Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The State of the Blog: Year Two


    Sophomore year is always tough.
    The dewy newness of the freshman is gone.
    The confidence and wisdom of junior year—maybe spent abroad, exploring new worlds—is still off in the hazy future, provided you can get across the long bridge of hard work between here and there.
    The first week of my sophomore year at Northwestern I got in a fight with a member of the varsity basketball team and spent about three months sorting it out in mediation. Then came what is considered the worst winter in Chicago history; 90 inches of snow fell. "Extremely brutal" is how one news organization put it.
     I toughed it out. 
     So it is with the second year of this blog, which I've come to refer to in tweets as EGD, which ends today. I'm tempted to call it my "fiscal year" but that would suggest this is an economic endeavor, and it really isn't. We did sell more ads this year than last—not only Eli's Cheesecake, which repeated its generous support in November and December, but the Ashman & Stein law firm, Bridgeport coffee, and Chicago Mailing Tube. The latter two paid in product. "I am rich in coffee," I've said, on a number of occasions, scooping dark, oily beans into the grinder for the morning pot. 
     How did I do? The numbers are up. Year One brought 385,679 hits, or 1,056 a day. Year Two brought in, as of Monday night, 499,423 hits—half a million by the time you read this— or 1,368 hits a day, a smidge more than 25 percent improvement. I'm not a businessman, but 25 percent is a good gain for the year.
     Statistics can be deceiving, though. Yes, January was my best month—51,000 hits, and it seemed a milestone to pass 50,000 hits a month. But thousands of those were spambots -- I could tell by seeing the garbled come-ons that land in my spam folder. They latch onto certain posts for reasons mysterious. I can't tell you how dispiriting it was to notice action regarding a certain post—"Hey, lots of people are clicking on my Rocks for Fun report on that strange pasty cafe in Wisconsin. It must have gotten linked to by some Wisconsin tourism site!"--only to realize it's the work of robot web spiders hunting dupes.
     The bad news seemed to outweigh the good, as befitting sophomore year. Poster sales sagged. I sold about 30 the first year. This year I sold 8. I do plan to fill a tube, jump on the Divvy, and put them up on the boardings around construction sites in obscure parts of the city. But haven't gotten around to that yet.
     There is value that can't be measured. Not to other people; I'm not the one to judge that. But to me. When I wrote about Amanda Palmer, the singer, the paper was going to give it a full page, then ended up with a very unsatisfying 700 words. But I ran it full strength, 1,500 words, on the blog, and would have felt terrible were that outlet not there (Palmer's husband, the fantasy writer Neil Gaiman, not only retweeted the post to his millions of followers, but sent me a nice note, which felt like validation).
     I will admit somewhat sagging both in energy and in spirit. In the spring, I finished my next book for the University of Chicago Press, or more precisely, got about as close to the end of the year-long Zeno's Paradox process of securing the 80 or so legal permissions I need to print all the poems and songs and such that I quote without being sued. That, and the big piece for Mosaic, the London science and health web site, plus the column, plus this — it suddenly felt like a lot, and the endless spring of verbiage that I've been filling into jugs for years suddenly seemed a bare trickle.
    Some days are very quiet—or the dozen people who hang around the comments section are always jabbering away, but the greater world is generally completely indifferent. And I begin to wonder if I'm creating a product—essays of a thousand words or so—that isn't wanted anymore. It's an antique form, like a villanelle, a dead fashion, like top hats.
     So time to hang it up? The blog can be cut loose, like an iceberg breaking away from a glacier, to drift off melting in the vast ocean of the Internet. I've created this little island of my work, but like Tom Hanks, I'm going to die here if I don't lash together a raft and try to get myself back to civilization.
    Not yet. In looking over the past year, trying to figure out whether the writing was something to be proud of, or just more Internet crap, I stumbled upon this post from Jan. 20, "These are not dark days," about the state of the newspaper. I had forgotten I wrote it—six months of writing will do that—and read it with simple interest, as if it had been written by someone else. I was impressed by its candor—difficult to assess the place you work at—and thought its Churchillian conclusion, "Never give up," might be apt here. It's not that I can't quit. I think I don't want to, not yet. This is still fun, most days, and still growing, robot spiders be damned. 
    And the bottom line is, this does have a purpose, to have a platform up and ready in case ... choosing his words carefully ... others platforms I'm on becomes unavailable. You don't stop painting the lifeboats just because the ship is still sailing, for now.
    Also, a million hits is out there, sometimes in November at this pace. Like 50,000 hits a month, that seems something worth getting, ignoring the hard fact that a photo of Kim Kardashian's ass will do a million hits in an hour. 
     I can't write anything as dramatic as Kim Kardashian's ass, apparently. But I can try. And I'm a big advocate of that. "For us, there is only the trying," T.S. Eliot wrote in "East Coker" "The rest is not our business." 
     That sounds like a plan. So I'm going to try for a third year. Maybe junior year will be for me, as it is for so many others, when suddenly everything snaps into focus and the point of this endeavor becomes clear. It sure ain't here to sell posters.


