Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What the blogging taught me: one year of the great blog experiment

The CreComm Blog Network: part of any great desktop.

The only writing tips I've ever got from a boss are how to convert passive sentences to active and that I'm "too clever by half."

"You should be so lucky!" I shouted back inside my head. Wah, wah, wah.

My point: I've learned more about engaging writing from blogging and reading blogs than I've ever learned from any authority figure, which - as a teacher - I suppose I've become. As Jesus Jones once sang, "The problem with success is you become what you detest." Geniuses, those Jesus Jones fellers:

 The great blog experiment

This year marks the first that we (being PR instructor Melanie Lee Lockhart and I) conducted our great blog experiment in which all first-year students have a blog and Twitter account, which we connected through the equally great CreComm Blog Network (links on the right side of the page) and, of course, Twitter (search #crecomm or #ipp10 for a sampling).

We didn't do Facebook, since everyone already has it and, let's face it: it's best left for drunken sailors and creepy stalkers. Sorry, didn't mean to leave you out, people from high school who were mean to me.

I've learned a lot from the process of bringing blogs to the academic environment. About me. About you. About them. Yes, this is my Mr. Holland's Opus/Dead Poets Society moment, where all the kids get up on their desks and cry because Robin Williams made a kid like poetry at a concerto for a deaf kid and...I dunno...aliens came down and took Richard Dreyfuss away in a giant shark? I'm a little foggy on the details...

What the blogging taught me

In any case, I've been keeping notes about this big experiment - certain to be replicated with next year's first-year classes - and here are the thoughts, questions, observations, and conclusions I've made in conjunction with researching, reading, 'rithmetic?

1. Wired's Chris Anderson is right: "A passionate amateur beats a bored pro."

Speaking of, Anderson was the inspiration behind this Vanity Validator, in which you enter your name to find out how Internet famous you are. Give it a shot, and I'll be here when you come back.

2. It's official: the audience is the media.

3. Do you have to be a pariah (rhymes with "Mariah!") in order to "tell it like it is?"

4. Say Everything is right: an "authentic blog" is one where the blog is the truth, and the person's life isn't; a "sincere blog" is one in which the person's blog and life are the same thing.

5. Neutral journalism may have been a "prerequisite for profits," but maybe it isn't anymore.

6. You can have editors, neutrality, and fact checking and be just as wrong as a blogger.

7. Journalism in the academic environment can be framed as an exciting opportunity or a history class.

8. Universities and colleges have traditionally put an emphasis on instructors getting their work published in journals that no one reads. How about online?

9. CreComm grad Dustin Plett is right: when people first start an online blog, they're afraid that someone might notice what they're doing. One year later, they're waving their hands and yelling, "Hey, come check out my blog!"

10. People who love writing will continue to update their blogs, even in the absence of an audience or instructor forcing them to do it.

11. "Publishing" is no longer a limitless resource in which the published is beholden to a gatekeeper.

12. You need an RSS reader on a mobile phone app in order to keep up with 150 blogs. Thanks Mobile RSS!

13. The best blogs are the ones that get updated.

14. Getting interviewed for local TV on camera for half an hour only to be condensed to 30 seconds and misquoted is less satisfying than just writing for as long as you want online, and having access to a worldwide audience.

15. The iPhone is an integral part of tweeting, blogging, and following the online world - though I do detest cell phones and the people who use them (see the Jesus Jones quote again, above).

16. It takes between eight and 12 hours a week to do your blog properly and update it every day.

17. The natural enemy of blogging: homework and/or marking, as the case may be.

18. Blogging and tweeting make attending events and watching TV more fun. And there's a written transcript after the fact.

19. Writers, designers, programmers unite: you have nothing to lose but your iPad.

20. Marks don't matter. Lou Reed, John Cale, and Andy Warhol are right: all that matters is work!

 "Bring home the bacon? Someone's got to bring home the roast!"


  1. Can I add 18 (a)? Blogging and tweeting also make NOT attending events more fun, and provide a little consolation prize, to boot. I'm not able to attend CPRS's Social Media Conference this morning, but have been able to benefit from great insights by following its hashtag at #mcoy2010.

  2. Great advice - it's the kind of stuff I read on Copyblogger all the time! If you haven't discovered it already, it's a must read for any serious blogger / web copywriter.

