Learning new blogging tool: “Get me rewrite!”

November 30, 2012

Random picture of butterfly that I am inserting here on orders from blog supervisor. I took the picture. Okay????

We’re shifting blogging software again, this time to something much easier than the one we’ve been using for the last couple of years, which famously requires that a blogger solve quadratic equations before posting a simple paragraph. This old software was designed to be multidimensional, and if you know how to use it correctly you can not only publish a blog on the Web and an item on the mobile app and a story in the newspaper, you can also launch a nuclear strike against Russia. The brilliant engineers who designed that software made sure that it was really easy to understand by the brilliant engineers who designed that software.

But we needed something simpler for those of us who struggle with technology. My general reaction to any new software is a complete psychological breakdown. I’ve never fully recovered from the big switch from rotary dial to push-button phones. I miss the days when we did most of our writing in  Cuneiform.

Okay, so I’m not a complete Neanderthal, and can honestly claim to being the first person in the 15th-and-L newsroom to write regularly for the Web (going back to Rough Draft in 1999). And it’s possible that Achenblog is the oldest newspaper blog in the country — if there’s an older one I’d like to see it (here’s an archive of our first week, which was pre-Boodle). [Update: Via Jack Shafer, we are reminded of the pioneering James Lileks, who blogs for the Star-Tribune and has a personal blog going back to 1997.] (And just fyi, lots of people wrote regularly for the Web long before I did, including Mickey Kaus and Andrew Sullivan, just to name two pros off the top of my head.) [And Michael Kinsley of course!]

Unfortunately, I’m getting crankier with age, and am increasingly exasperated by technological change that requires me to learn something new even when the old way of beating the laundry against the rocks worked perfectly fine. I don’t want to have to learn the correct way to put “tags” on blog items. I am interested in the data more than the metadata. I am of the generation of journalists that is uncomfortable referring to what we do as “content.” I talk about producing “articles,” not “text.” In my ancient head I still divide journalism between “news’ stories and “feature” stories. And I still talk about doing a “day hit,” as if this connotes blinding speed.

God help me, I just want to write.

And I don’t mean the Great American Novel. Or a screenplay. Or a best-selling book. I just want to show up at work and write some decent sentences.

[McPhee always taught us that you shouldn't have to use italics. The sentence should be constructed in such a way as to convey the emphasis.]

For a hack like me, it’s still kind of a big deal to get on the front page. You know, the front page of the newspaper. The thing that goes plop in the driveway. “The print edition.” The problem with the digital platforms is that they aren’t great at conveying that an article has achieved the status of front-page-worthy. Sure, the home page plays some stories very prominently, but they tend to get rotated away relatively soon. The prime real estate is actually the “Most Popular” box. But those stories are often not really the most important or newsy or even the best written, because they can be boosted by outside factors, such as a Drudge link. Or maybe they just have the best SEO.

The digital innovators will surely find new ways to convey more “front-pageness” for certain stories on the digital platforms. Or maybe the digital goal is to find a way to trick old hack reporters into thinking they’ve achieved something fabulously front-pagish even when they’ve merely tossed some ephemeral content into the great digital maelstrom.

What I hope is that, in the evolution of the business, we do not lose touch with the basic concept of “the story.” Journalism has to be more than click-bait “items” and clever tweets that lead to an amassing of followers. A blog “item” or “post” is not the same thing as a story. Narrative is still how we make sense of the world. And I’m going to keep writing that line until they carry me out of here on a gurney.

[OK now let’s see if I can figure out this dang new blogging platform…]

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."
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