Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor

Blogging: The great seduction

I have written for newspapers. But, apart from the (very occasional) story that made it to the front page, I can’t recall the same frisson of excitement I feel when I submit a blog posting. Ridiculous, really.

Print journalists write for huge audiences: the Sunday Times has more than 3,6-million readers.

One of its top bloggers until recently was David Bullard, who has failed to succumb to the medium after just a few short months. He says it’s too time consuming and doesn’t make financial sense. David, we always knew you weren’t one of us.

But let’s talk instead about Fred Khumalo, a popular columnist for the Sunday Times – and a recent blogger. He posts what appears in print on Sunday to his blog the following Monday. He also posts other things during the week that he finds interesting.

According to Colin Daniels, digital business development manager at Johncom, Fred clocks more than 2 000 unique visitors to his site a month. That’s good traffic for a blog. But it hardly compares to 3,6-million readers. Does he care about his online audience? Sure he does. He responds to them, engages with them and talks to them on a daily basis. Do his readers care about what he is saying online? Of course they do. His recent musings about Manto attracted nearly 400 comments. That’s a lot of instant feedback – not something he ever gets in print.

So why should someone who used to write for the Star – and it’s nearly 800 000 readers – get excited when his blog breaks the 100-reads mark? Who knows, but I’m guessing it’s the commitment inherent in clicks and choice. Someone has chosen to read your posting. You know they’re committed to reading it. You know that they’re interested in what you have to say.

In fact, you’re more likely to be talking to “your people” too: people who share your interests, come from a similar background or can take you on and get you to up your game – and improve your argument. We’re all talking to each other all the time. And, after all, there’s nothing quite like being able to track responses to your opinion in real time.

Khumalo confessed recently, during a debate which was supposed to pit him as print dinosaur against über blogger Vincent Maher, that he, well, really liked blogging. Fred said that now he’s immersed in the blogging world, he understands it better. He said he enjoyed the freedom his blog allows him: he can be more personal and say much more in his blog that he would ever be allowed to in print. “I’m a bit of a schizophrenic dinosaur,” he said.

Kevin Andersen, the blogs editor for the Guardian Unlimited, wrote a thoughtful piece earlier this year about journalists and blogging. He argues that blogging is not anything like writing a column. A blog should not be a place for things that don’t make it into the newspaper. Rather, he says, blogs are where “we discuss things. This is where we engage with our audience for a number of reasons including transparency, debate and discussion or for tapping the wisdom of our communities.”

Andersen accuses media organisations of pushing their “biggest names to blog when really it’s more about getting your passionate members of staff to blog”. Not all journalists want to engage with their readers. And not all of them have the skills to do so. That’s probably the difference between Bullard and Khumalo, in fact.

A few weeks ago, at the Digital Citizen Indaba in Grahamstown, Tanzanian photoblogger Philemon Msangi (aka Bob Sankofa) movingly articulated many of the reasons why we blog: “Blogging makes me feel bigger than life… I blog to kill loneliness and to get all the things out of my head… I blog because I’m in love…”

I agree. It’s a digital seduction that I’ve found impossible to resist. And I’m learning that it’s true what they say: blogging is indeed a lot like sex. It takes time and it takes passion. After all, the more you do it, the better you get at it. The better you get it at it, the better it gets. The better it gets, the more you want to do it…