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The Truth About Blogging

Dr. Bernard Finel reached a state that many bloggers find themselves in at one time or another:


An interesting post over at OTB has me thinking about my blog.

I’ve been blogging very lightly recently.  The truth of the matter is that I am not sure that I want to continue doing it.  Basically, it comes down to a couple of interrelated issues.

(1) It gets me in a lot of trouble.  I work professionally in the same field that I often blog about.  Which would be fine if I were a congenital kiss-ass, but I’m not.  It isn’t so much that I don’t suffer fools gladly, as much as I think that idiotic arguments needs to be called out as such and not just subject to tepid criticisms couched in otherwise fulsome praise of the wisdom of the author in question.  Needless to say, this has not made me popular, and there is no doubt that I have severely harmed my future job prospects by pissing off a number of very powerful people in my field.

(2) Which would be okay if it was either opening up other doors or making me rich, but it isn’t.  What it comes down to is that my readership is really, really low.  High-quality, but small.  I am not looking to make money on the blog, but I’d like to think I could be influencing the debate through my posts, but really that is not the case.  Several possible reasons for that:

(2a) I don’t seem to be able to get posts out in a sufficiently timely fashion.  I usually prefer to mull things over for a day or two, and that is an eternity in the blogosphere.  By the time I weight in on most debates, everyone has moved on.

(2b) But more importantly.  I think I am not a very good blogger.  It isn’t like I haven’t gotten great links from excellent blogs.  James Joyner over at OTB has linked to me often.  The guys at Newshoggers do so as well. Fabius Maximus, Zenpundit, Schmedlap, Michael Cohen, and several others have linked to me often.  But if anyone is following those links, there are not impressed.  Which is fine, but my point, I guess is that despite some solid links, I’ve never really built a larger audience. 

I feel compelled to respond, point by point: 

1. Personally, I enjoy Dr. Finel’s posts because he’s straightforward with his views whether you are going to like them or not. Clarity in the discussion saves a great deal of time. Not everyone finds that quality charming though; particularly in the broad, public intellectual world of academia and think tanks there’s a lot of brittle egos with weighty credentials who are manning the last gates worth keeping – that of aristocratic sinecures to read and write. Sometimes it is not wise to blog the hand that feeds you. I could write absolutely excoriating posts about my profession, but I generally restrain myself and focus on areas of research interests instead, secure in the knowledge that no one I work with gives a rusty damn about Sun tzu vs. Clausewitz, globalized counterinsurgency or superempowered individuals.

2. I think Dr. Finel is being unrealistic as to traffic. The blogosphere has matured to the point that newbies cannot become “stars” unless they are already famous airhead celebrities (which means twitter is a better option for their vapid remarks) or are talented writer-personalities promoted by a major media platform site. If you can acquire a regular audience baseed on “class” as a part-time blogger, you have succeeded as much as you are going to do unless you can attract corporate sponsors or face time on MSM vehicles. Leverage your small but influential audience to get access to other venues.

2(a). Solo acts will never generate sufficient post velocity to compete with group blogs. Accept it. What small time bloggers can do is write posts that make a big splash periodically. Recognition will come.

2(b). Insert Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule here. Just because a person can write white papers or a novel, a biweekly column or a sonnet does not mean they will start out as a virtuoso blogger. Every medium has its own implicit rules that take time to master. Blogging well is deceptively hard to do and blogging poorly is tragically easy. If blogging is not an end in itself, then regard it as a tool for a specific purpose to keep in mind.

Here’s hoping that Dr. Finel chooses to keep at it!

12 Responses to “The Truth About Blogging”

  1. zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » The Truth About Blogging « Blogging Future Says:

    […] original post here: zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » The Truth About Blogging Comments […]

  2. Russ Wellen Says:

    Dr. Finel shutting down his blog would be a huge loss to the political Internet. As far as traffic and impact, though, you can’t overthink it. Most of us just do it because we have to.

  3. Stephen Pampinella Says:

    His 2a was always my problem. The timing was always terrible.

  4. Dave Schuler Says:

    The best way to have a blog with lots of traffic is to start before 2001.  Failing that have a substantial following before you start blogging.  I can’t think of a single major blog that doesn’t fit into one or the other category.

  5. zen Says:

    Dave – completely agree. Sort of like the best way to become an Olympic athletes is to select good parents. The window of opportunity is closed for unknowns taking the easiest path to the top until a brand new medium emerges.
    Russ – completely agree with you as well.

  6. Karaka Says:

    I agree a lot with your points. Your reason for blogging drives a lot of the response to your blogging.

