Two things necessary for great blogging: the ability to extemporize and courage

If you love jazz, you’ll know what I mean when I say blogging is the jazz of journalism.

A wonderful article in Fast Company by Ken Howard Gordon describes what he’s learned from QuickMuse.com, a website he created last May that allows virtuoso writers to create poetry live and in (virtual) public, on an assigned theme, against a 15-minute clock.

The article includes this great quote:

“Of course, anyone can see stuff floating downstream; it requires skill to make sense of it and articulate it in real time. But that’s learnable, a matter of experience. What’s harder is having the courage to put yourself in charge of the things you say–to express what’s on your mind, and not necessarily on your public-speaking note cards. It’s as simple as being straightforward with a client, or candid with a subordinate. Until you try improvising, your sense of self is more or less a supposition–and your performance is the poorer for it.”

While nothing in the article is about blogging, that quote explains why blogging is a unique form of journalism and what separates mere blogging from great blogging.

I’m the first to argue that blogs are merely another platform for reporting and journalism, however, I know it’s different. I haven’t been quite able to articulate the “art” part of it — the skill or talent that makes someone good at blogging rather than merely a good writer and reporter who adapts to the format.

I think Howard Gordon captures it — even with his metaphor of “the stuff floating downstream” as we bloggers being fond of using “river” as a metaphor for the carrier of stuff that floats by us.

I’ve always said that “passion” is the key to great blogging. Obviously, wit and literacy are also important. And it goes without saying that integrity and disclosure and ethics rank high in my book. Wit and humor are also great to have. And point-of-view, voice, etc., are great.

But lets assume a writer has all of those. That person could still suck as a blogger if they lack the ability to extemporize and they lack the courage (or freedom) to be in charge of the things they say.

I agree with HowardGordon that the ability to extemporize can be learned — or at least improved — over time. The bigger challenge is the other point: You can’t be a great blogger if you don’t have the courage to put yourself in charge of the things you say. And, if you are a media company wanting your reporters to blog, they’ll never be great bloggers if you don’t have the courage to put them in charge of the things they say.

While integrity, honesty, ethical standards of journalism, etc., can still govern the practice of blogging, the “process” of institutional editing and legal compliance and corporate communications, et al, all conspire against someones ability to extemporize or be courageous.

Like independent film and music, independent blogging will likely always be the most compelling.

It’s like jazz.

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  • http://wkrngm.com mike

    Thank you Rex. This post opened my eyes to the ‘institutional editing’ I’ve unconsciously practiced since I began blogging.

  • Rex Hammock

    Thanks, Mike. But I disagree: you have to be one of the best examples I can think of as someone at a most traditional of traditional media — a local TV station — who has allowed his reporters to be courageous with blogging. I’m sure there has been much gnashing of teeth around your place — and stuff going on behind the scenes that the rest of us will never know — but from where I’m watching, it’s quite impressive.

  • Rex Hammock

    Also, I made a mistake in the original post: I gave the author the wrong last name.