48 comments:

  1. Neil, stick with the blog! It's the only one I read daily. I love your style and your range of subjects. I wish I had your 'hits', bots or not! For me, content is what it's all about. I plough away on my blog and realise not all hit that sweet spot, but that makes me try harder. The satisfaction when one resonates with viewers/readers is what makes it all worthwhile.

    Meanwhile, continue to inspire me and I'll stick around for your journey.

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  2. Hope you stick around. I read it every day except for Saturday. I don't live in Chicago so I would have no clue where any of those places are.

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  3. I'm trying to figure out why you got into a fight with a college basketball player, Mr. S.

    Yes, you have too many irons in the fire but I'm verbose and can surely add to the blog hit numbers. Or you can change the title and write it every other day. It is an enjoyable thing to read but it's your time. Not everything has to have a deep thought, serious purpose.

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    1. "Every (other) goddamn day?" THat might be funny.

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  4. Agreed with the others. Your blog is the only one I read every day, because you make it worthwhile, without fail. I don't comment frequently because I've got a complex about appearing stupid in front of someone as intelligent as you (and many of your commentors).

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  5. Agreed with the others. Your blog is the only one I read every day, because you make it worthwhile, without fail. I don't comment frequently because I've got a complex about appearing stupid in front of someone as intelligent as you (and many of your commentors).

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    1. You certainly aren't stupid.

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    2. But you did triple post.

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  6. Agreed with the others. Your blog is the only one I read every day, because you make it worthwhile, without fail. I don't comment frequently because I've got a complex about appearing stupid in front of someone as intelligent as you (and many of your commentors).

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  7. You keep writing, we'll keep reading.

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  8. I, for one, hope you keep going Neil. And once again I pledge that if you keep writing every goddamn day, I'll keep reading every goddamn day.

    As for the declining poster sales, I would attribute that to the first poster simply being, in my opinion, a more interesting design with its between-the-lines exhortation to "read every day".

    On another note, I recently realized that you no longer have posts that start here and link to your ST column to finish. Are the the two platforms now completely independent, so if I'm only looking here I am missing out on your ST columns? Somehow I missed that memo.

    Roy

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    1. And the price should be reduced. Have a sale and you'll sell more. One can get a book for that money.

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    2. During its overhaul of the web presence, the Sun-Times took down all the past columns, breaking the links I had put up here for a year. So linking to the online stories is a risky practice, and until I'm confident they're not going to do it again, i.e. never, I'm just going to post the columns here, entirely. This doesn't get enough traffic to be of concern to a national mass market publication like the Sun-Times.

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    3. I'm glad not to have to navigate to the ST website. I find both it and the ST app offensive to the eye and unwieldy. I don't like the Trib's much better. (But, to appease any fears of the overlords about this site affecting the bottom line, I continue to subscribe to the daily paper.)

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  9. I look forward to the "bing" of your blog hitting my email box every evening at 11:45, Cali time. You make me laugh, think, and miss Chicago. Cheers for that.

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    1. You won't miss the weather.

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  10. Love your writing, and as a right wing conservative, your thoughts often make rethink some of my long held beliefs. Don't stop writing, you are part my continuing education, I may be softening a bit...

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  11. Have you considered a tip jar? Lots of "serious" bloggers have had one, don't see why you shouldn't.

    Wait until you see the hits the phrase "Kim Kardashian's Ass" is going to bring...

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  12. Rarely comment, almost always read, agree with one of the people above who wonders about the fight with the basketball player!

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    1. More people that just read, should be posting. You don't have to sound like a Professor. No one likes a know it all, anyhow.

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  13. I agree with all comments here, and am touched by the Anonymous post at 7:22. We are very lucky to be able to read your posts EGD - I look so forward to it and it always makes my day and makes me think, and want to read other things you open us to. I also enjoy your enjoyment of life, your love of family, and your anger. Please keep writing and fighting. NW Pat Carey

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  14. NS, why fight with such tall people? Do you have a Napoleonic complex or anger issues?

