People are always asking me how to be a blogging bigshot, and/or what will be the Next Big Thing in blogging. I don’t claim to have any very special expertise in that area, but I do have some thoughts. In fact, I have some thoughts that combine the two subjects.
There are lots of political/national security blogs (“warblogs” as they’re sometimes called, though most of them spend a lot of times on non-war subjects). There’s always room for another, especially if it offers special insight: either in terms of knowledge or location. But there’s no question that the warblog field is probably the most crowded, and that it probably is harder to get attention, even with a very good blog, in that area than in any other.
So if I were starting out from scratch, with the goal of having maximum blog-impact, I think I’d give that subject a pass. Instead, I’d look around to see what’s going on that’s potentially very interesting, but that isn’t getting enough attention.
That can be a subject-matter area (Howard Lovy’s Nanobot blog on nanotechnology is a good example), or it can be a geographic area (just look at all the attention that Iraqi bloggers have gotten, by virtue of being close to the action).
It can also combine the two. One of the things that gets undercovered in American journalism is local politics. One reason is that many people think it’s boring. But the other reason is that local newspapers and television stations have trouble covering it. They tend to be understaffed (my local paper has fewer reporters than it had 20 years ago, but it’s not as if there’s less news) and they tend to have trouble making the stories interesting to casual readers or viewers.
But a blog doesn’t need a mass of casual readers. If you set up a blog covering local politics, you won’t get a lot of casual readers except around election time, but you will get a significant number (in the hundreds or thousands or — if your city is big enough — tens of thousands) who really care about what you’re covering. In this, your Old Media analog isn’t the daily newspaper or a local television station, but rather one of those industry or political newsletters that insiders read.
By “covering” I mean more than just opining, though there’s a role for that too. If you attend City Council meetings regularly and learn the players, you can report things that the local paper can’t (or for political reasons, won’t) report. With a little knowledge of your state’s Freedom of Information Act (sometimes they’re called Open Records Acts) you can dig up all sorts of interesting information. Start writing about this stuff, and get a little local notice, and insiders will start sending you tips that’ll point the way for further research. Spend an afternoon learning how to look up financial and voting records, and then put that to work.
If you want, you can branch out into video. Web video has gotten easier and — more importantly — cheaper. You’ll want a digital still camera anyway, but you can get one that will shoot web-quality video with sound while you’re at it. Interview people and put the results up on the Web. They’ll want to see it, and so will their friends, or enemies. Word will spread. You don’t need any better video-editing software than what comes with Windows XP or Apple computers, though if you want to get fancy you can certainly get far more capable software for (at most) a few hundred dollars. (You can see samples of video that I’ve done, rough-and-ready with the still camera and Windows Movie Maker, here and, in my version of one of those lame “rock the vote” candidate commercials here; and here’s some general technical advice here. And here’s one my TCS columns with video interviews included.)
If politics isn’t your interest, local blogs focusing on the music scene, restaurants, or retail can do just as well. Review local bands’ shows, shoot a little video, post some interviews with fans or musicians, and you’ll soon be well-known in your area. You may even find people willing to pay to advertise on your blog, or to donate in support of your efforts.
Modern technology — especially the combination of easy web publishing, cheap web hosting, and rapidly spreading access to broadband internet — means that a single individual can compete with Big Media organizations on a surprisingly equal footing, if he or she picks the area carefully. While there will be lots of attention given to warblogs and blogs focusing on national politics between now and the Presidential election in the fall, I think that over the long term it’s blogs focused on other areas that have the most potential for growth, and for affecting the world on a day to day basis.
Universal publishing is a reality now. If the idea interests you, give it a try.