lies the true power of blogging – and online communities in general.

So I was hooked. In 2006, I joined the Silicon Valley Moms Blog when my daughter was born and began writing there about parenting, local topics, a little bit about tech and a little about politics. I started my own blog at sairy.com, and that blog eventually morphed into this one. Along the way, I cofounded SFBayStyle, an online magazine run on a blogging platform, where a group of us blogged about fashion, arts, events, and entertainment in the Bay Area. We generally had a dozen bloggers writing on various beats and became known for good quality content. Around 2007, I began blogging more about politics at BlogHer, The Huffington Post, and for several women’s organizations. It got to the point where I was blogging for more than ten blogs at once, and it was too much. SFBayStyle was also syndicated to NBCBayArea.com and occasionally to msnbc.com, some of my HuffPost posts were syndicated to WSJ.com, and things seemed to be moving very quickly. I loved writing on a wide range of topics and blogging for a wide range of sites, but I decided I needed to make some choices, and I began paring down. Most of my posts are still online and I saved copies of almost everything I’ve written, so most of my work is still around in some shape or form.

In 2009, I began blogging at SFGate.com in their “City Brights” group. I loved blogging there. It was the perfect spot for me – writing about the Bay Area, media, tech, culture. Unfortunately, a few years later, due to company cuts, they had to close the department. I learned to write for and respond to a wider, more traditional audience, and I learned the value of having a niche, an authentic voice, and a sense of purpose while writing. While I was blogging there, I was also working as a digital media director for political organizations like WomenCount and as political director for digital media organizations like BlogHer. Much of that work was behind the scenes, editing and curating blog posts written by others. I gained a lot of personal gratification in that type of work, creating publications full of interesting content. There’s a real benefit to being on the editorial side as well. Editing the work of other bloggers helped me become a better blogger.

As blogging kept expanding, social media was on fire after 2008, with Facebook and Twitter playing an increasingly bigger role in my online life – personally and professionally. I gradually began spending more time microblogging on those sites than blogging on the sites where I had been writing. I liked being able to reach individual people directly with social media and reconnecting with people from various parts of my life there in a more personal way, which then pulled me farther away from blogging. Blogging itself also had become such a phenomenon that I felt there was a lot of pressure on bloggers to pick a niche, go for high dollar ads and sponsors and I didn’t want to spend my time on that. I wanted to write what I wanted when I wanted, without that kind of pressure. I had advertisers coming to me, but many didn’t share my values, and in many cases they didn’t really fit the topics I was blogging about, and I became tired of fielding requests from PR companies who wanted my scarce time to write about products that had nothing to do with my blogs. For the blogs that were paying me, I had a specific set of requirements for posts and a specific amount of time I was willing to spend writing them. For the ones that weren’t paying me, I had adopted a rule that I would only blog about what I wanted when I wanted, so the trade of time for exposure was worthwhile.

Eventually, life got in the way, as it does, and my dad died in early 2011 and I was hit with grief like a ton of bricks, and all of my creative juices got sucked away. I still had my SFGate blog then, so I mustered the energy to blog about the experience, which eventually led to the idea of my book. I slowly began blogging again, maybe once a month, but I was also beginning to work with a literary agent by that time, and my time was spent editing and rewriting my book proposal, and once the book was sold, I shifted my writing time mostly to working on the book. I also had the bad timing of having closed my sairy.com blog while working on a new website here, so I really didn’t have anywhere that I felt I could blog on my own time without putting a lot of effort into it. I had some great opportunities for writing at new publications like Forbes Russia and Harvard Business Review, but those were one-time freelance articles and I really didn’t have the bandwidth for a column. I forced myself to blog on occasion for Huffpost to keep my voice out there, but it wasn’t the same.

I’ve also spent more time speaking over the past few years, teaching others about digital media, blogging, social networks and the value of these things. I’ve developed presentations on how to get started blogging, I’ve bantered on panels about shifts in the media landscape and where we’re going next, and it’s been great meeting with other digital media experts and bloggers of various stripes. I learn from every conference I attend, even when I go back to the annual BlogHer conference as I did last month, meeting first time bloggers and seeing the excitement in their eyes as they dip their toes in the water. It’s wonderful to be able to give back and to teach others some of what I’ve learned. Some people worry about comments; others worry about the time commitment. I tell everyone the same thing – just start blogging. Set low expectations, experiment, and have fun. See where it takes you. There’s much to be learned, much to be gained. Take this post for example. I began with no plan in mind, just to write what came to mind about what I’ve learned blogging. I realized I need to tell some of my story, which often is the case with blogging, so I did. It took on a longer length than I had planned, and that’s okay, because it’s my blog. If you’ve made it this far reading, I hope it’s been interesting and helpful. If not, it will still serve a purpose for me as I look back over time.

Now I think I’m finally back to blogging. I’m setting no expectations for the number of posts I write or how often, but I’m happy to have this blog here and I look forward to writing a new regular blog column (to be announced soon) and to continuing at Huffpost as I’m able. I’m also looking forward to writing more companion posts about some of the content in my book once I’m done writing the book and as we move into the phase of preparing for publication. I’ve contributed to a few books along the way, but it’s different than writing your own book. It took me a long time to call myself a journalist or a blogger since I did so many other things in technology, business and advocacy worlds, but looking back at the portfolio of work I’ve created over the past twenty years, the majority of my writing has been on blogs. I’m proud to be a blogger, and it feels good to be back.