blogging

How to Start a Blog

A good friend of mine asked me to please send him notes on how to start blogging. I laughed because this dear friend used to give me ten tons of shit about having a blog, and so I was highly amused that he wanted to know how now. Then I was informed the info is "for a friend."

Uh huh. Suuuuuure.

Anyway, after I wrote him an email I thought it was worth reposting here. Maybe not, but I'm doing it anyway.

HOW TO START A BLOG

First, you have to put your blog posts and pictures and stuff somewhere, so you have to pick what is called a blogging platform. Plenty of them are free and awesome. No need to pay for one. There are lots of fine options. You can use Blogger.com, Typepad.com, Wordpress.com, but the one that I think is the easiest, the prettiest, the most likely to get a new blogger read and by far the hippest is Tumblr.com.

Just go to Tumblr.com. Fill out the quick three screen registration. Then it will guide you through the setting up process. You'll get to pick a category to put it in, then choose a name for the blog itself. This is pretty important. Make it unique and something people will remember. Not like, "Ashley's Musings" or anything bland like that. Then it will create a URL for the blog. It will be something like, http://mynewblog.tumblr.com.

You can pay to get rid of the tumblr part of the URL for pretty cheap by registering a domain. Tumblr makes this an option in the setting up process. That way you can have AshleysMusings.com, but for the love of God, no one should call their blog that.

Then you get to pick what it looks like. Tumblr has a buttload of themes you can pick from, half of which are free. They are very nice looking. It is fun to go and look at all the different "skins" your blog can wear. I recommend picking a theme instead of trying to design it yourself (which Tumblr allows you to do). Leave it to the pros. You can also spend like $20-$100 for a nicer theme which will be less common since, duh, it's not free. That can give a new blog a nice edge, but totally not necessary.

After that it's pretty much go time. This is the part where, after one post, people freeze. This is the part that is actually blogging.

Bloggers-blog

You have to write. Or if you're not writing you better be posting photos. Or podcasts. Point is you have to make something. This can be pretty much whatever you want. I assume if you want to start a blog you know what it is you want to publish. So, get your ass in the chair and do it. Write your first post. Tumblr will make it obvious how to do so. It's as easy as using Microsoft Word. VERY IMPORTANT: Don't get intimidated. Just write the first post and hit publish. Just get it out there. Then immediately write a better, second one. Then publish that, too.

Blogs don't have to be perfect. They are better if they are not. Publish your first draft. It's not like anyone's reading it yet anyway unless you have had some kind of ribbon cutting party where you handed out the URL on gift bags.

Then keep doing it. Then read other blogs and comment. Market your blog in whatever way you see fit. But you have to keep updating it. Regularly. That's it.

That's how you start blogging.


Nodding Furiously Over Here

...the best writers left their websites for jobs with established media companies; established media companies asked these writers—along with many who really shouldn’t be in these jobs—to make content sound blog-ish; cross-site discourse fell off, with the power to shape a conversation aggregated among sites from which so much content now flows down a hierarchy; memes and traffic-generation schemes quickly eroded what had once been innovative ideas; a shared conversational tone predominated, suggesting that certain content was supposed to sound certain ways; a once open and growing system became a series of echo chambers as writers and readers congregated in various places where they could feel good about participating with each other. Websites have grown incredibly stale as a result, and most with passable content have lost differentiating elements.

Worst of all, as these changes crept across the internet and cemented a way to do business, so to speak, they reinforced the notion that everyone can be an expert while staying at home and living life behind a series of screens. [emphasis mine]

-Family Business (read more) [via Ned Hepburn]


A Little About Aunt B and Her New Book

There's this woman I know named Betsy, and she's in every way awesome. She fucking kills me on so many levels. First of all, smart as a whip. Like, you go have a drink with her and suddenly you start penciling in library time on your calendar because you can suddenly feel a little dim. But it's not like she's all snobby and smug like a lot of smart people, who love nothing more than to make others feel unintelligent. That's not it. It's that she has this razor wit and she'll reference something you totally know, but she does it in such a sly, clever manner that you don't catch on to what you missed til you are driving home later.

And she has the best laugh. She's one of these people who throws her head back and laughs with her whole body, and even if you are pissed off or crying, you can't help but laugh back. She's also just as funny in real life, if not more, than she is at her hilarious Tiny Cat Pants

I found Tiny Cat Pants when I first started the blogging job at WKRN, and I was immediately charmed by its tagline: "Is there anything funnier than tiny cat pants?" At the time I discovered this question, I thought no. There couldn't possibly be anything funnier than that until I read the blog. The answer to that tagline is clear: Yes, there is, and its Tiny Cat Pants.