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    1. No, he walked up to me unprovoked and punched me in the face.

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    2. Well I'm glad you stood up to the ass. Did he think he was in junior high in the playground? Does athletes are entitled. Maybe he was a reverse racist or anti Semetic. Why should you be in mediation? He's the one who should have gotten in trouble. But oh no, never the athletes. Just ask girls who we read have been date raped.

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    3. meant those athletes feel entitled

      I see ANA didn't show up-he's too much of an ass to say a good word

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    4. Maybe it was ANA who hit you.

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  15. I'll gladly pay "A penny for your thoughts." Glad you decided to re-up for another year.

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  16. Let me join the chorus of those who would very much miss your blog. I was disappointed when the ST reduced the number of days yor column appears, so discovering this was a tonic.

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  17. Where is Jakash these days? I 'd like to see his thoughts on all this. Bitter also doesn't post much. Yes, I know sometimes people get busy, don't need to hear all that.

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  18. Neil -- please forge on. You have a rare gift -- the ability to turn a phrase and make the everyday interesting. I enjoy your reflective columns as much as the furious and sarcastic ones -- they're always a joy to read. We badly need writers like you.

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  19. Agree with everyone, keep going. I read every day and yes even though I'm now stuck in Ohio I still try for the where's this on Saturday! So, about this basketball player and the fight........

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  20. I remember when FM radio was brand new and there were no commercials. They kept at it and look what happened.

    If schooled, professional writers, columnists, etc don't switch to blogs, where can we see them? Just like newspapers, readers would certainly pay to read you and others. I can't believe people who have a love of writing and are damn good at it would just stop doing it just because the delivery system changed.

    Start charging. I for one, am in.

    Doug D.

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  21. I hope you'll soldier on with the blog, but only while you continue to enjoy it. The topics and writing are excellent! Anybody who loves to read should check in daily; it's amazing you've stayed faithful to the title.

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    1. I second WendyC's comments. I may be an infrequent commenter, but I do enjoying reading (even if I may be a day or two behind). Congratulations on two years - and here's to many more!

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  22. I enjoy your blog, Neil. As long as you write it I'll continue to read it.

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  23. Could that be a symbol of the blog host on the horse?

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  24. Chalk up another vote for please continue your blog. Your writing style makes even the most mundane subjects interesting: concrete, bridges, even puppets.

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  25. Neil, the message on your poster is true, blogging every day keeps you sharp. If you stop or let things like this slide, you place yourself at risk of turning into a crotchety old man like Andy Rooney.

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  26. It's definitely not time to hang it up Neil, and one doubts that you seriously entertained the thought. As Dr. Johnson discovered in a similar endeavor, the opportunity to ramble in prose can be addictive. Being trammeled by 700 words four times weekly, and whatever timidities your editorial masters might impose must have seemed confining to a gifted wordsmith with wide-ranging interests and an occasional taste for the provocative.

    Dr. Johnson thought of his "Rambler" as an opportunity "to join profit and delight," but I doubt that there is much of the former to be made in blogging, so I wouldn't think it's something to fall back on as a way to earn your bread and cheese if the newspaper folds. I expect someone will want to publish you for at least the going rate. If all else fails you might go over to the dark side. Become a "spokesman" for some big time pol. Or a corporate PR person. Nice salary. Expense account. But don't abandon Every Goddamn Day and leave us all bereft.

    Glad you included the link to your 20 January piece, by the way. It was one of your very finest efforts.

    Tom Evans

    .

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  27. Still love the blog, still love the column. Course, I can hardly FIND the column anymore, with all the crap the Sun-Times keeps adding to the column's page!

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  28. Yes, it's either under opinion or other heading but usually early on in the paper.

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  29. FWIW, one more vote for keeping the blog.

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  30. Thanks for all the positive remarks, folks. Long day yesterday: I went on the Honor Flight to Washington with 88 World War II vets, which meant showing up at Midway at 4 a.m. and getting home at 10 p.m. But it was worth it. As is this.

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    1. Those are wonderful. My father in law was on one as a WW2 vet. Unfort, when my dad a Korean vet had the chance, his Alz. was too far gone to be able to travel.

      I presume you will have a column on that soon.

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    2. Hope you didn't have to get up early on Wed. Was that for a relative?

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  31. I enjoy reading your blog; you are always interesting!

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  32. Mr. S, you'll never be a "dead fashion" like the top hat. And no ANA, that doesn't mean if one compliments it a allelujah chorus.

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