As an undergraduate at Ithaca College, I ran the student newspaper’s political blog, The Spectrum. I don’t remember how I got that gig, but I do remember what it did to me as a writer–the good, bad and ugly.
There’s a reason I don’t do politics blogging anymore. Actually, three reasons.
Some of the writers who were my earliest influences, and whom I still enjoy and respect, are political animals. They’re pundits who eat, sleep and breathe American politics, and I was absurdly grateful to university for giving me a shot at the big leagues.
I wrote for The Spectrum during election season–2008–with both barrels blazing, earning myself enough attention to win a scholarship and a spot on United Press International’s blog team covering presidential foreign policy for about three months.
In short, I loved every minute of politics blogging.
(This preamble has all been so I can explain to anyone from the Writing Department or the Park School at Ithaca College that I loved being the de facto political face of the IC student body from 2007-2009.)
Even more so, because my politics didn’t fit the majority opinion held by most of the matriculated mass of Ithaca College, nor its faculty, alumni or advisers. Because of politics’ predilection for stirring up emotion and passion among dissenting factions, I was nothing short of awed by the maturity and openness of the community to what I had to say, and the platform they gave me for my pontifications.
Now, to the writing of it. Pitfalls of politics blogging 101.
Hunting for topics can feel inauthentic
The number-one thing that separates bloggers from more traditional avenues is authenticity. While that quality can usually be found in writing on both sides of the fence, bloggers have the A-word in their job descriptions.
And when I was blogging politics, it colored the lens through which I viewed world events. I’d read something on AP’s feed, and think, “Hey, that’d make a great blog post. How do I talk about it in a way that advances my position?”
Dirty secret: All politics bloggers think this way, unless they’re planning on writing one of those I-know-I’m-a-Democrat/Republican/socialist/libertarian-but types of posts.
Political patois started as a rhythm and became a rut.
Political in-references, oblique references to historical events presented with poor context and party-specific slang (“going Galt,” “quantitative easing,” “Hillarycare”)–these tendencies are fairly widespread across the blogging universe, and thinking I was building credibility, I jumped into using the lingo with abandon. But good writers don’t talk over the heads of their readers, and that tendency began to leak outside the blogging world.
No bueno, because that habit made me sound a little more like a narcissistic a-hole.
Coming to a conclusion was too important.
In retrospect, many of the policy and event positions I covered were valid and deserved definitive analysis. Most of the time, I had a fairly well-reasoned argument for my opinion and presented it without fuss.
Except when I didn’t. I felt a lot of pressure, probably imposed by my own ego, to always be right, to get the angle, to have the last word on a topic that honestly could have benefitted from some introspection.
The greatest essay writers I know are pros at offering introspection and observation while allowing their readers to draw their own conclusions. During my tenure as a blogger, my fledgling capabilities in this area withered on the vine.
I still love the art form of politics blogging. It just happens to be a bit more like walking through sucking mud. It’s easy to lose your footing there, your chops, and make rookie mistakes… just like I did.
What do you think? Are you a consumer of politics blogging, and if so, do you notice the problems I’ve identified here?
Are these issues endemic to bloggers of all stripes?
How has blogging influenced your other writing projects?
Share in the comments!