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.