Planet Jackson Hole, one of our local newspapers here in Jackson, published an article today about the state of blogging and “new media” in the Hole. The timing was quite coincidental, as a group of us local bloggers (two of whom were interviewed for the Planet article) met last night at the South Side for pizza and beer and to discuss, among many other things, blogging in Jackson Hole, the state of this media format, and of course the Planet article.
I had difficulty pinning down the explicit point Ben Cannon was trying to make in his article (I think it had to do with money), but, having some insight into the local blogging community in general and blogging in particular, I thought I’d share what I got out of it.
You have to have passion about something in order to build a successful blog around it. That is evidenced in the three main blogs featured in the article. David Gonzales, Jim Stanford and Steve Romeo are all passionate about their subject matter, and not only does it show in their content, it is what keeps them at it even when ad sales revenue likely doesn’t even come close to making these blogs a money-making proposition (with the possible exception of Romeo’s Teton AT).
It is also evidenced in the lackluster content being posted on 22Local.com. Now, in the essence of full disclosure, I must tell you that I worked at Circumerro during the early stages of 22Local and was very much involved in helping develop Latham Jenkins’ long languishing concept of this community-generated site. I think it is a very good idea in theory and I remain supportive of Jenkins’ and Circumerro’s efforts here, but in practice I doubt it will ever gain the momentum that Jenkins is hoping for. As I said before, you must have passion about your blog and its topic for your blog to be successful. And you must own that blog for that passion to burn brightest. But unfortunately for that blog’s main contributor, Sabra Ayres, 22Local will only be owned by Mr. Jenkins.
And while Jenkins’ theory of “hyperlocalism” has legs, the reality of a site bursting at the seams with user generated content is one I doubt will come to fruition, further hampering the success of the site. Rare are the local events that spur average citizens to submit their versions of it online. And the example of JH Underground’s “Rush Hour on Teton Pass” story shows how, more often than not, user generated content tends toward the banal and petty (even insulting) rather than factual, insightful or thoughtful.
One point I think the Planet article is trying to make is that of making money with a blog and that it isn’t easy. The blogs that are out there (like, everywhere out there, not just Jackson Hole) making money using the publishing model are few and far between. Low overhead and massive page views are the key, as evidenced in an article just today by Silicon Alley Insider about how “NYTimes.com Needs 7X More Traffic To Survive.” It seems the only people really making money blogging are the ones who have been successful at telling people how to make money blogging, such as John Chow and Jeremy Shoemaker.
But making money should not be the point of a blog. Gonzales and Stanford will be the first to tell you that the money isn’t what keeps them going. Rather, the blog has become a means to an end rather than the end itself. For both—and this is what I tell people who ask me if they should blog—it is not only another outlet for their creative passions, it is a way to promote their talents and show the world that they are experts in their chosen field, in turn leading to work they would not have been able to get without the exposure garnered by their blog.
Locally, Steve Romeo’s Teton AT is the one blog bucking the non-money-making trend (if he is in fact making enough money with it to get by on, which he very well may be because I believe Steve is the kind of guy who is happy to simply get by doing what he’s passionate about and doesn’t necessarily need to be raking in scads of cash). But Teton AT and Romeo are successful not because he’s got a cool blog, but because he is doing something he is passionate about, an expert at, and using his blog to get it out there.
Repeat: it isn’t about the blog. Romeo is out there gettin’ after the goods, and then he comes home and is diligent about writing coherent articles about his exploits, accompanied by photography and video that, while not necessarily of professional caliber, is accurate and supports his posts. And because he is in the backcountry all the time, he has great opportunities to use and then review gear via a medium that has garnered a large niche audience. In fact, I wouldn’t really call Romeo a blogger per se (though he certainly is); rather, he is a particular breed of professional athlete who has successfully leveraged the Internet to promote his exploits and his sponsors’ gear, and in the process has created what has become (and is still becoming) a fantastic resource for those looking for information about skiing in the Tetons.
The real value in blogging lies not in the ability to leverage eyeballs for advertisers’ cash, but in the ability to let the world know you are an expert at—or at least very passionate about—what you’re blogging about and leveraging that for more work doing what you are expert at or passionate about. And if that is the angle you take with your blogging, then, in response to the Planet and the wonderings of local bloggers, yes, this small community can buoy many bloggers.