Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Blogging and the Golden Age of Journalism

This weekend marked the two year anniversary of the creation of this blog. Early in January 2008 I started with goal of entertaining others "with my thoughts and ideas of the world" and "when those original ideas are sparse" to "post others thoughts and ideas". Since then I have attempted to accomplish that simple goal by posting 3.63 posts a week. At first I wasn't quite sure if I would even make it 30 days, since 80% of blogs don't. But blogging has become a part of daily life for me and millions of others worldwide. For that reason alone, it's important to ask what the benefits are. The following is my collection of the benefits of writing and reading blogs.

Benefits to me and other blog writers:

1) Useful as a log of interesting thoughts. It is short for web log after all. Not only is it helpful for me to work through ideas, but I can look back (and link back) to those old ideas. Linking to old posts within my new ones allows me to create a story of interconnected ideas which connects seemingly random thoughts into a web of consciousness (which is important for learning). This isn't just true for me, but also for academics in the research field.

2) Because there is a log of old ideas, there is no reason to rehash. I will never have to reexplain why Wal-mart is good or Blockbuster is bad. These post will always exist, I don't need to write another.

3) Receive immediate feedback. Some bloggers don't allow comments because they get unruly, but to do so is to miss out on an essential part of posting online. The back and forth of a lively post, like practicing a game of chess, sharpens your skills as a writer and holds you accountable as a publisher. It also allows you post ideas you are uncertain of (like my most controversial post) and learn from your loyal readers.

4) Because feedback exists, a blogging community is created. Whether it's keeping touch with old friends or meeting new ones, I am able to rely on my readers to encourage and challenge me.

5) Makes you think of things outside your daily life. This of course depends on the type of blog you have, but when they are idea based, it forces thoughtful engagement in the world around you.

6) Make you apply things inside your daily life. Blogging forces writers to apply personal experiences into something a stranger would want to read. We can't fully understand ourselves until we understand how people view us.

7) It gives my loved ones a break from hearing me talk. My wife especially appreciates the opportunity to decide whether or not she hears my rant on immigration. Before this blog, she would had to hear it first hand.

8) Blogs are the new homepage. HarrisonBrookie.com is a static, unchanging list of places I am located online. My blog however, is where you would go if you really wanted to know who I am. Some might go as far as saying blogs are good for career, but probably only if you boss is Generation Y.

9) Writing is the best way to learn. This is why I have learned more about history in two years of teaching than in four years of college. Writing up my own lecture notes, although painstaking, has greatly increased my mastery of the subject. This is why I have my students write for homework.

10) It is good for your health:
Self-medication may be the reason the blogosphere has taken off. Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.
11) Help people know what they want to do for a living. Whether it's history, economics or improv, blogging is a daily reminder that I love teaching.

12) Unlike the TV, radio and print, blogging is not a zero-sum game. When the New York Times gets readers, it's usually bad for the Washington Post. I write this post trying to convince you to write and read more blogs without a fear of losing readers. With rss feeds or delivery via email, the cost of following this blog is close to zero.

13) The only competition is for a reader's time and because of this, blogs are inherently democratic. Written by the people for the people. The best (and most concise) posts rise to the top and the worse remain lost in the sea of online information. The printing press revolutionized how much the average person could read, but the internet revolutionized how much the average person could write. This is perfectly explain by Clay Shirky in this short video.

14) Because the writers are average people, there is no requirement to publish. No one ever claims someone to be unqualified to be a blogger. This frees us from pressure to meet deadlines, sell advertising, or even double check our grammar.

15) Blogging is for you dammit (but you also have readers). You write about what you want, how often you want. As long as you don't get obsessed with readers, it will continue to be what it was when you started, a place for you. The benefit of readers is that they encourage you to keep writing. Each new subscriber is one more reason to write more and learn more. This is why I write a blog, not a Word document.

Benefits to you and other blog readers:

1) The search for information can gives you a buzz. Like animals in captivity, we would rather search for our food (information) ourselves. But like animals in the wild, we don't want to have to search too hard. Feed aggregators give us the control and convenience we desire.

2) Information without costs. No need to flip through a newspaper or be bumbarded by magazine ads, with rss feeds, blog posts literally come to you.

3) Piecing together the snippets of information you get from reading multiple blogs is in and of itself an intellectual journey. To consume the same variety of radio, TV and print would be extemely time consuming. The more you consume, the more you think, and thinking makes you happy.

4) With blogging you read people, not organizations. Unlike regular news organizations which give you a specific type of news or slant, most blogs are a collection of a variety of items from one respected source. I'm not only interested in the financial crisis, but I'm specifically interested in what Tyler Cowen and Mark Perry think of the financial crisis.

5) You can quickly become a blogger yourself. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy reading what other people find on the web. Google Reader Sharing is simple and fast. Let me know if you ever join.

There are also potential costs of blogging:

1) It does make you self absorbed. When you are regularly posting things in expectation that others will find them interesting, it inherently makes you more narcissistic.

