Tuesday, March 7, 2006

A Lesson In Blogging

Pamela Turnure, the press secretary for Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy, was once told by the First Lady: "I want minimum information given with maximum politeness." Thankfully, Pierre Salinger, the press secretary for President Kennedy, was never told this or we may have thought the U.S.S.R. was installing a theme park on the island of Cuba and the United States was aiding the Soviet navy with the installation in October of 1962. As a blogger I have often wondered if readers come to me looking for the least amount of information provided and expect the maximum amount of politeness I can muster or if they want me to honestly tell them that in those tense thirteen days of October '62 we were eyeball-to-eyeball with the Soviet Union and had it not been for the wisdom of courageous men like President Kennedy and the Honorable Adlai Stevenson, we would have seen total annihilation.

As a writer I pride myself on two things: 1) My ability to address a wide array of issues on a "political" blog, and 2) My consistent consideration of the "rules."

Blogging, like any other form of writing, requires the writer to play by the rules. Unlike MLA or APA, there is no handbook for how to write appropriately for a worldwide audience. The rules of blogging can be clearly defined in three simple rules:

  1. Control Your Tone. Tone is the underlying factor of successful blogging. If in your tone you can convey your disappointment, excitement, or anger without blatant disregard and disrespect for others, you have accomplished something amazing. For example, as frequently as I disagree with the Bush administration, you will never catch me referring to President Bush as anything less than that-- President. This is not only an example of controlled tone, but an example of respect. Give mature and thoughtful consideration to everything you post, poor consideration and immaturity will be reflected in your tone. Also, in regard to profanity, remember a warning on Virginia Governor Tim Kaine's campaign blog, "Just because Dick Cheney said it on the floor of the U.S. Senate doesn't mean you can say it here." This pertains to not only the posts you personally write, but the comments you leave on other blogs. Remember that the things you say on the world wide web will not be quickly forgotten. They will exist in blog archives and directories for years.
  2. Proofread. I often read over old posts and wonder how I could have missed such significant errors. Take a break, walk around the house, get a glass of water. Never hit publish until you have double-checked your spelling, double-checked your grammar, and double-checked your sources. No one wants to read lies. Make sure your posts are accurate and well-supported or if they are simply a "rant," clarify to your audience that this is merely your opinion.
  3. Be Yourself. You will never be as honest with yourself as the moment you realize you are who you are. Spending time on your blog trying to justify yourself is time wasted. Personally, I have come to the conclusion that if people have decided not to like me, I am not going to convince them otherwise. My best hope is to continue on with my "This Day In History" additions, my commentary on The West Wing, and my otherwise random musings knowing that I have not offended anyone intentionally. Along these lines-- accept responsibility for your words. You will be judged by your readers and there will be consequences for the things you say. In my own experience, there have been times that I wish I would not have said a word on certain issues. Now, before I publish, I always think about how my opinion could potentially change over time and how my readers may receive me.

Always remember that those who read your blog may not be as open to your ideas as your friends are. There will be those who misconstrue your words and there will be those who will use your words against you. Putting yourself out there in an open forum is bound to bring both positive and negative attention. Be prepared for it. Be prepared for the discouragement, disgust, and anger that accompanies every hateful comment you receive. Remember those comments when you are commenting on other blogs. Personal attacks will not get you anywhere.

It is a privilege to have the opportunity to blog. With this wonderful opportunity is a great responsibility to speak openly, honestly, and respectfully. The words a blogger writes reflect far more than an opinion. The words a blogger writes reflect the blogger's character, maturity, and intelligence.


Matt said...

why the rant on blog etiquette? did you get a nasty or rude comment posted on your blog?

Alan said...

Thoughtful and effective rules, and I'm glad to see someone talking about standards. I agree that polemics, hyperbole and profanity, while interesting and sometimes funny, tend to distract from the message and diminish credibility.

Tara A. Rowe said...

Matt, as you know I have had to block anonymous comments on my blog recently because of personal attacks against me and simply rude comments. I have pretty thick skin, but I don't feel that is appreciated by my readers as it distracts them from message at hand.

I guess this was just something that has bothered me for awhile with my own blog and as I read other political blogs...and I was dreading writing a paper last night, so why not write a post on etiquette instead?

No, seriously, this is something that we all need to keep in mind and address on our blogs.

Are you feeling better, Matt?

Nick Speth said...

I don't know though. If "successful" is to be defined as having a lot of hits, then I'm not entirely sure that "mature and thoughtful consideration" is a key to success.

There are plenty of people on both extremes of American politics who want shrill and disrespectful, our mutual aquaintance Oxen's blog gets a lot more hits daily than either of us, and you can imagine what his blog is like. Maybe I'll have to define "successful" as being able to look myself in the mirror in the morning.

Tara A. Rowe said...

Nick, I hadn't thought about that. Maybe in place of "successful" we should say "respectable."