What Can Blogs Do For You?

Earlier this week, I shared my frustration about the lack of high quality content in newspapers.  A few people who read the post argued, in response, that newspapers could improve if they spent more time blogging.  So, I thought I would share a few thoughts about blogging.

There are millions – maybe hundreds of millions – of blog posts created every day.  People use blogs to break news, share poems, host videos and pictures.  Some people post to blogs many times a day – almost in real time it seems – while others post only occasionally.  Like any medium, some of the content is good, and some of it not so good.  Some blog posts are informative. Some blog posts are opinionated.  People use blog posts to educate, entertain, or even insult.  There is no single format or set of standards that captures everything available in the blogosphere.  And that’s important to me — I read blogs because there is always the potential of finding something incredible buried deep in a post.

Personally, I read about 350 blogs each day.  I don’t expect to absorb every detail of every post.  The truth is, as I plow through the list in my aggregator each day I realize there isn’t that much to absorb in most cases anyway.  Sure, I learn something from each blog post I read, maybe a new fact or a different way of looking at a situation.  I find interesting links to follow or recommendations of other bloggers I should review.  When I read an good post, or something that I think a friend or colleague will enjoy, I forward it along.  If I didn’t find that kind of value, I wouldn’t spend the time to keep reading blogs.   But I don’t usually find posts, out of the thousands and thousands that I read, that stays with me.  Its rare that a blog post is so personal, or powerful, or relevant, or honest, or dignified… whatever that special quality is… that it re-defines the whole medium for me.  But it happens.

A few examples:

Jonathan Schwartz, the CEO of Sun Microsystems, was one of the few CEOs who blogged.  I can’t find the link anymore, but several years back Schwartz let loose a rant about the software business, and the differences between Sun Microsystems and its competitors.  I had never read a post like that before, and in all the years since I haven’t seen that kind of statement from inside the mind of a corporate leader.  The post was written in the middle of the night, maybe 2 o’clock in the morning, full of profanity, and took his competitors head on.  Without mincing words, Schwartz presented his argument so clearly and passionately that it was almost jarring.  I didn’t know a CEO could write like that, and before blogs, I’m not sure he/she would have.  Whenever someone asked for an example of a good corporate blog(ger), I pointed them to that post.

In July 2004, after being convicted for lying to federal investigators about the sale of ImClone Systems stock and receiving a five month prison sentence, Martha Stewart posted a short statement online.  It counts as a blog because, as I understand it, the site hosting the statement used a blog as a content management system.  Anyway, the post was part explanation, part apology, and was definitely geared towards her fans and customers.  As far as I know it was her first blog post ever — but no matter how many she has posted since, it is still probably her best.  This post showed a more personal and thoughtful side of the domestic diva that you would normally see, and offered what I believe was a sincere apology for violating the trust so many people have put in her.  Stewart went on to serve her time and upon her release began a well-orchestrated media campaign to repair her image.  And it worked.  But to this day, I believe that post is what began the difficult task of rebuilding trust among her audience.  Take note transgressors, few have explained or apologized as well for their mistakes that Martha Stewart did on that post.

And, just this past week, Mark Cuban posted about his effort to buy the Chicago Cubs.  The well-known, oft-hated owner of the Dallas Mavericks is a prolific blogger and is never shy about sharing his opinions, be they about business, referees, technology, or anything else, online.  Still, this post was different — he wasn’t trying to lobby for support, attract sympathy, of level an attack at higher power.  He didn’t call unnecessary attention to the people at the Tribune, with the Cubs, or around Major League Baseball who he has been dealing with (in fact he said they were helpful).  He simply pulled back the curtain a bit on his thought process around the negotiations.  He demonstrated, in just a few paragraphs, that his interest in owning the Cubs was about more than business and his love of sports genuine.  The world of professional sports is notoriously hard to penetrate and the big-money dealings of team owners are usually kept out of view of fans (which is unfortunate, since so much of our money and passion helps support their investments).  Cuban will not end up as owner of the Cubs, be his post secured a spot for him as one of the best bloggers I read.

Most people read blogs the days, in some form or another.  Many of us have opinions about what makes a blog worth reading or a post truly valuable.  Ask two (or ten, or a thousand) people who blogs and you’ll get different answers from each about what makes for a successful blog.  But I suspect that everyone has a least one post that has changed their way of thinking about blogs, or the world, or themselves.  These are three examples that I cite when asked why I read blogs, or what blogs can accomplish.  These are three posts I send to people when they ask me what it takes to break through the cacophony of online conversation.   These are three posts that I believe all bloggers can learn from.

What blogs, or posts, do that for you?

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