[First of a short series on public discourse]
They used to say about newspaper publishers that you never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton.
But that was a couple of decades ago. Now the guy who buys all this ink and paper has no real credibility. He’s in the tank. Newspapers are dying. Network TV news is dying.
But the need for a free, independent press remains, and probably now more than ever. This brouhaha over the ObamaLosi health care plan is instructive. If it wasn’t for public discourse via the press and Internet, how would you know some senators — maybe even yours — sold their votes for a bit of pork or a few judges? How else would you know what is in that health care plan, and how much it would cost to future generations? How would you know about that gigantic proctoscope coming your way, unless someone tells you about it?
I’ve written plenty about the stuff going on in Washington, and I’ve hardly scratched the surface. But I’m not unique. Plenty of bloggers do the same thing, and some do it as well, or better, than me. But that’s OK too.
More people get their news via the Internet these days. And with today’s tools (Google Reader, Twitter, Facebook) it’s easier than ever to share news. Shoot, even with my modest 540 Twitter followers, you can see the potential. Assuming my average Twitter follower has 2,500 unique followers of their own (and I’m clearly shooting wild with the numbers here), you can see how word of something can get out on the Internet:
- First generation, my followers: 540.
- Second generation, my follower’s followers: 1,350,000.
- Third generation, my followers’ followers’ followers: Forget it. Smoke is pouring out of my calculator.
- All of this takes place within a few seconds.
OK, that’s some real fuzzy math, but you get the idea. Now you know how a news story or video can go “viral.”
Years ago, thinker Marshall McLuhan named the printing press as one of the great extensions of man, arguing that it made the common person into a reader. He later amended it with the copying machine; everyone’s a publisher. Ol’ Marshall’s no longer around; if he’d lived to see blogging and Twitter, he’d say everyone now has a newspaper.
But you get the drift. The media is no longer top-down, i.e. a publisher and a gang of reporters telling you what’s news. It’s now bottom-up, with the common man setting news policy.
Now, that sea change is for better or worse. The Internet has a horrendous signal-to-noise ratio. For each solid, meaty piece of reportage there are about a million pieces of fluff about Britney Spears or Tiger Woods. Sometimes this bottom-up news policy does make me long for some good old-fashioned elitism.
Still with me? Cool.
Setting up a blog is easy. Just about anyone who can turn a computer on and point a mouse at the Web browser icon can do it.
I’m using Blogger, which is a platform owned by Google. What’s beautiful about it is that it’s free, it’s easy, and initial setup takes almost no effort at all.
Before you do anything else, decide what you want to blog about. If you want to write a bunch of crap about how many beers you puked up, or who you hooked up with last night, do me a favor: Please ignore everything I say here. We’ve got plenty of the likes of you on the Internet, and you’re probably looking at the wrong web site anyway.
But if you’re interested in the world you live in, if you are able to string together a few coherent and independent thoughts, if you’re not a Kool-Aid drinker, then let’s talk about blogging.
- Give yourself a sign-in name and password. If you have a Google account (such as gmail), use that.
- Come up with a name for your blog. You will soon be known for that, so choose carefully.
- Pick a template. There are plenty, and some are butt-ugly. But pick one. Don’t worry about all the cool widgets and things just yet; you’re just writing now. Got it?
- Pull up NEW POST, then write a headline.
- Lock and load. Get your thoughts down.
- Read it over. If it looks like it’s what you want to say, click on PUBLISH POST. See how easy that was?
- Don’t worry that no one is reading it. Keep writing. If your stuff is good, the readers will come. Tell folks what you’re doing. Put it on your Facebook page, or whatever social media you’re using.
- Stick with it, and learn the nuances of blogging as you go. There’s a whole new science about it. For now, though, just write.
- If you don’t write worth a flip, just use your computer webcam and talk to your readers. Start a YouTube channel, save your videos and talking messages there, and post them to your blog. Just make sure you’re, well, wearing something — PLEASE? — when you make your video.
That’s the basic stuff.
OK, so why am I giving up all this information?
Because I can, and because we need more voices out there on the Internet. We need more, well, I said it. Independent thinkers. Folks who don’t give a rip what the mainstream is saying. Folks who, like that guy in David Baldacci’s Camel Club, “want the truth.”
Something smelling funny in Washington, or in your state capital? Don’t just sit around whining about it. Blog about it.
(Props to commentator Michael Berry of Houston for putting this idea in my head.)
[In a future Column, I’ll continue this thought … I’ll discuss ways of keeping up with all these Internet headlines. Think RSS here.]