Posts from March 17, 2004

Writing for your audience… or not

Writing for your audience… or not

: A commentor below raised a cosmic weblog issue when he (or is it she?) asked whether I know who my audience is.

That was said in exasperation at my daily Stern reports and so I’ll deal with that before I rise to the cosmic question. The commenter’s implication, of course, is that my audience doesn’t like Stern or what I’m saying about him — and issues of free speech — and is upset that I haven’t changed my mind to agree with them. And so I should just cease and desist. But I won’t. I’ve liked Stern for years. I am an absolutist in regards to free speech and the Constitution’s prohibition of government control of speech. And I am appalled and frightened by the orgy of Talibanism coming out of Congress and the government now. I believe this is a critically important issue. And, in fact, many of my readers agree (I’ve been getting a lot of supportive links and email). So, to answer your question: No, I’m not going to shut up about Stern. If you don’t like him, change the station. If you don’t like my posts about him, scroll. If you don’t like me, click away. I’m staying on the Stern story.

But the question this raises is really bigger than just Howard Stern and so and I’ll rephrase it:

Should webloggers adjust what they say based on what their audiences want?

Or: What is the proper relationship of webloggers to their publics?

Now if you are trying to cover a subject, that’s fairly obvious: Marketing Wonk covers marketing; LostRemote covers TV; Corante’s Many2Many covers social software. That is their compact with their publics: You know what you’re going to get when you click there.

But personal weblogs are different, no? My weblog is a representation of me and my thinking. It is my avatar. I am, therefore I blog; I blog, therefore I am.

In discussion about getting advertising on weblogs, the fear that is often raised (it was raised in my comments just the other day) is that bloggers will bend to the will of advertisers — or even just to the fear of what those advertisers would dislike — and that would rob them of their credibility, their honesty.

So if I change what I am saying to bend to the will of the public, my public, am I being false? If I see that something gets traffic and I do more of it to get more traffic, am I whoring myself for links? If I change my mind about an issue — say, Stern and free speech — to ingratiate myself to my public and not drive them away, am I living a lie?

It’s often said that a mark of art is that artists create art for themselves, not their publics.

Stop: Step away from that mouse. Don’t click on the “comment” link yet. I am not saying that blogs are art.

But I am saying that making this personal makes a difference. That defines the mission. If you go to PaidContent, you get paid content. If you go to Buzzmachine, you get Jarvis. Love him or leave him, you get Jarvis. That is my mission and the compact I make with my public: I am WYSIWYG.

In fact, that is one of the first lessons I learned doing a blog (see the post below for another): I had to be as open as I was honest. And that meant I started saying things publicly that violated my training as a journalist. I spent much of my life hiding my own opinions. But here, in this two-way medium, I learned that I had to be transparent (or, to really mess up this metaphor, my audience would be able to see through my attempt not to be). I had to give you some context for my perspective and my history. My personal experience on 9/11 had life-changing impact on my views of war and politics and so I had to be reveal that.

And the net result of all this is that I learned not to be frightened of transparency (see, again, that post below). In fact, I came to embrace transparency and believe that in this new media world of relationships transparency becomes necessary to build credibility and show trust and — most of all — show respect.

And so, in the end, if you like me and what I say and how I say it — or like arguing with me or like interacting with the public I attract — wonderful. If you don’t, well, there’s not much I can do about it. This is the only me I’ve got.

So, no, I can’t shift what I think and thus say for an audience anymore than I can for an advertiser (or the government). Bloggers have to be true to themselves or they live a lie — no, they blog a lie.

Transparency

Transparency

: I was digging into the State of the News Media report, already much-linked, and found this nugget about the relationship of news media to its public:

The problem is a disconnection between the public and the news media over motive. Journalists believe they are working in the public interest and are trying to be fair and independent in that cause. This is their sense of professionalism.

The public thinks these journalists are either lying or deluding themselves. The public believes that news organizations are operating largely to make money and that the journalists who work for these organizations are primarily motivated by professional ambition and self-interest.

I believe that if you took some of that “public” and sat them down in a bar with some of those from “news media,” they’d all in all end up liking … or perhaps respecting … or at least not disdaining … and maybe better understanding each other. The problem is that there is a separation between the “news media” and its “public.”

That is perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned in weblogs; it was the first lesson I writing this blog: I had a new relationship with my “public.” (And I’ll quit the obnoxious quote marks now.)

The public spoke; it argued; it agreed; it disagreed; it could be friendly; it could be generous; it could be trollish; it had names. But I now had a relationship with my public I’d never had before. And that public had a relationship with me it never could have before, when I was merely printed on paper: a two-way relationship.

You think I’m going to say that blogs are going to solve all this and if everybody just had a blog (or sat in a bar together) we’d all get along.

Fooled ya. No, I’m just arguing the virtues of transparency. At Bloggercon last year, the audience demanded — or at least suggested strongly — transparency from Len Apcar and the New York Times; but Apcar, as I remember, was openly skittish about the idea of sharing the process of news. At that time, that seemed at least reasonable; why have people fight with you over what you almost did when they’are already fighting with you over what you did?

But when you are not transparent, people will assume their definition of the worst. If you are transparent, you show the effort you put behind trying to serve them and you also give them the respect to include them in the process. That is a moral of weblogs. It’s a moral the news business needs to figure out.

: UPDATE: As Hypergene says, transparency is also served when news sources get blogs and tell their sides of stories directly. Witness Mark Cuban’s blog, on which he answers newspaper writers.

Mr. Blog goes to Washington

Mr. Blog goes to Washington
: So it appears Ed Cone is seriously considering running for Congress. Frankly, I thought it was just one of those blog moments but he’s weighing the pros and cons. He’d be good. I fear he’s too nice and too decent, but we could use more of that.

Jersey bloggers: Come one, come all

Jersey bloggers: Come one, come all
: NJ.com’s Jersey blogger MeetUp is tonight in South Orange. Come all.

Peanut gallery

Peanut gallery
: Ross Mayfield is putting up SocialText eventspace for PC Forum and it’s open to all of us. You don’t have to pay the admission fee (but you also don’t get the nice Arizona weather) and still join in.

During the Mediamorphisis confab, I quite enjoyed joining in from the peanut gallery, on their blog and mine (seeing whether I could start a meme or get mentioned there). PC Forum is the big time.