Updated: Aug 19, 2020
I started blogging in 2009. Back then blogging still seemed pretty cutting edge, although the tipping point for it to go mainstream had come around 2005. By the end of the first decade of the century there were estimated to be 152 million active blogs. So I wasn't exactly an early-adopter.
I jumped into the pool for a number of reasons. I worked in the media and I was interested in politics and economics. Blogging was a major shift, because it made ordinary people publishers for the first time. Previously, you needed access to a printing press to get your words read by other people. True, the Sixties' counterculture and the DIY culture of the punk-infused late 1970s had led to a proliferation of independent publishing and fanzines, and of course the battle for access to the written word had been a key part of political struggles for centuries. But blogging seemed to give more complete access on a bigger platform than anything that had gone before. So I wanted to give it a try.
I was also preparing to go freelance, and it seemed essential for a media professional to have a platform to display work and engage with ideas and debate. So I jumped in with a Wordpress blog and got cracking. These are some of the things I found out.
Blogging takes up a lot of time and it eats ideas. I tried to write regularly, partly because that's how you build an audience. That takes time - time you could be using to do paid work, time you could be away from a screen. You have to ease in to a comfortable relationship with your blog, not letting it dominate you but trying to make it work for you.
It doesn't pay the bills - unless you are very lucky. To be fair, I only ever saw it as helping me pay the bills and satisfying an inquiring mind. And it did a bit of the former and a lot of the latter. I got some work though my blog, and I got involved in some very interesting conversations that helped me in my work. Ironically, my greatest blogging success was persuading a former colleague who initially hated the idea of blogging to start when he encountered a personal and career crossroads, just to keep his hand in. He ended up creating an online brand, being feted by the Daily Mail's lifestyle pages, and creating a successful spin-off brand.
I learned that controlling the means of production wasn't as important as controlling the means of distribution. We were all publishers now, but most people didn't know what we were publishing. The internet was a vast territory and readers had to know they were looking for you before they, er, looked for you. Of course there were ways to build an audience and create attention, and much of the next 10 years would be conducted against the backdrop of people trying to game the search system and the search engines changing the rules constantly in order to stop them.
Investigating the digital frontier also led me and a writing partner to try and launch a series of ebooks, and we ran into the same issue about distribution. Our ebooks are still out there, gathering digital dust in some corner of the vastness of cyberspace. Much like most blogs.
In the mid-1980s I had followed the fortunes of Eddie Shah, who burst onto the national newspaper scene proclaiming his disruptor status and saying anyone could now publish a newspaper. He eventually crashed and burned and the established order absorbed his ideas – a story as old as capitalism itself. Much the same happened with blogging and the whole self-publishing revolution – it shook things up for a while but the established names soon moved in and took what suited them. Distribution was key, and to do that properly you needed the kind of heft only big money and lots of infrastructure could buy. The democratising possibilities of the internet are now mostly discussions on some of the wider reaches of cyberspace, rather than mainstream reality.
I spent far too much time looking at new layout templates, investigating new gizmos and generally messing about. I'm not dismissing the value of play, but it's all about proportion. Ironically, I was banging on about why everyone needed to focus on the message, not the medium, in between the times I was being distracted by the medium. I wrote quite a lot about all that, though, back in the day.
I stopped blogging regularly about eight years ago, when I started a new and very busy full-time job. I was also doing quite a bit of writing for publications that had a far bigger audience than I did. And I got defeated by the labyrinthine, Heath-Robinson mess that Wordpress had become. There was an attempted platform shift, pictures lost, trouble with the domain and c-panel – life's too short.
Looking back, I should probably have kept it all a bit more focused. The blog is a sprawling mix of football, analysis of the changing nature of the media and media teaching, politics, sociology, music, technology and running. Amongst other things. No sharp brand idea there, then.
I should probably also not have worried so much about it. A blog isn't that important, every post doesn't have to be groundbreaking. For the most part, it's like a conversation you have with someone you meet – it might make an impression but other impressions will be along in a minute. But I've always liked conversation, even when it's called networking and the people you're talking to aren't in the room.
So why start again? I needed to update my online presence, and in the course of revamping my website I found that Wix had a halfway decent blog function. So I imported all the old Wordpress stuff, and restyled a few years' worth of posts. Apologies if you happen to click through to one of the old, unmodernised posts – the words should still make sense even if the presentation leaves something to be desired. I've also pulled my posts from the Medium blog I dabbled with for a while until that platform changed its business model.
I don't have a grand strategy, just a blog and website together for the first time. So let's see how this pans out. At the very least, it's a digital diary that might be of interest to someone.