Thursday, July 27, 2017

Blogs are dying but I feel fine




     On Monday, the Wall Street Journal shut down eight blogs, on a range of subjects: legal and breaking news, the arts, the Chinese economy. I found out, of course, not by looking at the WSJ, which has a paywall and I never consult, directly, but on Twitter, noticing a story from the Nieman Lab blog, which I never look at either.
     It turns out blogs have been old hat for a number of years.
     "It’s truly the post-blog era," Wendell Jamieson, the New York Times metro editor was quoted as saying in 2015, "and I barely had time to get into the blog era.”
    Testify, brother. If you are curious—as I was—what is replacing blogs, the Nieman post cites a WSJ spokesman explaining, "other storytelling formats and our digital platforms,” meaning, I suppose, social media and other apps, like podcasts.
     There are several ways to view this. When I began everygoddamnday.com, I chose that yellow legal pad background motif because it had, in my eyes, a certain charming retro office supply quality, an aspect that will only be enhanced as blogs die off one by one, joining semaphore flags and telegrams in the realm of the tragically defunct.
     It can be hard to keep track. My first thought was that blogs must be giving way to entities like Twitter, but we have Reuters sharing the news that Twitter is doing better, since six months ago it "was knocking on death's door and going the way of Myspace and AOL." Why am I always the last to know these things? (To illustrate how quickly this changes, the rosy Twitter outlook was Wednesday. On Thursday, Twitter stock plunged 13 percent on reports of disappointing user figures).
     I certainly used Twitter less, as it became clotted with ads, fewer nuggets of interest showing up in pan after pan of useless gravel. And Facebook seems dominated by ads touting shoes I bought on Zappos last week, as if they're expecting me to break down and buy a few more pairs.
     Looking at my own regular media diet, there are actual subscriptions, received at home, of the Chicago Sun-Times and the New York Times. A digital subscription to the Washington Post. Copies of the New Yorker and the Economist arriving weekly, Consumer Reports monthly. That keeps you pretty busy. On Facebook I keep continually updated on the ever-on-point Eric Zorn without the bother of consulting the entire Tribune.
     I've even subscribed to a podcast: "50 Things that Made the Modern Economy," with Tim Hartford, a BBC analysis of diesel engines and barbed wire, air condition and shipping containers, exactly the sort of see-the-universe-in-a-teacup kind of exploration I relish.
 
      Each new format takes advantage of a certain consumer need, or vulnerability—the podcasts are an outgrowth of listening to audio books. Something to listen to while walking to and fro, because we can't be on the phone all the time. A little lesson in the intricacies of baby formula or the dynamo makes the walk from the paper to the train a lot quicker.  
     Though to be honest, if the BBC issued the series on cassette tapes, I'd buckle down and buy an old Walkman on ebay for a dollar. (I'm being fanciful. Doing that checking thing that journalists still do, I see you'd be hard-pressed to find a knock-off for under $20, and vintage actual Walkmen, in box, go for $500. The mind reels).
     I'm of the antique notion that it's the words, and concepts, that matter, and whether you are reading this on the phone, or etched into a wax tablet, is secondary. But that might be an antique and increasingly irrelevant opinion. Anyway, I don't mind blogs vanishing as fast as they possibly can. Maybe when mine is the only one left people will start to notice. More likely not, but a guy can still dream, one communication medium that never goes out of style. 
 

37 comments:

  1. of all the recent changes in the way i can consume information, what i most enjoy is the opportunity to interact with the author and other readers, without using a stamped envelope. as surly of an old coot as you are Neil, the entertainment value of your work coupled with your willingness to engage with your readers is outstanding. i'll keep coming back

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  2. Thanks FME. I appreciate you reading.

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  3. I still prefer reading full-fledged paragraphs over tweets or watching a video or listening to a podcast, so I'll be around until the end of blogs. Hopefully that will be a long way down the road. I agree with FME. Your blog is unique in that you turn it into two-way communications. So many other bloggers put up their posts and ignore reader comments.

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  4. I love that manhole cover picture, by the way. Spectacular texture.

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    1. Thanks. Early morning summer sun. Though I can't post a photo of a manhole cover without a nod to my pal, Bill Savage, who makes a practice of documenting their spartan beauty and rich variety.

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    2. There seems to be a new variety of manhole cover, which is level with the pavement and looks like it was drawn on the street rather than cut into it. I should send a photo.

      john

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  5. The proliferation of podcasts can become a real problem if they replace the written word. Most podcasts are an hour or two in length and they somehow need to fill the time, not always for the better. Being subscribed to way-too-many publications, printed and digital, reading books and working full time leaves me very little time for podcasts except when I am driving. I have two favorite podcasts though: the NY Times' "The Daily" which starts my weekdays and that is short, about 20 minutes, and Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History which I believe is weekly but it's so good that I went back to episode 1 when I started listening to it. Now the Atlantic has a new one called Radio Atlantic which I plan on checking out.

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  6. Typo: "a little less in in" should be "a little lesson in"

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  7. Dan Savage recommended your blog maybe four years ago, saying you were one of the best writers around. Since then, every goddamn day, yours is the first thing I read when I turn my iPad on in the morning. You sealed the deal when I, a Minneapolitan, won the Saturday Fun Activity for a bas relief in 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. And you are one of the best writers around.