Here's the thing, though. Her blog is not jokes. No way. It's genuine, good-hearted humor. That's why it translates into real humor in real life. She's not trying too hard. She just is who she is, and she does it on a blog. And it's real, and it's always, always thought provoking, and it's fair, almost all the time, and if she says something she regrets, she says so. The woman is never loathe to admit a mistake.

Anyway, I admire the shit out of her. She's a strong-willed, beautiful soul who will defend you, support you, tickle you and serve you wine in her backyard in a mason jar on a hammock.

And she wrote a book. A book about ghosts and their stories in and around Nashville. 

This woman's writing reads like breathing--effortlessly. She's a master at the craft, in my humble opinion, and while her blog is scattered in topic, I can't wait to see her nail down this single idea.

You have to buy it. It's not optional. Do yourself the favor, and bring the delight of my friend Betsy into your home. It's a far cry from having her swapping stories and swatting flies with you, but hey, we can't all be so lucky.

Get it here.

And here is the book's website.


EVP for Short: Moving on from News Blogging

When people meet me they often ask, as people do, what I do for a living. My answer is now "news blogger." When I first began to blog for a living back in 2005 people would ask the same thing and my reply at the time was, "professional blogger." I look back on the term now and cringe. Fact is, I was so blasted glad not to be a waitress or a bartender anymore, that you could have called me a content cow, and I would not have cared. My official title at WKRN was blog producer.When I came to work for CBS 5 in San Francisco I signed on as simply "blogger." That is my title, and it is accurate and direct. I am a blogger. I add "news blogger," in order to answer the inevitable next question.

But starting in the first part of June my title will be Executive Vice President of Marketing and Outreach.

I know, right?

For real, though, I've accepted a new job. I'm going to be the Executive Vice President of Marketing and Outreach for a sincerely fantastic non-profit organization called Modest Needs.

Modest Needs is a charity that, rather than getting people out of financial trouble, prevents them from getting into that trouble in the first place. Modest Needs is the only charity that allows you to donate to individuals on a one-to-one basis--choosing the person or organization that you directly want to help out. It's a lauded organization started by a former professor at my university. In fact, when he launched Modest Needs eight years ago I put a link to the venture on Metafilter. I've been a cheerleader for Modest Needs since Day One (save for that single dubiousness I expressed to the founder when he initially ran the idea by me--sorry for being a Debbie Doubter, Keith!)

This means that I am no longer going to be a news blogger, blog producer, professional blogger, or however you want to describe what I have done for about five years now. While I will be blogging for Modest Needs as part of my role, the position of EVP of Marketing and Outreach will encompass a whole lot more. I will be in charge of promoting Modest Needs primarily online, but also offline, to the best of my abilities. This means I get to decide how best to use the internet to spread the good word about a charity that I fully believe in--the sky's the limit in terms of how I do this or how far it goes. To say that I am excited and overwhelmed by the prospect would be a vast understatement. I get to work from home, make my own hours and work toward promoting something that makes the world a better place.

Am I sad that I will no longer be blogging from a newsroom? Yeah. In a way. It was how I started this career that has suddenly taken a new trajectory, and it has served me well. Recently, before I knew I'd be leaving news blogging, a doctor asked me if I liked my job. I blurted out almost immediately, "I love my job." And that is the truth. It is a blessing and a joy to do what I do day in and day out.

That said, I'm tired. The constant 9-5 publishing of content--even content that primarily links to others' content--can be draining. It will wear you down. It is safe to say I got burned out on news blogging.

That doesn't mean I am not forever grateful to both WKRN and KPIX for allowing me the opportunity to do something not many others get to do--sling opinion and links without an editor. Both stations put a lot of trust in me, and I won't soon forget that. WKRN gave me my break, and KPIX moved me out to my new home in California. Thank yous will never be enough.

My last day writing Eye on Blogs will be Friday. Then I board a plane to Tennessee to see family and friends for a week. Then I fly back to San Francisco the following Monday to unpack, then repack, because on Tuesday I will be in Manhattan for 6 days for my initial week at Modest Needs.

It's all too much, but I relish every morsel.

Onward and upward and all that stuff.

UPDATE: I will have lots, lots, lots more to say about all this, but if I said it all now this would not be a blog post it would be a non-fiction tome. More to come for sure.