2) Hurts long in depth reading. I read blogs everyday, but I only read about three books a year. I don't start reading real news online unless I've cleaned out my blog reader.

3) It could hurt your career. As much as I hate to admit it, I do have to edit myself. I intentionally do not mention my blog to my high school students. I know some will find it, but it's on their own. At least until the world is more forgiving for ideas put online, it's important to remember everything you write could be read by your next job interviewer.

4) I once heard a blogger say he was in too deep to quit. We must always allow ourselves the freedom to take a break or quit altogether, no matter how much we would miss it.

5) Time costs for the writer and the reader. I try not to spend more time writing a post than I believe my readers will collectively spend reading it. This post is a good example of how I don't always follow that rule.

That said, this is "the golden age of journalism":

I spend about 2 hours a day reading and writing. This is more time than ever, even in my hardest semester in college. But don't worry, blogging won't replace investigative reporting anymore than improv would replace live theater. If CNN, NPR, and the NYT report news, blogs disperse it. We are reading more than ever, and in part that is due to the power the internet gives to the individual. It's helpful to put fear of change in perspective. 2500 years before people declared the death of the printed word, Socrates was fearing the death of the spoken word:
The practice of writing, Socrates is certain, will introduce forgetfulness, for men will no longer rely on remembrance from within themselves, but will put trust in (mere external) marks. Such writing will provide the appearance of wisdom, not its reality, so that those who make use of writings will hear many things but not actually learn them, yet will imagine they know much, knowing in fact nothing.
Things are changing, but they are changing for the better. I'll close with a quote from popular blogger Andrew Sullivan:
Its truths are provisional, and its ethos collective and messy. Yet the interaction it enables between writer and reader is unprecedented, visceral, and sometimes brutal. And make no mistake: it heralds a golden era for journalism.
I could have never predicted two years ago that blogging would be such an important part of my daily life. In some ways I find myself right where I started, wanting to learn more, but afraid that I may not be up to the task. For many blogging is a chance to discuss what they already know a good bit about: economics, politics, improv. etc, but it is also useful to write on topics we want to know more about and hope the commenter's keep us honest.

It is for that reason I've decided to continue this blog, but also start another one. As a Christian I believe it is important to understand the world we live in. The Bottlenecked Blog has helped me to do that, but in a very secular way. I have claimed to believe that the Bible is useful for understanding this world, but I rarely read it myself. That is why starting today I will also post regularly to Wanting Wisdom, a blog with the purpose of reading and applying scripture. The challenge is daunting, but the benefits are many.


  1. Four things:

    1. Excellent post, and as always, it is a pleasure to read your thoughts and discuss with you.

    2. I never thought about blogging being good for your health. Very cool.

    3. I continue to be skeptical of the idea that technology is benefiting the quality journalism, but I agree that we are reading now more than ever, and that's good.

    4. Excited about your new blog! Fantastic.

  2. Excellent post. I can tell you have been accumulating these ideas for awhile.

    To me, the cost side is most interesting. I see the benefits as varied and enormous, so I struggle to understand what holds people back from starting blogging or continuing blogging.

    I will respond to each cost individually:

    1. I think if you blog by the principle of benefit #15 -- i.e. who cares what other people think -- self absorption is not such a problem. Plus, I see self-absorption as an inherent trait of humanity, and to the extent that blogging makes people more self-absorbed, it probably makes them more honest.

    2. This is about reading blogs; not writing them. And unlike you I would say reading blogs has increased my in depth reading. I have read more books the past year than all of college, and nearly all of them came from recommendations of bloggers I trust.

    3. Maybe depending on what your day job is, but like you pointed out in benefit #8, I think blogging is more likely to help your career as long as you refrain from things like trashing your company. If nothing else it will make you a better writer.

    4. Judging by how many bloggers do quit, I do not see this as a serious concern.

    5. Yes, this is about the only cost I can come up with -- but when you consider all the benefits, it seems like a high quality use of your time.


    It should be noted that there is nothing inherently good or beneficial about reading blogs or even writing them. There's a lot of crap out there. (Have you ever used the "next blog" function in Blogger?) If your only Google Reader subscriptions are the local weather, perez hilton, and fail blog, blogging is wasting your time.


    I am excited about the new blog, and will be following along closely.

  3. I love this blog. I admire that you have kept up with it for two years already! The problem with my blog is that I kind of don't know what direction I'm going with it and I have a hard time motivating myself to create time to do it. You're an inspiration to us all Harrison!

  4. Thanks for the comments Justin(s).

    And Andrew, welcome to the blogosphere. Here are some links to Penelope Trunk's advice for blogging. It might be helpful. Good luck!

  5. Grrr Penelope Trunk....

  6. Did you read the posts linked? I think there are some valuable blogging guidance. I suggest taking her advice on careers and blogging, not necessarily everything else.

  7. Geez man, there's like 20 articles linked there. I've read her stuff before, and I stand by my "grrr."


You are the reason why I do not write privately. I would love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or not.