  3. Anonymous... obviously!March 24, 2010 at 1:48 PM

    I'm a tad surprised that you encourage your students to blog, at least under their real names. One poorly thought-out musing could screw them when applying for jobs, running for office, etc, etc. Not only that, to employers, a prospective employee with a blog would no doubt be viewed as an additional risk due to the blog itself.

    Additionally, with Google Cache and nothing is really ever gone from cyberspace.

    That said, from what I've seen, the RRC students seem to be quite careful. Nonetheless, the risk is there and the blog itself is a liability.

  4. The blog is a liability? Oh, anonymous, say it ain't so!

  5. This is coming from someone who has been blogging for awhile now, but the CreComm blogging assignment has been, by far, my favourite assignment this year. I love writing about one of my favourite topics in the world, and reading what everyone else has to say. It's great!

  6. Great to hear your "experiment" has been a success. I hope it's recieved a good response from your students?


    I blog under my real name. And I also spoke to Creecom students about blogging in general, and that was a subject matter; to go anonymous or not? It's a decision one needs to make and choosing to do so under one's real name is absolutely not a liability.

    If some employer doesn't want to hire me because of the material on my blog? Guess what, I don't want to work for them. I put my blog on my resume and it comes up as a subject matter in all of my interviews.

    It is the opposite of a liability: when someone finds out how passionate you are about something or sees how much work you put into something without being paid for it, they are interested, they lend an ear and if anything, there is an acquired skill set with communicating in this fashion.

  7. A great post Kenton! Except the parts that make me feel crappy for not maintaining my blog more.

  8. My name is at the bottomMarch 25, 2010 at 12:13 AM


    Because of my past blogs and several YouTube videos, I can never run for office. But I'm not sure what political party would ever want me in their fold- mostly because of my neurotic speaking skills- so I think I can live with that.

    The biggest mistake people make when blogging is treating it like a personal journal or pretending you don't have an audience: all it takes is one Google search to find your comments and, if they're interesting/ controversial enough, be read by millions.

    There's still stuff on that I wish I could erase; not because it's incriminating (well, that’s subjective), but because there's a context behind the content that takes too long to explain to people who don’t know me- like those voters I will never get a chance to woo.

    Bloggers need to treat their content as if it were going into a newspaper that will live forever no matter how many copies you collect, douse in gasoline, and set ablaze. The Internet is far more permanent than any print publication, which is why it scares me when I see how haphazard some are with their choice of words. Hey! I was (but hope I am no longer) one of those haphazard fellows.

    While I agree with Anonymous to an extent, blaming the medium for the irresponsibility of the content creator is misguided. You can’t argue TV is a liability because people like Glenn Beck have no self-control, or that a local newspaper is a liability because one of its columnists can't maintain maturity while trying to purchase gasoline. (Did I narrow that last reference down enough?)

    We’re responsible for the content we create. The medium is just a platform.


    P.S The extreme-permanency of the Internet is why I believe in the power of Twitter- I can do a lot less damage to my brand with a 140 character leash. Though, even 140 characters can cause me a lot of grief.

  9. Anonymous... obviously!March 25, 2010 at 1:14 AM

    There is a point to be had in that it depends on the type of blog.

    Focusing on political and social type issues is a risk, as the more opinions one writes, the chance increases of running afoul of an organization or company's policies or values. It may limit your opportunities.

    There would be concern with being formally associated with a blog author in terms of 'controlling the message.' Opponents or critics could exploit any discrepancies between the author and affiliated organization. Certainly relevant in the areas of public policy, advocacy, or special interests.

    There are also blogs which are seemingly histrionic in nature, and many may perceive the author to have created an online shrine to him or herself when Facebook alone wasn't enough to satisfy their attention-seeking impulses. In other words, they would likely be viewed as being an unstable individual.

    Many times, I have also noted examples where some bloggers (no doubt unknowingly) had crossed the lines of libel. I think that anybody that does blog should spend a good deal of time studying such laws before signing-up for an account, but am assuming that many do not. Additionally, be mindful that our Charter rights of freedoms of opinion and expression should have an asterisk which indicates "void where prohibited by law."

    In my humble opinion, I think that Anonymous is a safer way to be in the online world, and limit yourself to occasional comments on discussion forums or other people's blogs.

    Kenton, I do enjoy following your blog, by the way.


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