From the Classroom:
When you receive this article, I will be soaking in another session of a seminar called “Mind the App,” a class being offered for students and those interested in knowing how to use apps in the classroom, a topic that will be discussed in a later article. Before digging into this topic: how many of you have your own blog or know what a blog is in comparison to the internet? And in your opinion, what is the role of the news media in response to the blogs that are growing in numbers?
I have to admit, I didn’t know about blogs until a friend of mine (who runs a blog herself at Forum Communications) introduced me to it in the Fall of 2010, in response to a series of photos I had posted on facebook that were in connection with my trip to the US and my involvement at the 2nd annual Historic Bridge weekend in Pittsburgh. And it fitted me perfectly, for another friend of mine (a pontist and Pittsburghian) had previously hinted that I should consider starting a website of my own. But if you want to know in the simplest terms what a blog is, here it is:
A blog is like a column. Think of the columns that had existed, like Dear Abby or Julie and Julie, a blog that dealt with the cooking of Julie Childs by Julie Powell, or the present ones like SidCast, a sportsblog hosted by Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune, Kaitlin O’shea-Healy’s “Preservation in Pink” or “Oh! A Shiny Thing!” written by Kari Lucin of the Jamestown Sun (part of the Forum family). They are all written by one author, who is also the sole administrator, photographer and (if you allow guest columnists/bloggers) editor, and whose content has but one purpose: to inform people of the themes that one normally cannot find in regular streamline news media. And if you construct your blog to your liking, you’ll most likely have some followers that will read your posts.
There are many advantages to blogging: It is easy and cheap to open a blog. In addition, you can design your own template without having a web provider do it for you. Speaking from experience of other websites, opening a website may be expensive, even if you have someone build it for you, which may be to your disliking. In addition to that, you can add some apps by yourself for little or no costs incurred on you. For this online column, together with sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, they have the most commonly-used apps you can add on for free, but the others that are available can be added for a small fee. But most importantly, after finding the template to your liking and adding the headers on your dashboard and widgets on the sidebars for people to easily access, you can go ahead and start blogging, keeping in mind that you are not only the sole writer, but also the sole editor. That means if a mistake is noticed by you or the reader, you have the right to correct it without having to publish a correction for the next edition of a newspaper or magazine. And if you have the right touch, the right agenda, and the right audience, you may end up having thousands of followers in no time.
If I was to look at the two online columns I’ve had for almost three years, the Flensburg Files has focused on topics that deal with German culture and German-American issues, which includes topics like German-named villages in the USA, the Christmas markets, and places to visit, which have been well-received by the readers. This includes articles extending from a Christmas market in Halle (Saale) to the future of Round Lake in Minnesota after Sather’s Candy Company left town. As for the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, many topics on historic bridges and ways to preserve them have spawned conversations and comments, most of which have supported alternatives to wasteful demolition for modernized structures and scrap metal, as seen in the last Chronicles’ article on Bellaire Bridge in Ohio. But we also have seen some interest in tours of the bridges in the regions, whether it was in Magdeburg (Germany) or Booneville, New York. If you find a theme that is of your interest and can attract people, then you can create it.
The downside to online column can be divided up into two segments: the internal aspects and the external aspects. Internally, you need to be aware of the amount of space available for you to post your comments, graphics and photos. That means you cannot post a 3MB pic onto your article or your space will be full before you know it. Without having to shrink your photo size to a point where it’s unreadable, between 200gB and 400gB is sufficient enough for you to post a pic that is readable. An alternative to this is to try photo websites, like flickr, panaramio or even Pininterest and link your photos there to your article you post on your blog. I have done this since last year for both online columns for that sole reason and has worked out well. The other problem is you need to keep up with your blog for two reasons: 1. It will increase your chances to being popular and open doors to opportunities you never dreamed of before if you post on a regular basis and with high quality articles and 2. At least a thousand blogs spring up every day and there are over 160 million blogs in use today, which means your blog is like your “Hour of Fame” flower– it is only popular for a short period of time and if not maintained on a regular basis, it becomes a thing of the past in a short time, to a point where no one really reads it. The other problem with blogging is what critic Andrew Keen calls the Amateur Effect and is in connection with a theory conducted by T.H. Huxley with a group of monkeys. There, the monkeys were presented with a typewriter and one in seven used it to create their own form of artwork. Keen considers the use of social networks and other mechanisms, like the blog as one that is operated by millions of monkeys as they can present something that can either blur the credibility of mainstream media or create dangers to themselves and others because of the lack of experience they have with them. Many people have lost their jobs or were forced to destroy their blogs by their employers for their content was considered inappropriate to them, even though the writers have considered them innocent. This has lead to many people to create a code of conduct for people with online blogs to abide by. This includes not having online debates but to talk directly with the people involved, restraining themselves with regard to language, reporting people who abuse their blogs or try to insult your blog in any way, and lastly take responsibility for your articles you post- change somethings that are deemed inappropriate or leave them out altogether, and always TELL THE TRUTH. This is something that mainstream news media has to do everyday and it is also expected from a blogger.
In the almost three years I’ve been a columnist for both Flensburg and Bridgehunter, I’ve never had to put up with that, but have put up with numerous SPAM (a topic to be discussed leter) and a couple comments deemed inappropriate. Yet as I have full control over the two, I also have the power to delete them before even considering adding them in the comment section. But for the most part, both columns have picked up a substantial amount of readers resulting in the addition of groups on facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and most recently, Pininterest, with additional apps to come thanks to some that came to my attention most recently and I’m playing around with even as I write this. Already, Bridgehunter was one of the first blogs that was launched in connection with historic bridges and has been taking the lead in news and discussions involving this topic. Flensburg serves as a tool for people wanting to know more about German-American topics in the English language, encouraging more and more people to embrace the respective cultures with more topics to come.
This leads to the last question: If anyone asked me for advice about blogging, I would ask them the following questions: 1. What theme would you use your blog for? 2. Who is your target audience? and 3. How would you design it to make it attractive and what apps would you use to capture the readers’ attention? These were the questions I had when I started Bridgehunter and Flensburg, but if you can answer these questions and structure it to make it reader friendly, then you are all set. Just keep the blog clean to keep yourself and others out of trouble, maintain it regularly, and market it to attract your followers and in the end, you will have a successful blog, or online-column, as I call mine. Who knows? You may open the doors to new opportunities you never dreamed of….
Author’s Note: Both the Files and the Chronicles may receive some guest columnists in the coming weeks who have never tried blogging before but would like to give it a try. Stay tuned in that department.