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    1. Dan's always been very supportive, which is a high compliment coming from a writer as skilled as he is. I can't recommend "The Kid" and "The Betrothal" enough. Memoir writing at its very best.

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  8. I agree. I read your blog every morning and it's great that you've made it so interactive. As readers we are free to comment and interact with you as well as other readers. I hope blogs don't go away, especially since I just started mine this week! They say timing is everything......oh well we'll see. My blog is very basic right now (I'll make enhancements later); it's just a sheet of paper where readers can share their thoughts about daily life in Chicago and the suburbs; ranging from fashion, shopping, restaurants and events to thoughts on Chicago history, politics and policy. Neil, please let me know if I may send you the link to the blog so you can check it out and then possibly show it on your blog. I'd appreciate it!

    Thanks
    Linda Barnes

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    1. As a rule, I discourage people from plugging their blogs on mine, as the point is to get people to visit HERE, not send them elsewhere. But I guess I'm established now, so being supportive of newcomers is something of a requirement. Sure, send it to me at dailysteinberg@gmail.com and I'll take a look. Good luck. Have fun with it.

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    2. Thanks! I'll send it. I appreciate you just looking at it. It's a lifestyle blog that could never compete with yours. Thanks for wishing me luck ... I need it!

      Linda Barnes

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  9. Ugh. I don't like podcasts. I prefer reading. :(

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  10. From what I understand, bloggers have given away to "influencers"--meaning, I gather, individuals with large numbers of followers on social media. (I thought blogs were a social medium, but never mind.) That's why "Instagram model" is now a legitimate career.

    Regardless, I hope you'll keep doing what you're doing, for the reasons others have articulated above. As long as you write every goddamn day, I'll read every goddamn day.

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    1. Me too. I read Neil for the well crafted sentence, the evocative metaphor, and the nuggets of information, even when the mark is somewhat missed. As evidently was the case above when he consigned the ancient art of the semaphore to "the realm of the tragically defunct." As a young Naval officer I often watched with interest the graceful motions of a Signalman guiding a tanker alongside for underway replenishment. The Signalman's traditional nickname was "Flag," his repository of tools affording an opportunity for the old jibe that the Flag Bag is not, in this instance, the Admiral's wife.

      I was aware that the Signalman rate had been phased out some 10 years ago and thought that might have meant that signaling with flags and lights had gone by the board, replaced entirely with electronics. Upon investigation, I find that not to be the case, and the Signalman's duties have been assumed by Quartermasters.

      I never, by the way, particularly noticed the yellow legal pad background, but applaud the motive for adopting it. It does add an antique charm.

      Tom

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    2. Thanks for the compliment Tom, though your having fond memories of semaphore flags does not, in itself, remove them from the realm of the tragically defunct. Nor does the quartermaster assuming the signalman's duties mean that the flags have NOT gone by the board. I don't know they have, and they might have some residual existence. But dancing around the point like this is uncharacteristic of you.

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    3. Didn't mean to be uncharacteristically choreographic, but it's a good while since I've been at sea -- at least in the literal sense -- so I can't offer first-hand witness. However, Wikipedia advises that semaphore is still used in underway replenishment. Which I can believe, recalling the mechanics of two large vessels running side by side in heavy seas. And although it may not be used much any more visual signaling is probably necessary to have when operating in conditions of radio silence.

      It was, of course, hugely important in the 19th Century, and, in part, the secret of the Royal Navy's dominance. Famously, Lord Nelson concluded battle instructions to his ship captains before Trafalgar with a flowery statement of encouragement and his Signal Officer persuaded him to rewrite it with words in the signal book. The result was a model of economy taught to English schoolboys through the ages: "England expects that every man will do his duty."

      Tom

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    4. I like the fact that the ubiquitous peace sign was a product of two semaphore letters overlapping each other. The N and the D. Which stood for Nuclear Disarmament.

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  11. One more way in which Every Goddamn Day is better than most of the other blogs I read: Neil is a reporter, meaning he goes out and talks to people and gets stories. Other bloggers (at least, among the political blogs which mostly fill out my online diet) mostly just leech material from legitimate news sources. This would be a little more tolerable if four out of five didn't then turn around and bash the news organizations they leech from. One of their favorite sneers is about journalistic "stenographers." Hey pal, if they're stenographers, you're a Xerox machine.

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    1. Well said. I'm fortunate, in that my work for the paper can be reflected in the blog. It's always been a sorrow of mine that the newspaper has no interest at all in the blog. It's the oddest thing. We've never even discussed it, though I've tried.

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  12. "the Wall Street Journal shut down eight blogs"

    Well, that's the key, right there, it seems to me. Did the writers of those blogs even *want* to be writing blogs, or were they assigned? I've no idea, but the biggest thing Neil did right with his blog was running it himself, apart from his employer. And having realistic expectations, which he seems to maintain about everything. As long as he's satisfied with the blog, nobody but he can shut it down. And he's writing much of this stuff because he likes to write this stuff, not because he has to. It's very good stuff, don't get me wrong, but the idea of "feeding the beast," which many columnists seem to wrestle with, doesn't seem to be much of an issue for him. Thus, every damn day as the unifying theme. Of course, being a columnist for a major metropolitan newspaper, with an already established audience of people who might be inclined to follow him from the S-T to the blog was a rather important ingredient in EGD's success, no doubt.

