Saturday, June 30, 2018

State of the Blog, Year Five

American Helmet No. 5 (Metropolitan Museum)
     Five years? That's a David Bowie song, opening his "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" album:

   Five years, what a surprise
   Five years, stuck on my eyes
   Five years, my brain hurts a lot
   Five years, that's all we've got

     Fairly apt, or could be, if I quit right now, impulsively—today marks the end of the fifth year of the blog—just to give that last line a little extra relevance and zing.
     But my brain doesn't hurt a lot. It doesn't hurt at all. If anything, it perhaps feels a little lighter, a little less ... intricate the past year. Not that the old gourd is exactly drying out. But maybe a twist of the knob less crackle and pop. Not necessarily a bad thing either. It can give the routine a kind of spareness, an austerity. The extraneous crap falls away and life is reduced to essentials. Which is good. Not that the blog is essential. I do like it. I think of it as one piece, my writing and life, this hillock built a handful at a time in cyberspace. People read it. The numbers are up. I shouldn't lay them out—my wife insists nobody cares about the numbers, and she's right. But I care. It seems a kind of significance. And I'm the boss here, if nowhere else.
No. 5 of Collars (Metropolitan Museum)
      In fact, caring is the central guiding principle of the blog. Caring about this or that wisp of triviality that catches my eye any given day—why maraschino cherries are placed in the center of grapefruits?—to the deepest problems facing our country and world, the hourly assault against the United States of America by its president and his quislings. Monitoring the continual drip drip drip erosion of everything good and decent about our country. Then—squirrel!—veering away to tiny distractions, letting everybody enjoy the flea circus, catch our breath before rejoining the battle, hopefully refreshed. 
     So, five years, caring about the various columns, posts and essays. I write the stuff and correct the typos, even years in the past. I always tell young writers, if you don't care about your work, then nobody cares.
     Not every writer cares. Once, when Nigel Wade was editor of the Sun-Times, he became concerned that the obituary of a certain fiery local religious leader had been written by a Jewish person, aka me. "No problem" that Jewish person said, in a rare moment of self-effacement, asking a colleague, the actual religion reporter, if he wouldn't mind putting his name on the obituary. He didn't care. So  I put his byline on, in amazement. I didn't care that I would take my name off something—what's one less byline, even 20 years ago? The important part, the writing, is the same. And I liked the unusual show of ego negation. Though I was agog that this guy would put his name on a story that he had, first, not written, but also never even read, that he would allow it to be done. I didn't feel contempt, but a species of wonder, as if I had walked in the office and found him licking the floor clean.
     His name stayed on the obit for ... a while ... then Nigel left, and the reporter went off to Colorado, and I slipped my name back on, where it remains, waiting.
   But I digress into old tales, a tendency of aging journalists to be guarded against. On to the numbers:  

             Year One: 385,679 hits.

             Year Two: 499,423.
             Year Three: 577,617.
             Year Four: 730,955.

             Drumroll please ...

             Year five: 886,385
Colt Percussion Revolver No. 5 (Metropolitan Museum)
     Hey! Not bad. A 21 percent jump from the year before. A drop of drool off Milo Yiannopoulos' slavering lips, no doubt. But then we are playing different games. You can draw a crowd pouring gasoline over your head and then setting yourself on fire, too, but what do you do for an encore? I think of this as both small ball and long game. The first, summed up in a sentence I like from last year: "My vegetable garden is not Con-Agra either, and I still plant it every spring." And the second, well, maybe five years from now I'll feel compelled to add a footnote, explaining who Milo Yiannopoulos is (I should probably do that now: some kind of flaming rhetorical freak show, saying vastly heartless and stupid things which people nevertheless feel compelled to pay attention to, right now).
     What I'm trying to say is, I'm not doing this for the notoriety, obviously.
     Now, were I looking for negatives, I could note that the growth rate has slipped from the year before, when it was 26 percent. But I think that's taking the jacket of good news and checking the pockets for bad news. (I suppose I could also observe that I don't know how many hits are actual people, as opposed to spiders from China, or Mars, speaking of Ziggy Stardust, And the numbers were goosed in December by a post that got 50,000 hits thanks to a retweet by Neil Gaiman).
Fish Series No. 5 by Charles Demuth (Metropolitan)
    Although being retweeted by Neil Gaiman is a good thing, right? So I should just accept it as more good news and move on.
    The average works out to 75,147 readers a month, compared to 60,812 a month last year. Which also feels like robust growth.
    This past year was marked by several notables—my first six-digit month, December, at 124,061 hits. My first significant press attention, "Neil Steinberg never falls short on his daily blog," written by the dean of Chicago media journalism Robert Feder. I should probably just refer you to his column rather than nattering on here myself. 
     The point of it all, if you read the very first post, five years ago tomorrow (and if you haven't, you should) is to mine hidden wonder, and I think we've continued doing that this year. We savored a chunk of Chicago artwork copied by the Louvre last July and went up Mayan ruins in Belize in March. We learned about skeumorphism, the Dempsey-Tunney fight and Martin Luther's Reformation. We baked English muffins, buried Hugh Hefner and read "Don Quixote," wherein Cervantes writes "self-praise is self-debasement."
    Ouch. True enough. Better wrap this up. 
    Thanks are in order. 
Five gold earrings (Metropolitan Museum)
      First, to my advertiser, Marc Schulman of Eli's Cheesecake. He has supported this blog from the start, and his holiday ads give a festive air to this effort, plus add sweetness the year around. I always have a cheesecake in the freezer, and encourage you to do the same. It's like having a fire extinguisher--you never know when you're going to need it.
    Thanks to the Chicago Sun-Times, for giving me a home for the past 31 years, and for tolerating the blog with a splendid leonine indifference, the old king gazing across the savannah while the cub scampers and rolls and gums his tail.
    Thanks to all my colleagues, at the paper and across the city, country and world, who have read this, enjoyed it, remarked upon it, retweeted it, criticized it, pointed out typos, and in general treated the blog as a legitimate center of interest and not, as the buzzing cloud of obsessives that gather around any journalistic endeavor insist, on a daily basis, the vacuous yet somehow still noxious effluvia of an imbecile.
    Thanks to my loyal readers, Coey and Nikki and Tony and Thomas and Jakash (and here I better cut off, before I start feeling like Miss Barbara looking through her magic mirror in"Romper Room.") Though not without a shout-out to John O'Rourke, who gives a careful read to the thing every morning and invariably offers up a typo or two. Thanks to my biggest fan, my mother, reading every day in Boulder, Colorado. 
   And of course to my wife, who musters a convincing show of enthusiasm for this, and has stopped suggesting I miss a day out of general principles. You're right of course. Maybe after a decade....


