It’s been a while since I posted about blogging, but Robert Moore’s recent post on the distinction between content and controversy blogs, along with Brooks Simpson’s response, have moved me to offer a few observations. First, the distinction itself makes very little sense to me, especially when you take a broader look at the blogosphere. Just spend some time reading political blogs. Regardless of the intent of the blogger it’s the subject itself that is necessarily controversial. Perhaps all the blogger can do is control just how controversial or confrontational the content appears to be. I often feel as if I am in the position as I explore for myself and my readers this slippery landscape called Civil War memory.
I’ve been blogging for seven years now and I still love it. To me, blogging is unlike any other type of writing and it should be for the reader as well. I tend to think of it as something akin to a jazz composition. There are certain conventions and subject matter (motifs) that I try to stick to, but within it there is hopefully a good deal of free form and creativity (solos). I want my readers to experience as many emotions as possible as well as to reflect on what I write as I do in response to your comments. In short, I want my readers to be entertained as much as I want them to learn something. I love the freedom of being able to quickly share what’s on my mind even if it is not clearly articulated. Of course, I know that certain topics are hot button issues and are likely to spark controversy, but than again I don’t see how such issues can be avoided on a blog about memory.
I don’t mind admitting that at one point I read a great deal about how to build an audience and how to bring readers back on a regular basis. I’ve thought a great deal about blog themes, typography, blog clutter, and even the color palette that you experience. The changes that you’ve seen to this site over the years is me trying to perfect a crucial component of this medium. In other words, with blogging it’s never simply about the content.
My favorite Civil War blogs are well written, thought provoking, and spicy. I don’t regularly read blogs that function primarily as archives for primary sources or offer detailed analyses of the action at the West Woods or Little Round Top. Most of them are just downright boring and since I don’t know anything about the authors/editors of many of these sites the information itself is unreliable. On the flip side I can think of one Civil War blog that delivers a great deal of confrontational material and almost nothing in terms of content that is worth reflecting upon. I don’t regularly read that site either. Blogging is whatever you make of it, but it’s a certain mix that results in a loyal and expanding audience. It’s that mix that I’ve been playing with over the years
Whether we admit it or not it’s an audience that the vast majority of bloggers want. As we all know most blogs die within three months owing to a dearth of ideas on the part of the blogger and especially because of the lack of an audience. The vast majority are nothing more than echo chambers. We want to know that people are reading, but it actually takes a hell of a lot of work to build a loyal following. The realization that no one is visiting and that in all likelihood you have nothing of interest to say to begin with can be a huge blow to the ego. I felt it at times that first year.
In the end and regardless of how you label or categorize what I write on this site, my hope is that you come back and come back often. That to me determines how far the “ripple” travels. For me that ripple includes a book, a column at the the Atlantic, and an increasingly larger network of professional connections and opportunities. I am not just tooting my own horn, but pointing to the real power of blogging or social media presence generally.