Thursday, June 11, 2015
Where have All the Bloggers Gone?
Facebook. That would be the short answer. But the answer deserves some elaboration on a personal and community level.
The Adventures of Johnny Northside recently went about two months without a post, and has announced a blogging retirement of June 15, 2015. This blog has had a similar gap. The Deets is back with some new content, but had been dormant for a while too. Sure, other blogs have started up (or kept on going); "Hearts and Hammers," and "My Blonde Life in the Hood" come to mind. But these are primarily personal, navel-gazing pieces and not tackling broader community or institutional issues as their primary focus.
While I can't speak for others, I can talk about my personal choices and what I see as a vastly different landscape for writing and dialogue on community issues. A little over a year ago, a close friend told me I should "blog less and get out and meet people and do things more." More often than not, when I'm presented with a good idea, I dismiss it out of hand at first. But the seed was planted...
"Blogging is HOW I get out and meet people and do things!" was my initial response. But then I had the chance to serve on some advisory committees around the Workforce Center on Broadway and Aldrich, some of which involved confidentiality agreements. I was elected to serve as Board Chair for the Jordan Area Community Council as well. And one concern the board had was if I would take proprietary or even just plain impolitic information and throw it on this blog with little consideration for the mission of the organization.
In each of these cases, and a few other ways I remained active, there came a time when I had to put the goals of the organization above my desire to get information out on my site as soon as I possibly could.
Tragedy struck as well last year, when my ex-wife's youngest son passed away unexpectedly. He and I were still close. That loss sapped a lot of emotional and intellectual energy that I once had for this sort of thing. Sometimes I just needed to sit on my porch with baseball on the radio, my dog in my lap, and a beer in my hand, and just decompress as the world went by all around me. And putting out content on a regular basis--especially content with the level of detail and research I prefer to write about--had amounted to a 10-20 hour per week job. As I took on other responsibilities, I just plain didn't have the time to write well.
On a more positive note, one of my main issues over the past few years, getting boarded and vacant homes (especially city- and county-owned ones) rehabbed instead of demolished, has actually gotten quite a bit of traction. At least at the city level, I'm quite pleased with the direction things are headed. (The county is moving more slowly, but they ARE taking good steps.) At least for now, the time of open criticism has passed, and transitioned to a need for more constructive dialogue. In any case, now that actual rehabbers are going through the process, I want THEIR voices heard by the city. Mine is less important at this stage. But if the new processes aren't working and local government becomes unresponsive to positive change, this blog stands at the ready.
All of these developments have left me with less to write about and less time with which to write. At the same time, Facebook has drastically changed how information is shared and how a community tells its story.
I flat-out don't like North Vent and I'm not a member. But there's no doubt that page has become the dominant forum for north Minneapolis news. That used to be North Talk, but people voted with their feet and went elsewhere. I personally loved when NT was the catch-all for just about every issue, but people wanted pages that were more narrowly focused. We now have North House, North Cook, Undoing Racism Northside, True North (which, if put in the same room as the Undoing Racism page, would create an explosion with so much energy it would put the Hadron Collider to shame), Old North Minneapolis, Old North Minneapolis Historic Homes, at least three pages dedicated to venting about North Vent, Nomi Virtual Garage Sale, North Minneapolis Comic Book Club, someone started a North Minneapolis page for people with disabilities, there's I am North Minneapolis, You Are North Minneapolis, Everybody is North Minneapolis, North Minneapolis Fans of "Full House," and the North Minneapolis Amateur Yachting Club.
I may have gone off the rails towards the end there, but you get the point. We have a LOT of northside Facebook pages, almost too many to keep track of.
When I first started blogging, the rule of thumb was "Content, content, content." Put up a post every day and keep people coming back. Even if that post was a photo and a single paragraph, at least it was something. But now if all I have to share is a picture and a few sentences, I can do that on any number of Facebook pages or Twitter feeds or any other number of social media platforms, and so can just about anyone else. The primary audience for such "quick-hit" blog posts was the north Minneapolis community, its elected officials, and other power players. Much of that audience is plugged into the northside social media scene, making those blog posts redundant.
One of the main reasons for putting up content on a daily basis or even more frequently was to define the narrative of our community. Well now hundreds of people, maybe much more, (I'd say "thousands," but the majority of FB pages have a handful of top contributors) are already doing that. It would be foolhardy and conceited for a blogger to think he or she can shape that narrative the way blogging once did.
Another goal in defining that narrative was because either the mainstream media or other bloggers were getting it wrong, and if I or another writer got the story up first, that could shape how everyone else responded to what was already out there. Again, the democratization not only of information but community dialogue renders blogging almost moot in this respect.
There are three spaces where blogging holds more sway than Facebook: Long-form writing, anonymous comments, and searchability.
Just about any Facebook post longer than a few paragraphs gets panned by far too many people. But internet denizens are willing to read and engage on longer articles usually linked elsewhere. The trend I have seen on most blogs I read is that there is almost no commenting that happens on the blog post itself. Instead, the link is shared via social media and the dialogue happens there. It's a bit harder to track the impact as an author of a piece, but the instant communication instead of waiting for an admin to approve content certainly lengthens the reach of a post.
Given Facebook's rules against concealing identities, anonymous comments there are fleeting at best. And there are still times when information needs to be shared from the veil of anonymity. Blogging and comments left on certain blogs are a way to ensure that such information and dialogue has a way to be released.
Finally, most Facebook content can only be viewed by those with a Facebook account and is not as readily available to the major search engines. Even the search capacities of Facebook and certain pages within Facebook are woefully lacking. Finding a specific comment or piece of information from anything but the most recent series of Facebook posts or comments is a dicey prospect.
So there's still a space for blogging to have an impact in north Minneapolis, but that space has shifted dramatically in a short period of time. As events and technology continue to evolve, that space will change in concert.