A Long Rambling Post about the "Going Dark" of Nashville is Talking

There was once a blogger meet-up in Nashville in early 2005. I had never been to a blogger meet-up before in my life, even though I had been blogging for around six years. It was at Jackson's in Hillsboro Village. I remember sitting in my car, in the driver's seat in the parking lot of Jackson's, scared to death to get out. Strangers were in there. Strangers scared me. But I somehow managed to pop the handle, squeeze out of the car and walk inside.

Once my legs managed to make their way to the event, things were fine. Relaxed. I chatted with people I'd read before, and nibbled nachos and drank vodka tonics.

The event was hosted by WKRN, the ABC affiliate station. They bought those nachos.

Blake & Tim

I stood around talking to Tim Morgan and the Saucy Librarian when a suit from WKRN handed me his card. He seemed very, very interested in what I wrote about in a way that was different from everyone else. When we finished our chat and he told me to call him I assumed he was hitting on me. I stuck his card in my purse, and forgot about it.

The Saucy Librarian blogger wrote me not long later to say that WKRN has asked her if she was interested in blogging for the station. Since she liked her Saucy Librarian job she wasn't, but she suggested that I might like to. I was waiting tables and freelancing and looking for full-time work. I remember the TV man who handed me his card, and winced. He wasn't hitting on me...he was recruiting.

Mike & Kerry

The next thing I knew I was in Mike Sechrist's office on Murfreesboro Road talking about how I "had my finger on the pulse of the internet" (oh my god) and how I didn't think the web was for making money. Hahaha. I'm surprised he didn't show me out right then, but instead he smiled, nodded and said, "Well, we're going to try to make some money."

I don't think we ever did. Nashville is Talking, the website I was hired to write after that meet-up at Jackson's, never did pay for itself to my knowledge. In fact, some would say that WKRN cost themselves a whole lot in terms of risk by running Nashville is Talking at all.

Day 36: Project 365

Why is that? Well, because while I had a journalism degree and published clips, I had never worked in a newsroom in my life. And Sechrist gave me free reign. I was allowed to use first person, be loudly opinionated and to stir shit up. Countless phone calls and letters and emails streamed into the station in the time that I was there, many of them calling for me to be fired. One person repeatedly came to the station seeking my termination.

The journalists who had spent years trying in earnest to remain neutral and without opinion were kind to me. They were obviously shocked, and many you could tell disagreed with much of what I wrote, but they were nice. That doesn't mean that there weren't plenty of overheard whispers, and to tell you the truth, I felt very isolated in that job, because while I had co-workers, I didn't have any colleagues to speak of.

Day 2: Project365

It was exhilarating doing something so new and "cutting edge." I was happier than a pig in shit to be reading all day long the profound essays from locals that regularly made me cackle with glee or tear up in sympathy. I loved blogging, and then I got to get paid to do it. I think I let some of that go to my head, and I was more arrogant than I should have been.

Before the WKRN job I had no idea that Tennessee was so filled to the top with political blogs. Holy crap, is that state opinionated about politics. Suddenly I was reading right-wing blogs with some really extremist views, but I think I can safely say those people thought my views (not everyone at Gitmo is a guilty terrorist, pro-choice, etc.) were just as out there and abhorent. Suddenly I was communicating with conservative bloggers who weren't just guys with strong views, but some that were entrenched in the GOP. I had never blogged about politics prior to the NiT gig, and it showed. I was divisive in what I linked to, dismissive in my commentary and unwilling to change my mind very often. It was a product of being young and green and too often driven by emotion. But it brought the readers in in droves.

Shauna & Pea

Turns out people liked the combat, to some extent. Controversy and adversarial comments make for great reading. Who knew? Well, I did. But there were costs associated with it, too.

I remember spending one Christmas unable to breathe because of threats to my job that came after a post had displeased some people. I remember being called fat. And stupid. And in bed with terrorists. Every time there was a new comment, I would hold my breath. Some of them got really vicious. But, I brought many of them on myself.

But when it wasn't awful, it was wonderful. I remember discovering Aunt B's blog, and I nearly passed out from the awesomeness. Then Kleinheider made me consider conservatism in a whole new way, with found facts and quotes from rappers making his stuff compelling and unique. I hesitate to start naming the bloggers who awed and inspired me, because they are too numerous to remember them all.

group shot 3

It was always about the bloggers. They were the reason why Nashville is Talking got the buzz that it did. Sure, Sechrist and Terry Heaton were ahead of the game in coming up with the NiT concept, but it is because they knew that there was so much talent around us going untapped that they were fools to ignore it. Astute observations, neighborhood reporting, hilarious essays, gripping tales of parenthood--it was a tapestry of all kinds of writing, but all of it came from one location. There was power in that. There were suddenly sparks being made and connections being forged that exist to this day, stronger than they have ever been.

rex & a.c.

