Way back in 2006, just after we moved back to the USA from Britain, I started a blog. Blogging was new and basic, and I started the blog to publish stuff that I couldn’t get published elsewhere. I couldn’t get it published elsewhere either because it wasn’t good writing, but also because it was too personal, too controversial or on subjects that did not really appeal to a wide public.
To my surprise, people began reading the blog. I nice fellowship of like minded people gathered around. The comments box was open and we had a nice time. It turned out that blogging opened doors for a huge amount of opinion and comment from ordinary folks to ordinary folks. Suddenly the media masters–the gatekeepers–the editors and commissioning editors and publishers were not in charge. I’m not blaming them, but their decisions were based on market forces. They were all broadcasters–throwing content out to as wide an audience as possible in order to make sales and sell advertising and make money. That’s okay. I’m not opposed to that, but the money motive does skew the editorial process. You have to make choices according to what the mass audience wants in order to sell enough books and magazines to pay your bills and make some profit.
However, the new technology changed all that. Suddenly it was super cheap to publish content. You didn’t need printing presses and employees and huge overheads to run newspapers, magazines and book publishing houses. You didn’t need to buy paper and bind books and store books and run warehouses and shipping companies. You didn’t need all the middlemen who took their cut–the distributors and advertisers, the marketers and local bookstores. The content could be delivered through the internet.
Furthermore, you could move away from broadcasting to narrowcasting. In other words, you no longer needed to appeal to the widest audience possible. Niche audiences were okay because now you also had instant, global distribution. How amazing is that? A conservative Catholic priest writing his own stuff is niche, but if that niche is global it is still a pretty hefty audience, and because the cost of delivering the content through the internet is next to nothing compared to old fashioned print methods, it is possible.
With all this considered, I think the ordinary consumer of content is unaware of the totally HUGE revolution we have gone through in the last fifteen years. This is why the mainstream media and the establishment as we knew it is disintegrating in front of our eyes. People don’t turn to the mainstream media for their news and opinion. They turn to blogs and websites they like and trust.
This is all pretty exciting, but here’s the down side: Writers are still motivated to appeal to their audience. If there is a financial aspect to what they do (and anybody like me who has a subscriber base is aware of that) then they are conscious of an audience who are looking for a particular type of content. The writers want to throw red meat to their hungry consumers. In the meantime, because of the vast choice that is out there, the readers increasingly gravitate to content that confirms their worldview, their bias and their prejudice. None of us really like to be challenged. We read stuff that makes us nod, not stuff that makes us mad.
Furthermore, because of the vast amount of content being thrown at us, we have increasingly short attention spans. When I first started writing twenty five years ago editors asked for weighty articles of about 3000 words. Now they want punchy articles with short sentences, sub headings, short paragraphs and all to come in at 750 words.
So now after nineteen years of blogging. Is it really that long!! I’m searching around for the best way forward. It’s easy enough for me to churn out my opinion on church matters, politics and the culture wars, but I’m increasingly weary of all that. Furthermore, if I’m really honest with myself, my own writing is too often hampered by the need to please and the fear of offending. If blogging has opened up the way for opinions to be expressed, social media has accelerated and compressed that even further. I don’t like getting hate tweets any more than anyone else. I don’t appreciate angry letters from crackpots to my bishop because somebody somewhere was offended by one of my jokes. I really don’t like getting threats of violence aimed at my family members.
In addition to question marks about blogging, the new media has opened up other channels for content delivery. A few years ago I added podcasting to the blog and this year I’m opening up to online courses, video content and YouTube video content. All of this requires research and thought. I love doing it, but it does mean that the blog is not what it once was.
As we move forward you’ll see the different aspects of the blog/website and my other work being more and more connected. So, for example, the Suburban Hermit section on Benedictine spirituality will not only feature the archived material on monks and monasticism that is already there, but it will feature the videos from the course I am teaching at Avila institute, excerpts from my books on Benedictine spirituality and podcasts on the Rule. The book I am now working on —The Way of the Wilderness Warrior–will be integrated with the blog and my online courses, podcasts and video material.
Visually, you’ll see in the next few days that the blog/website is having a complete overhaul. Every year in October I do a bit of adjustment and freshen up the look of the blog/website. This new facelift makes room for the podcast and video content and offers a high speed, good looking, mobile device friendly interface. I hope you like it. During October I also have an annual membership drive. Watch out for that, and join in as a Donor Subscriber if you can.
A blog. What’s that? It turns out that it is an ever changing, growing, flexible and amazing channel of communication and friendship.
I’m going to keep going.
I hope you’ll stay tuned.