Monday, April 7, 2008

Death by Blogging?

The New York Times runs an article that, in a decade or so, will be laughed at as a curiously clueless response to developing trends along the lines of "Horseless Carriages: Wither the Hay Farmers?":

A growing work force of home-office laborers and entrepreneurs, armed with computers and smartphones and wired to the hilt, are toiling under great physical and emotional stress created by the around-the-clock Internet economy that demands a constant stream of news and comment. . . .

. . . Two weeks ago in North Lauderdale, Fla., funeral services were held for Russell Shaw, a prolific blogger on technology subjects who died at 60 of a heart attack. In December, another tech blogger, Marc Orchant, died at 50 of a massive coronary. A third, Om Malik, 41, survived a heart attack in December. Other bloggers complain of weight loss or gain, sleep disorders, exhaustion and other maladies born of the nonstop strain of producing for a news and information cycle that is as always-on as the Internet.
I'm obviously not trying to make light of the deaths of Mr. Shaw and Mr. Orchant, but I'm having trouble getting worked up about the stresses faced by bloggers. Maybe I'm a singular case, but blogging is not a source of stress for me. If anything, it's a stress-reliever, and the lifestyle described in the article -- working from home, working around the clock, feeling an irresistible urge to post new content and getting paid to write -- is something I've hungered for for as long as I can remember. Litigation is stressful. Writing about baseball games is fun.

The obvious difference between me and some of the guys described in the article is that I make a decent living doing something else and don't need to rely on writing to survive. It strikes me, though, that the whole notion of blogging for means of economic survival in the first instance is antithetical to the spirit of blogging, and this it not because of some misguided ideas-should-be-free world view.

Most of the best blogs out there are written by people who either are, or once were, engaged in traditional journalism or another field altogether and who slowly but surely waded into blogging, drawing upon their particular area of expertise as their technical, rhetorical or inspirational wellspring. As they went on, got better, and got more prolific, they began to realize increasing blogging income to the point where some of them -- and I do mean some -- have managed to make it a truly full-time, well-incomed gig.

The key to this is that they forged their place in the blogosphere by drawing on their particular backgrounds and experiences, developing their own voice, and following the opportunities their increased profile provided. They didn't start out by working on a post-quota system for a brand name like Gawker, nor did they insert themselves into an environment where they felt like they had no choice but to blog lest they face ruination. Because the motivation and rewards of blogging for these people was self-generated, the stress -- I imagine -- was minimal. At least minimal compared to that described in the article. And hey, if it did get bad, they always had something else to fall back on, and still do. Andrew Sullivan could become an editor again. Glenn Reynolds can teach or practice law. Perez Hilton could return to work in media relations or whatever the hell is was he did. The point is that they came to blogging and decided what it could do for them. They did not become a slave to blogs.

That's how I view it. My goal is to keep blogging for as long as I enjoy it with the hope that I can one day turn this into my career. Can I? I don't know, but it's nice to know that if I don't, I can still make a living doing something else. At the end of the day, though, I will do this because I feel I have something interesting to say and the desire to say it, not because I have a maw to feed and a fear that both it and I will go hungry if I don't kill myself in the process.

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