  1. We can only hope for another 5 + years. Keep it going

  2. Haven't missed a day in 5 years - and have madeit my mission to remind you to press "publish". Lol.
    Congratulations and thanks.

  3. As I’ve said in comments before, I’ve read you every day since the start. Its often the last thing I do at night often thinking “well it’s 11:45 and if I just stay up another 15 minutes EGDd will likely be up”. I’ve been a fan since the days with a joke at the end of every column and your work has brought real joy. That’s why you were included in my annual birthday charity donation campaign ( I make donations in the name of a dozen friends and reach out to a few others I admire and ask where they want a donation made). I didn’t get a shout out but that’s ok. I don’t comment as much as some and I was a lot more disappointed when the magic mirror failed to acknowlege me. Congrats on 5 years. Hoping for at least 5 more. Love, “Annie”

  4. Bravo. I get up every morning, pour a cup of caffeine and open the laptop to read EGD. It is the perfect way to start a day, entertained by reason and thoughtfulness, ever more rare jewels.

  5. Thank you, for the kind mention, but mostly for the daily dose of reflection, indignation, humor, information; often offered simultaneously! Also thanks to your commentariat, who enhance and enliven the experience.

  6. Miss Elizabeth never said my name on Romper Room, BTW. But now I can stop brooding over it.

  7. Congratulations Neil and thanks for giving we obsessives a place to vent.

    You da boss round here

    Frank Verciglio

  8. Mazel tov, Neil. Checking this blog is my first online daily task, even before mail. You earn and deserve all your success.

    One small question/quibble: You've said several times you're sponsored by Eli's Cheesecake, but I can't see any ads for them, even after disabling AdBlock and refreshing the page. Do they run ads, or do they settle for just getting mentioned on occasions like this?

  9. First thing I do when opening the laptop is hit the egd bookmark, and before that the actual Sun Times delivered to my door! Congrats Neil!

  10. Bravo to five fine years, and I'm looking forward for many more to come. Thank you for making this a daily habit, I've learned a lot from your columns and you make the mornings for me, the decidedly not a morning person, a lot more pleasant. Thanks for the shout out as well, I watched Romper Room all the time and I never heard Nikki. I do admit that I was grinning and a bit of a ooo escaped my lips when I read that, please don't judge.

  11. Congrats! You're entitled to an Iron Man award for never missing a day. I read and enjoy all of your columns, thanks.

  12. Glad to be one of the 2400 people who check in daily. Will not miss the paper as much if you keep at it. I admire your ability to share your daily thoughts. We all have something to say every day, few of us have the talent to make it worth reading. Thanks, JP

  13. What's the best way to catch a fish?

  14. Mazel tov and zei gesunt, boychik.

    If life brings you tsouris, just remember that every goddamn day, you're doing a mitzvah, just by being here for the rest of us. Tusen takk.

  15. Thanks Neil for another enjoyable year. I enjoy and largely agree with your various viewpoints. I love that you force me to look up the meaning of a word's example, quislings! By the way, the photo up top of the freight cars adorned with graffiti is very cool. Graffiti on freight cars is art that I think goes largely unappreciated.

  16. Thanks for the gift of EGD. I haven’t missed a day.

  17. I like to think that I have been part of that increase. I frequently quote excerpts of some of your columns on another blog I visit and refer people here to read the whole thing. I know that some have become daily readers.

    Congratulations on a job well done and yet hardly begun.

  18. I care about numbers. Lovveee numbers--polls, poll numbers! Well except those that kept showing you know what--and then came Nov. Glad yours are up! Keep writing!!!!

  19. Congratulations on the 5 years and keep the columns coming.


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