Blogging about Blogging

CMN Guest Blog 11/18/09 8:39 PM

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Dr. Vince Filak is an award-winning teacher, scholar and college media adviser. He currently works as an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, where he advises the Advance-Titan, the school's weekly newspaper. Prior to his arrival at UW-O, he was an associate professor of journalism at Ball State University where he served as the adviser to the Ball State Daily News.

In 2007, he was named an Honor Roll recipient by College Media Advisers, Inc., an award given to distinguished advisers with fewer than five years experience as an adviser. As a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he helped resurrect the Daily Cardinal, the country's sixth-oldest student daily paper through the savvy negotiation of more than $137,000 worth of debt. His efforts landed him on the list of the paper's 110 Most Notable Alumni, which was released in 2002. He currently sits on both the Daily Cardinal Alumni Association and the Daily Cardinal boards of directors. He currently lives in Omro, Wis. with his wife, Amy, and their daughter, Zoe.

Despite all of this, his most joyous moment was meeting Mike Eruzione of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team (the guy on his right). Yes, he is very weird, which is why he fits in perfectly in a newsroom.

Vince Filak, Ph.D.
Advance-Titan Adviser
University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

I know a lot of us are looking at blogs as a good way to use the Web to reach out to the readership. However, I’ve also noticed that we all seem to have the same problems when it comes to blogs. Here are a few phenomena I’ve seen in the college scene:

THE ‘I AM IMPORTANT. I HAVE A BLOG’ PHENOMENON: This is a direct offshoot of the old media “I have a column” phenomenon. This is where someone feels they’ve “matured” beyond the strictures of reporting, writing and editing. They suddenly have ascended to a position of greatness in their own mind and thus feel the need to share that greatness with others. These blogs devolve into a) some random set of ramblings that talk about how the author uses beer to meet women, b) a constant series of referrals to previous posts that weren’t good to begin with or c) posts about things the author thinks he/she has massive quantities of knowledge but actually doesn’t know anything about.


THE ‘SIX PEOPLE GET THIS’ PHENOMENON: Nothing like a rare inside joke to drive site traffic. This blog does just that by referencing strange things from a) the newsroom, which were only funny because everyone was overly tired or b) from the author’s 8 a.m. stats class, which were only funny because everyone was overly tired. You then get strange sentences like: “T-prof did the diz again, and we all know that be the DOWG!” When posters question the IQ of the columnist, the “six who get it” rip the “n00b.” Again, a stellar way to drive site traffic.


THE ‘I AM A FAN OF A PROMISING LOCAL BAND’ PHENOMENON: Every newsroom has one: the guy who only listens to music that six other people know about. The minute a seventh person can say, “Oh, yeah, I think I’ve heard about those guys,” the guy deletes all 832 tracks of said band from his sticker-laden iPod. Visualize the “dude” wearing pen-scrawled Vans, a “Big Lizard in My Backyard” T-shirt  and a pair of Buddy Holly glasses, and you’ve got this guy. When you give this guy a blog, you’re just asking for people to hate you.


THE ‘WE SUCK THIS YEAR’ PHENOMENON: There is no worse fan than the sports guy who has never played a sport in his life, has asthma/a weight problem/a wooden leg and has an inferiority complex. The closest this guy ever got to a team sport was when the soccer team gave him a wedgie in high school. The girls soccer team. Thus, this person is in the uniquely qualified position of writing a sports blog about how badly the school teams all suck this year. It doesn’t matter how many we win or lose, it’s how badly you can rip the game. This leads to flame wars with the “We’re one player/year/miracle away” guys, who likely have their own blogs and thus you generate a perpetual cycle of stupidity.


THE ‘WE’RE ALL GOD’S CHILDREN’ PHENOMENON: These blogs tend to go so far out of their way to prevent people from posting mean things that their opinions have the fluidity of mercury and the tensile strength of tissue paper. All topics have “many facets” to them and “we should never be too quick to judge” when dealing with any topic from the rise of the Third Reich to the decision by food services to charge an extra dime for sour cream at the taco bar. The fear of saying anything controversial makes this the blog of pantywaists.


THE ‘#%*@%#!’ PHENOMENON: This is the yin to the yang of the “all God’s children” blog. This blogger just wants people comment. The more comments, the merrier. Of course, they could do that by writing well, but that takes too much time. Thus, we should instead take the most unpopular and inappropriate positions on every imaginable topic. They cover the “Take Back the Night” march by explaining why hitting women is cool. They question funding for disease research by saying the people who got the diseases probably deserved them. They encourage people to pee on cop cars. They are the reason the adviser is on both the chancellor’s and the university legal counsel’s first speed dial button.


THE ‘I AM IN FAVOR OF… UM… STUFF…” PHENOMENON: Hey, guys, I’m totally trying out this blog thing. Just letting you know… Yeah… Uh… Hi… This is going to totally be cool… So… Yeah… Until next time… … … Hey, I’m back for week two… Yeah, this is cool… Last time, it was cool too… Yeah… I… Uh… So… What’s up? Tell me what I should be writing about… (Sound of adviser’s head bashing into the desk repeatedly.) If you laughed at this a bit too much, it’s because you recognize one or more of these phenomena. It happens because the blogs lack focus, direction or a sense of audience value. In short, the blogs are being written for the bloggers, not for the audience. However, good blogs do exist and our goal is to make them our own.

A good friend of mine runs an active political blog that is one of my favorite stops along the road on the information superhighway (negative points for a mid 1990s reference, I’m sure).  It’s not always full of information I need to know, but it always makes me think and it always is full of new stuff.


Perhaps that’s one of the better things to say about it: It never gets stale. The blog isn’t just hers, however. She has had between two and four other regular posters and one guest poster per day. The idea she had was that people who had been avid readers and commenters would make good writers. She turned out to be right on that account and this helped keep information fresh and ready. It also helped in that the guests only needed to come up with one good thing to talk about on one day per week, thus limiting the “I’m posting because I haven’t posted in a while” phenomenon.

It also provides a nice medley of views, approaches and topics which can draw a far wider array of people to the blog. If you are trying to get a blog off the ground and you find the students are falling into any of the ruts noted above, you might want to consider the team blogging approach. If everyone can blog whenever they want, that’s great, but having some requirements of when specific people MUST post (as in a deadline) will likely help improve the flow of copy. In addition, if you get several people posting on one blog, you’ll have more copy, a less-stressed staff and a better product. If you get a slacker, you’ll also have the rest of the blog team riding him or her to work harder.


Blogs, like every other thing in journalism, are only valuable if they have something important to say. Having multiple people contributing to them is one good way to do that.


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