I don't know how to talk about the end of NiT without talking about it from my perspective. I could do some bullet point post about how I think NiT changed the landscape of media in Nashville or round up links to all the coverage on Editor & Publisher or make grand proclamations about what is to come, but I think that is best left to the Social Media Gurus. For me it was a daily enterprise, an uncharted path that took some serious blazing, resulting in many cuts and bruises as I hacked away as best I could. I didn't know what I was doing--only a little--but Sechrist trusted my voice and the voice of the people in Nashville, and that hands-off approach birthed something strange and beautiful. And temporary, it turns out.

I didn't write Nashville is Talking from an arm's length away. I cared about these people's children's broken bones. I cried when their mothers died. I giggled along with their stories every morning and screamed at the monitor when I disagreed. I was into Nashville is Talking as deep as you could be in it. And maybe that was why the end of my tenure there ended in such a terrible way.

Megan Made Me A Painting

The comments mattered. The slings and arrows didn't bounce off, they were buried deep, and they added up to too much in the end. Perhaps had I kept my distance it would have ended for me differently, but I don't think the fire of NiT would have been stoked had I done that. And besides, I did it the only way I knew how.

I will always think of my opportunity to run Nashville as Talking as a little miracle in my life. It changed the course of it, for sure. I am now in a city I would have never lived in had I not taken that job. I wouldn't know half the people I do. I wouldn't have this special experience under my belt that changed things and people, more important than any headline it might have generated.

Jon, Kat and Kay

I am passionate about publishing on the web. News is secondary. To me, the magic lies in the ability of any person who can find access to a computer to have the opportunity to be heard like never before. That still blows my mind. And to be able to work to highlight and promote those people? I am a lucky girl.

I write this today, because Nashville is Talking is going dark. The current GM at WKRN, who is not Mike Sechrist, calls the site a "quaint reminder." Maybe for many people that is what it is.

For me it was a life changer.

Others on Nashville is Talking's finale:

random mublings - On Friday, the Talk stops

for lack of a better word - RIP NiT.

Pith in the Wind - Nashville Is Talking No Longer

Cup of Joe Powell - Farewell, Nashville Is Talking

Terry Heaton - “Nashville is Talking” to close

Newscoma - Nashville Is Talking R.I.P.


Business Blogging: Keep It Real

A Bay Area blogger asked me to share a few sentences about corporate or professional blogs. Basically, those built for PR purposes. He works for a museum that is thinking of starting a blog, and he asked me to impart some wisdom. I gave him this instead:

Things I think are important to consider when working with a corporate or otherwise professional blog:


  • Be authentic and genuine. Have personality. Bland, boring press releases will be ignored. Consider have the blogger write in first person.

  • Have fun with it. People need a reason to come *back* to a blog like one for your museum. Sure, they may go there the first time for info, but having engaging writing is key. Don't be afraid to loosen things up a bit.

  • Participate in the blog community. If you don't read, link to or otherwise engage other bloggers your site will not see much traffic.

  • Be transparent. Don't lie to people, they'll figure it out. Don't use wormy wording as businesses are so inclined to do. Don't use a bunch of industry lingo unless your site is geared specifically toward a niche group.

  • Encourage participation. Don't make people jump through hoops to comment. Welcome dialogue and exchange.


I think there is a lot more to explore here, but this is a good jumping off point. Just remember that blogging provides an opportunity for readers to get to know the person behind the site or learn things they can't get elsewhere. Make it engaging and make it genuine and you will be surprised how much mileage you will get.


Then & Now: Deja Vu

Then: "What is a blog?"

Now: "What is Twitter?"

Then: "Why would anyone want to read your blog?"

Now: "Why would anyone want to read your Twitter updates?"

Then: "You really think people care enough about your opinion that you should have a blog?"

Now: "You really think people want to read about what you are doing all the time?"

Then: "Blogging is for egomaniacal exhibitionists."

Now: "Twitter is for egomaniacal exhibitionists."

Then: "Blog is a funny word. It sounds stupid."

Now: "Twitter is a funny word. It sounds stupid."

Then: "Blogging will be the death of legitimate, long-form journalism."

Now: "Twitter will be the death of legitimate, long-form blogging."

Then: "I would never have a blog."

Now: "I would never have a Twitter."

Then: "Heyyy, I finally got myself a blog, check it out!"

Now: "FormerSkeptic is now following you on Twitter."