Saturday, December 30, 2017

She had no idea why the crowd was cheering — State of the Blog, IV

Revolutionary Calendar, by Louis Philibert Debucourt (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

     You know what's great? That in 2017, despite the president of the United States being a malicious idiot, emptying gas cans of hatred in every direction, then flicking lit matches at combustible poison, we haven't seen any big conflagration. 
     Yes, hate crimes are up—against Muslims, against Jews, against Hispanics—and I don't want to minimize them. But they're still hate crimes, not patriotic duties. No gangs of Red Hats swagger around the streets, pulling off hijabs, brazenly breaking Jewish shop windows, terrorizing Hispanic passersby, which at the beginning of the year I half expected we'd see by now.
     So be thankful for small favors. The nation, as bad as it is, is not as bad as it could be.  And might yet become.  
     A reminder of the benefit of low expectations. As pervasive the damage caused by the corrosive mendacity of the Trump administration—to the tax code, to the environment, to the judiciary, to the press, to the Republican party itself—it's still better than I expected.
     Which is almost comforting, in a weird way.
     I know what you're thinking: but Neil, how about your blog? How is that doing? 
     Glad you asked.
     I ended last year's summary of the every goddamn day's modest but steady increase in readership since it first began on July 1, 2013, with somewhere between a modest prediction and a fond hope: 
     At the end of 2013, after six months of existence, the daily average readership was 918. By Dec. 30, 2014 it was 1200. The end of 2015 was 1539, and now it's 1730, nearly double what it was three years ago. And the numbers are trending upward: January, 2015 was the first month to break 50,000 readers—this year, every month since May has done so, with two breaking 60,000, including a record November at 65,166. My gut says in 2017 we'll reach 80,000.
      Turns out that was doable. EGD hit 89,085 readers a month in October, and at the end of November the blog was averaging 2177 readers a day for the year, a healthy 25 percent increase over 2016. In 2014, no month posted above 50,000 readers, and in 2017 not a month posted below. For the first 11 months, the blog averaged 66,115 readers a month—meaning that 2017's monthly average was higher than 2016's peak month, which is progress.
    And then came December.
    I'm keeping December out of the yearly readership calculation because it was something of a black swan event. My Dec. 2 trifle comparing videos by Pink and Amanda Palmer went viral, or my version of viral, cracking 50,000 hits. It was being retweeted in Tasmania. Thus December's readership topped 120,000 for the month, making about 850,000 total for the year.  I think a million hits in 2018 is possible.
     Okay, enough numbers. So where are we?
     With four calendar years under my belt, and not a day missed, the blog has long become an ordinary part of the day, like brushing my teeth. Sometimes I create something intricate, three days out of seven I use my newspaper column, now and then I dig something relevant out of the archive and print that. The photographs are almost always mine, though I have begun turning to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which in February made 375,000 images from its collection "available for free and unrestricted use," searchable and convenient, a kind of artistic image public utility.  It has made pairing illustration with my theme far easier, and while readers haven't remarked on it, I like it.
      I'm painfully aware of what small ball the blog is, on the scale of kid toy testers raking in millions on YouTube. I must admit, when I see Sheldon Cooper taping his poignant "Fun with Flags" on "The Big Bang Theory" I squirm a bit in recognition. Counter-intuitively, the big numbers generated by the Amanda Palmer post were more disconcerting than encouraging, because they reminded me what the blog isn't: a significant cultural force. It's a whisper in a hurricane of screams.
     Then again, my vegetable garden is not Con-Agra either, yet I still plant tomatoes every spring. Small is fine if it makes you happy, and in general, EGD does.
     My job at the Sun-Times allows me to range across the field of my interests and write things I care about and am proud of. The blog is an outgrowth of that—if I had to put in long days pulling the oars at some generic corporation I couldn't do this. The inky mothership changed owners over the summer, and the good news is the new guys seem to appreciate what this blog represents. For the first time they've actually spoken about somehow incorporating it into the paper's framework. I want to make sure that in doing so I don't lose control, and can maintain the spirit of the thing. It would suck if I could no longer swear. The conversation is glacial and I'm not expecting anything to actually occur anytime soon. I'll keep you posted.
     Not to overlook my perennial holiday sponsor, Eli's Cheesecake. Thanks to Marc Schulman for his tireless support, and if you read this every day, and still somehow haven't ordered a cheesecake, for yourself or a loved one, then go do it right away. It's both good karma and delicious. When my boys pull open the freezer, there is always cheesecake there.
     What about the writing? I've had a few highlights. On January 21, when my wife went downtown for the Women's March. I kept the home fires burning, posting photos and reports from friends at the marches in Chicago, Washington and Michigan.  In February, pieces like "The Dark Before the Darkness" tried to process the shock of a Trump presidency, and offer some welcome mockery of initial Republican fumblings, like "Meep Meep," a view of their efforts to scuttle Obamacare through the lens of Wile E. Coyote. 
     April 1 I teamed with New York graphic designer Tim O'Brien for a satisfying prank postage stamp—my fourth most popular post of all time—and ended the month bringing readers along on my trip to Italy and Paris. Speaking of the world's garden spots, in August I went down to Carbondale for the eclipse.
    I won't recapitulate them all—you can browse. I've taken to re-posting items from one, two, three and four years ago. First, some then get a surprisingly large secondary readership—hundreds of clicks. Second, it allows me to fix typos and formatting snafus and, honestly, enjoy a piece I've often completely forgotten about and third, it subtly encourages the notion this stuff has an afterlife and merits reading, not just today, but into the future. Someday I won't be here, but it will, and if one person on earth reads one column every day, I'd feel I had done something were I, you know, able to feel anything at that point.
     So not bad. The blog could always be better, and I'm working on that. Thank you all for reading what I have to say, and for writing in, and keeping a lively, and generally polite conversation going in the comments section. I'd feel really stupid if nobody read the thing.


