Friday, February 8, 2013

On Blogging, "The New York Times" Op-Ed Page, and My Early Career in Sports Journalism

As my regular readers know, I like to keep things moving here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

My blogging philosophy has definitely evolved over the last three years.  I used to do one post a day.  At some point in late 2011 I switched to a model perfected by Andrew Sullivan at "The Dish."  Sullivan is constantly firing off posts to keep his readers engaged and coming back.

Of course I am not as smart as Sullivan, do not cover as many topics, will never have as many readers, do not have a team of interns (although I am open to the possibility--let's talk), and do not blog full-time.  But Sullivan's general philosophy works well for me.  I view my blogging as a form of historical (or even scholarly) journalism--a type of public history.  Sullivan posts every 20 minutes or so.  I have been trying to post every 90 to 120 minutes.  I do not always succeed.

I think I am attracted to this kind of blogging because it satisfies (at least for the moment) a childhood desire to be a journalist.  Let me explain.

When I was ten-years old I wrote a two-page rag called "The Taylortown Chronicle" (It was named after the main road that ran through my North Jersey neighborhood). I typed the entire issue each week, took it to the local stationary store to make copies, and then placed it in the mailboxes of all of my neighbors.  It included headlines such as "Gas Station Now Selling Good-Humor Ice Cream," "Several Kids Get New Dirt Bikes," and "Fea's Team Wins Whiffle Ball Game." It even had ads.  I advertized the snow-shoveling and leaf-raking "business" I started with my brothers and ran a regular ad for my father's construction business.  One summer I opened a lemonade stand so I could sell more copies of the paper.

I covered high school lacrosse for my high school newspaper.  The fact that I was on the team (upper left) did not seem to matter

In middle school I got together with three friends and produced a 6-8 page paper which we called "Sports Journal."  My friend Steve, an incredible artist, did the cover art. (It was usually a sketch drawn from a photo in Sports Illustrated--a magazine I started receiving weekly at the age of six).  Our first issue featured the UCLA-Louisville college basketball national final and it had Pervis Ellison on the cover.  We sold it for 25 cents and actually convinced some classmates to buy copies.  We were known best for our coverage of professional wrestling.  (This was the age of Bob Backlund, Superstar Billy Graham, Bruno Sammartino, Chief Jay Strongbow, Ivan Putski, Tito Santana, Haystacks Calhoun, and Andre the Giant).  I think there are still copies of "Sports Journal" laying around somewhere in my parents house.  I also seem to remember Roger Staubach appearing on one of the covers.

All of this led to a high school freelance job  for my hometown newspaper, the now-defunct Montville Herald   I covered middle-school football and basketball.  One of my younger brothers was on the basketball team so I would catch rides to away games with the parents of one his teammates. I eventually parlayed this experience into the sports editorship of my high school newspaper, The Podium.

Yes, it looked like journalism was in my future.  But other things intervened in my life and, to make a long story short, I became a historian.  Maybe that will be the next autobiographical story that I tell.

But I am now rambling.  What I actually wanted to do was call your attention to a post by Ta-Nehisi Coates on how difficult it must be for writers like David Brooks and Gail Collins to say something original on a twice-a-week schedule at The New York Times op-ed page.  Coates writes:

Here is an exercise: Spend a week counting all the original ideas you have. Then try to write each one down, in all its nuance, in 800 words. Perhaps you'd be very successful at this. Now try to do it for four weeks. Then two months, then six, then a year, then five years. Add on to that all other ambitions you might have -- teaching, blogging, writing long-form articles, speaking, writing books. etc. How do you think you'd fare? I won't go so far as to say I'd fail. But I strongly suspect that the some of the same people who were convinced this would be a perfect marriage, would -- inside of a year -- be tweeting, "Remember when that dude could actually write? Oh that's right, he never could write. #lulz"

I end up recycling ideas in my own blogging, and blogging is a much more forgiving form. I can't imagine how'd cope with the demands of staying fresh for a regular column. The point I'm making isn't that you shouldn't criticize columnists at the Times (I've done my share of criticizing), but that you should have some sense of the built-in structural limitations of the form. They are formidable.

Those columns generally take me three to five days to pull together. They are a good bit of work. And then there's the fact-check the night before they're published. So while I appreciate the compliments, and I really do, I'm actually left with a grudging respect for the job of columnists. It really is a lot harder than it looks.

I am beginning to see The Way of Improvement Leads Home as a sort of newspaper.  I do a lot of reporting here, some commentating, post a few "classifieds" (such  as call for papers and fellowship opportunities), and when the spirit moves I might even offer up an original piece or two. Though I am glad that my original musings do not have to come as regularly as a full-time op-ed writer,

Thanks for reading.