    We readers getting to interact with the writer is a nice bonus, to be sure -- but it only really matters to a relative handful of us. It's the "content" (buzzword alert!) that keeps people checking in every day.

    As for podcasts, Avi @ 7:55 made the salient point, as far as I'm concerned. "Most podcasts are an hour or two in length and they somehow need to fill the time, not always for the better." I've only listened to a few, granted, but the amount of time required to listen to something, compared to reading it, is a deal-breaker. I'm just not in the car enough to care, and that's the place they'd make the most sense to me. I don't need nor desire aural stimulation while I'm walking and I'd rather read on the train. Harrumph! ; )

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    1. I love podcasts but there are way too many to listen to. As a baseball fan I listen to the baseball tonight podcast every day. That generally last just less than an hour. If I could stay up 24 hours a day I would. Most of the ones I listen to are every week. I think there a lot of good blogs out there as well. I think a lot of sites are going more towards video than writing. Fox sports is going to be mostly video, Vice Sports laid off a bunch of their writers. That is the one thing great about the net, is that there are so many good writers that we couldn't read before. I like EGD because for the most part is not all about the news of the day. And you do tend to learn some interesting things.

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    2. Ironic that your comment followed Bitter Scribe, because just as I get done bemoaning the paper's indifference, you cite it as a central benefit. Not a flaw but a feature. You are probably right, again, Jakash. I'm sure the paper would only screw it up somehow. There might be something marketable about it, in that I'm one guy, with low overhead, and if I could find another 100 Eli's Cheesecakes I'd have a fairly decent living.

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  13. I tried to talk myself out of making this observation, but...

    "On Facebook I keep continually updated on the ever-on-point Eric Zorn without the bother of consulting the entire Tribune."

    Myself, I could write that on EGD I keep continually updated on the ever-on-point Neil Steinberg without the bother of consulting the entire Sun-Times. But I feel guilty about admitting that. Should I?

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    1. If you're ignoring the rest of the Sun-Times, you're missing out on Lynn Sweet, Mark Brown, Mary Mitchell, and great editorials written by, uh, someone who is almost always on right target. Pretty terrific sports section too.

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    2. I'm aware of what I'm missing out on, Tony, but thanks for the reply. You've certainly been a welcome addition to the Commentariat here, in my estimation.

      But there's *so, SO* much to read and so little time. If I'd read Mark Brown, I might not have time for your comments, for example! ; )

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    3. Mark is great. It's pretty obvious his columns are heavily researched. I tend to shoot from the hip, but thanks for the compliment. I enjoy your posts too.
      I've been enjoying Neil's column for years, but only recently began reading his blog. I can't tell you why I'd never sought it out. No good reason.

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    4. Tony, You are correct. The Sun-Times has other fine writers and interesting news pieces, etc.

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  14. I have an extensive media diet. I subscribe to the Chi Tribune, NY Times, Washington Post, La Times and Wall Street Journal. All digital. I also like to read the local papers when there is a national story centered there (I have reading the Minn. Star Tribune on the Justine Damond story and just read the Deseret News for Utah's take on the anti-transgender in the military tweet by Trump (shockingly Hatch was against Trump's stand and I wanted a local take) I would love to subscribe to the Boston Globe but I think their pricing is outrageous (and I am as you can see willing to subscribe to papers). I try (with gritted teeth) to check Fox news on a regular basis to venture further out of the bubble then the WSJ and see what's being said.

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    1. And I meant to say, my first stop of the day (sometimes as early as 12:01 am) is EGGD!

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  15. Eric Zorn had a great blog, with diverse regulars who hung around for years for the content and mostly respectful interaction. Until the Tribune trashed the format.

    I'm here because he recommended this blog (three?) years ago. I've stayed for the excellent writing and content. It's a shame that in the digital age major publications no longer promote insightful conversation between their readers and staff.

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    1. He was grief-stricken at that. Nobody cares more for his readers than Eric. I tend to let people talk, unless they're specifically calling for comment, or say something complimentary that merits thanks. For some reason, the trolls on the rest of the web seldom find their way here. I really only have a few unhinged readers who can't be allowed to comment, lest the pathology they represent sadden my loyal readers.

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    2. "Eric Zorn had a great blog, with diverse regulars..."

      At least 3 of whom have commented on this post, and including at least a half-dozen others who have commented on EGD at one point or another, with Sandy K being the most frequent...

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  16. 4. I commented fairly regularly on Eric's blog as "Jara". Eric allowed me to exoerience a fantasy bucket list item by inviting me to visit the Trib and sit in on the meeting where the front page was being decided. I'd wanted to experience that since seeing All the Presidents Men. It's still a highlight of my life.

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  17. Love your writing, Neil. Never stop!!

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