  7. Schmedlap Says:

    What is the purpose of blogging? I suppose it varies for many of us.
    I like to just throw ideas out there to get feedback. I mean, sure, I am grateful for the avalanche of fame, fortune, and chicks, but the primary motivation is just to elicit feedback from people who like to discuss certain issues. If I were looking to be an independent journalist via blogging (Michael Yon, Michael Totten), or to hype my name (Andrew Sullivan, Tom Ricks), or to push some agenda (Abu Muqawama), then I would approach it differently. Specifically, I would spend more than just the bare minimum for web-hosting, have my site designed and coded by someone who knows what they’re doing (as opposed to me), and there would be a larger time commitment.
    Given the aims that Finel identifies and his time available, his approach to blogging seems inappropriate. He says that he would like to think he is influencing the debate. I would say that his most recent article in Armed Forces Journal had greater impact than the total of all of his blog posts. To influence a debate, you need an audience that is receptive and relevant. Finel’s posts run the full gamut of military strategy, culture, and politics – way too broad. He needs to narrow it down to a topic small enough to differentiate him from the thousands of other blogs that hit on those other topics. And if he does that, to influence that audience by way of a blog, he needs to string together a chain of inferences over the course of weeks, one inference per entry, not just dump an entire argument in one post. And that requires paying attention to the audience after each post, possibly using several follow-up posts to address criticisms and skepticism. That means that the receptive and relevant audience must either check the blog frequently (which they won’t do if you don’t blog frequently) and be willing and able to comment easily (get rid of the registration requirement). The former is difficult and nearly impossible if you do not build the audience over a long period of time beforehand. Building an audience is difficult if you don’t put any thought into how you will differentiate your blog from the others.
    Perhaps he should focus on building the audience, rather than focusing on the lack of influence from his existing posts. To do that, I think he needs to narrow his topics down to one area in which he has both particular expertise and an unconventional viewpoint. I’m sure he could figure out a few different topics that fit those criteria.

  8. zen Says:

    Hi Schmedlap,
    "Finel’s posts run the full gamut of military strategy, culture, and politics – way too broad."
    If you are going to blog on politics, in the sense of adopting a partisan position of advocate of one side and critic of the other it totally shoots your cred on any other major topic (Economics, Foreign Policy, Defense, whatever). The other side and many independents will assume you are prostituting the issue in service of your political agenda. Frequently, this observation is correct. There’s a lot of ppl out there writing – and this applies even more to the MSM than the blogosphere – on defense, foreign policy, economics, intelligence, education, taxation who have no policy background or practitioner experience but are a public voice due to being glibly partisan English and journalism majors. This might explain the 25 year trend toward superficiality in news coverage.
    The flip side to this is that we’d have much better public debates if subject matter experts dropped their beloved but opaque jargon for plain English

  9. T. Greer Says:

    A few thoughts:

    Dr. Finel’s work was the reason I began to follow the Flash Point Blog. After some disappointment with the quality of other contributors’ work, I dropped it from my subscription list. I did not realize he had his own separate blog. It seems I shall have to subscribe to it.


    I sympathize with Finel’s dilemma.  I too have troubles with posting in a timely fashion, and this seems to be the single largest determinate of hit counts. If I post four low-quality research-less posts for two weeks, my hit counts soars, and does so even on days when I have posted nothing. But if I write one longer post, better researched and meticulously argued, every two weeks, the hit count immediately plummets. My readers do not seem to appreciate depth, but breadth.


    Granted, I am not in it for high hit counts. I blog because it is a medium that forces me to collect and organize my thoughts. I can be sure that I have a logical case when I can present my case to the world. In this sense, I think, what makes blogging most meaningful is the interaction between myself and those who read what I write. It is the conversation that makes blogging worth it.


    Yet for those of us who have not hit Malcolm’s 10,000 hour mark, the return on the investment is a limited one. Some bloggers can pound out a 500 word post on whatever they  wish – I am not one of them. And by the sound of it, neither is Dr. Finel, When I am particularly serious about an issue or an idea I will take hours – and sometimes days – to collect my thoughts and then write (and rewrite!) a post on the matter. Sometimes these work intensive posts are very good. Others have proved to wither with age. But in either case, what is the point in writing them if it does not prompt a reaction? It is painful to spend hours working on a piece and then come back a week later and see the marker ‘0 comments’ on the bottom. As with Finel, it has made me wonder: What is the point?


    Not that I will stop anytime soon. I enjoy blogging a little too much to just get up and quit. But at times it can be a very dispiriting hobby.

  10. zen Says:

    Hi T. Greer,
    There is definitely a quantity factor to traffic. I’ve figured out that I can probably have at least 1000+ hits a day minimum if I can generate 4-5 posts a day, 6-7 days a week. Really good posts, the kind that get many links would push that into multiple thousands.
    But, so what?
    This is diminishing returns in action. The only way that degree of effort would make any kind of economic sense is if someone were paying me to be a full time blogger – and no one will pay me a comfortable middle-class income for traffic at that level. I can get 400 -500 hits a day with about 6 posts per week. Typically, I blog a little less than that.
    So, what’s the value?
    Connections. The quality level of the ZP audience is exceptionally high. I make a lot of interesting and informative acquaintences. I learn a great deal. Sometimes, I have a little influence and generally have some fun. Time well spent.
    Regarding reactions, you have to remember that only about 1-2 % of a readership ever comments (if that) and with aggregation and SEO you only get a tip of the iceberg assessment of who has actually read your better posts from looking at your site meter

  11. Blogging Frustrations Says:

    […] by Bernard Finel about why he’s thinking of throwing in the towel on the blogging thing and his reaction to it that I missed.  Safranksi and others (including our own Dave Schuler, who weighs in via the […]

  12. The Revolution Without the Revolution « Grand Strategy: The View from Oregon Says:

    […] post on Zenpundit about a prominent blogger who was contemplating throwing in the towel, The Truth About Blogging. The pretext of this discussion at Zenpundit was Dr. Bernard Finel considering whether blogging was […]

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