  1. Neil--You've been a terrific, vivid writer as long as I've known you, and I've known you since we worked together briefly lo these many years ago at Barrington Press. You've done a great job with EGD. Godspeed and happy 2018.

  2. I worry about egdd becoming part of the paper since it arose from your desire to speak daily even though you could not do that in the paper and I wouldnt want you to lose the ability to do that even should your relationship with the paper change or end. In other words, make sure you akways retain all rights to it since I would like your daily voice to always be there when I look for it in the wee hours.

    1. Good point, but I'm right there with you. To be honest, I don't see it happening.

  3. And I thank you for the effort. But don't minimize your impact. Having the ears (eyes) of 50,000 people may be a piddling to some, it is still one hell of an accomplishment.

  4. It’s a great achievement to write, every week, something illuminating, or witty, or interesting. To do this seven times a week, though, is astounding. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate EGD. It makes me feel a little smarter. Thank you.

  5. Congrats and even when one doesn't always agree, you are never dull, work hard and always give food for thought.

  6. EGD is a daily treasure. It has substance -other websites with more clicks usually traffic in pandering to the lizard brain, so comparisons are silly. EGD is how I start each day and I hope it outlives me - I don't want to start the day without it. If I had to read the daily compendium of outages by you know who without the tempering affect of EGD I would fear for my emotional health.

    It had not occurred to me that you might analyze the traffic so precisely. Did you ever imagine you'd spend part of your precious moments on earth pondering things like "clicks"? The journey of the human psyche never ceases to amaze.

    1. I'm actually a piker when it comes to paying attention to these things. The metrics are on huge screens in the newsroom now. It's a life or death thing, so I understand it. But I can't see how good journalism comes from it, since what is well-wrought, worthwhile and interesting and what pinballs around the globe are invariably two very different things. That Amanda Palmer critique got nearly five times the hits of my second-most-popular post. And not because it's a work of genius.

    2. NPR presented a segment early this morning about "influencer marketing." The whole thing was depressing, but especially the Harry Potter example. Seems the Harry Potter enterprise was opening a Harry Potter theme park. Rather than advertise (radio, television, newspapers) 40 persons deemed to have influence in the Harry Potter world were recruited to spread the word, the only reward being a personal meeting with the author. Needless to say, the theme park opened with huge crowds. More common in this marketing strategy is to give a Kardashian a million bucks to state on social media how much she loves a certain product. The whole concept strikes me as sneaky and insidious.


    3. John--FWIW, if you pay someone to promote a product on social media, that person has to disclose the payment under FTC rules.

  7. Neil, it beats the hell out of me how anyone can not only come up with an interesting topic, but also write intelligently about it, every goddamn day. I guess that's why you're a professional writer and I'm a mere shade tree mechanic of words. Feel free to tell me not to touch anything under the hood.

    I'm with you on the "benefits of low expectations" of Trump's first year. I'm pleasantly surprised -- thrilled, really -- that there aren't mushroom clouds dotting the globe by now.

  8. Congrats on the continued improvement in the numbers, Neil, and your dedication in posting e g d for 4 years. I pretty much agree with all the commenters and was going to say something along the lines of what C'est Moi said -- this being an independent effort of yours is a big plus with regard to content, tone, language, etc., and I'd hate to see some suits screw it up somehow, as happened with your buddy Mr. Zorn's blog. Since the S-T *does* link to your Twitter and your Twitter promptly directs folks here, that seems to me like a good compromise, compared with a more formal association between EGD and the paper. For whatever that opinion is worth...

    I've certainly noticed your clever use of the Met Museum images lately, and can understand how it makes it a lot easier to find a complementary illustration to go with the post. Honestly, though, I gotta say that I miss the swell photos that they've been replacing...

    Your willingness to discuss these numbers is refreshing, as well. Seeing the graphic you posted makes me wonder, though. It mentions "followers" in addition to pageviews. Is that another word for unique visitors, or whatever, or does that mean something else? If somebody checks in to EGD five times in a day, say -- looking at comments and the wayback machine posts, for instance -- I assume that's 5 pageviews. Is there a separate statistic showing how many unique individuals are visiting EGD on a given day? Asking for a friend! ; )

    1. No idea what "followers" are. I think you're correct, as each visit is a "pageview."

  9. I think the expanded selection of art a great addition. Not necessarily worth the proverbial thousand words, but often illumination. And nice to look at.


  10. I agree with the above commentators; EGD is a treasure. I can't imagine not seeing it here every day (sorry, don't mean to pressure you into continuing into infinity :)


  11. EGD is terrific and I congratulate you on the readership growth. Your writing is excellent, the topics eclectic and interesting. I appreciate your dedication to publishing EGD. Thanks for creating this great blog. I'm looking forward to more great content in 2018!


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