The snark of working in public

The art of working in public: In which Robin Sloan writes a great blog post about other people writing great blog posts.

“I have two exemplary pieces of 21st-century writing that I want to share with you. Neither is hot off the CMSes; they’ve both aged just a little in their tabbed casks. They have something deeply in common—though it might not be obvious at first.”

From my point of view, “writing great blog posts” feels like a thing of the past, except for a faithful few inspiring souls who still strive to build connections and point to common threads on the Web, not just curating the work of others, but adding something much more valuable than a pithy comment in the process.

It’s certainly a stock/flow issue these days, but I think so much of what I see passed around these days qualifies as flow: Short snippets, curated clips, a video, an animated gif, the trafficking of cleverness in the form of tweets or stars or likes or plusses or some other sharing system that helps us superglue badges to our vests like so many Indian Guides.

Finding time for stock is tricky. Often I feel like the writing I do here that gets the most attention (as measured by aforementioned counts and scores and RTs and stars and comments, etc.) is quick, throwaway, blast writing (not entirely unlike what you’re reading at the moment, eh?), spun up without a great deal of deep research or forethought.

But I do so admire the Dashes and Sloans and Carmodys et al, who do find the time, and provide us with more than fodder for the sharing circuit.

Where we write, where we blog, where we share

Yes, this is going to be one of the posts where the person writing says something along the lines of: “Gee, I don’t really blog much anymore. You should follow me on Twitter.”

Sorry about that in advance.

At the beginning of this year, I resolved to “write more, but not here,” where “here” equalled Twitter.

Didn’t really happen.

Efforts to blog every day trailed off and failed, and in all honesty, I’ve had plenty of good excuses, given the busy-ness of buying a house, having another kid, and switching jobs, in that order.

When I started this blog, in its first incarnation, days after starting grad school, I followed a simple formula that lasted for a long time: Read blogs, link to them, react to them. I’ve done some original writing from time to time, sure, but so much of what I think of as “blogging” is about the read-link-react/debate/dispute/fisk space.

And that’s fine and good and necessary and conversational.

But I do most of that on Twitter these days.

And when it comes to sharing personal stuff (we moved! we had a kid! we bought the house!), most of that lives on Facebook, where I have more control (believe it or not) over who sees what.

Throw Foursquare and Instagram into the mix — and for legacy photo sharing from my dSLR workflow, Flickr — and I’m able to pretty selectively share what I’m doing, what it looks like, who I’m with, and how I feel about it.

So what’s this blog for?

I suppose its best remaining purpose is as a professional-looking archive of everything I’m thinking about next. More about the future, less about the present. Not engaging in the daily volleys of what passes for current future-of-news events (Wikileaks, #3 on your list is wrong/right/different, it’s a paywall/not a paywall, etc.) but writing now and then about the advances and movements in media and technology that seem to be just past the horizon.

That’s a goal, anyway. I won’t call it a resolution, but it’s a direction.

Now if I could just find some time to write…

…or maybe you should just follow me on Twitter.


When I started this blog, in my first week as a Mass Communications graduate student at San Jose State, it was hosted at Blogspot, and it was anonymous. That lasted for about a month.

Pretty quickly, I signed up for a free WordPress instance at Blogsome, where I enjoyed a bit more freedom to learn html and css by fiddling with the files in the WP admin. It was, and I’m pretty sure that was the point where I started calling it “Ryan Sholin’s J-School Blog.”

Straightforward enough, right?

Of the early posts I’ve preserved, the earliest in my archives, dated February 1, 2005, was about Steve Sloan’s visit to an undergrad-level journalism class I was taking, which I believe was called something along the lines of Internet Information Gathering. Steve talked about podcasting, and smiled when I mentioned I was subscribed to a few RSS feeds as Firefox live bookmarks. Wonkette was probably on my list, and PressThink, maybe Scripting News, and possibly Romenesko.

Nine days later I got Scobleized, and that pretty much changed everything.

By the end of the semester I was taking notes at online journalism panels and blogging them as fast as I could, and Chuck Olsen said that blogs were people (Soylent Green, style, though) and I got it.

That summer, my Web-savvy mom gave me as a present, and I switched over to a hosted WordPress installation of my own, beginning a cycle of design, redesign, and play.

But mostly, there was a lot of blogging. A lot of ideas. A few kneejerk reactions. Some commentary on technology. Some hopes for the future.

When I was in journalism school, I blogged a lot about what I thought journalism schools should do.

When I worked for a newspaper, I blogged a lot about what I thought newspapers should do.

When I worked for a media company, dealing with hundreds of newspapers, I realized every single one of them was different, and trying to tell any of them what they should do was a Sisyphean task of very heavy-duty proportions, and moreso, a bit silly.

I learned to take everything I had picked up about the business of news and apply it in each given situation, instead of writing manifestos about What Newspapers Should Do.

But to rewind a bit, in the middle of 2007 when I worked at a newspaper, I wrote a blog post, slowly, over the course of a few weeks, and posted it at just the right moment on just the right day, and thousands of people read it.

10 obvious things about the future of newspapers you need to get through your head is still the most popular thing on this blog. It’s certainly possible (and probably, given the numbers in play) that one of the Sunday centerpieces I wrote for the Oakland Tribune and its sister papers in the Bay Area in the summer of 2006 was read by more people (the first few grafs, anyway). Likely, in fact. But it was extremely satisfying to see 10,000 page views on my blog post in a day.

Pointing out the obvious to an audience that might not have spotted it yet and then repeating myself over and over again has become, shall we say, my thing.

Occasionally this thought makes me flash back to a conversation with a political science professor who explained why he used so much repetition in his lectures. He said he kept bringing the important concepts up again and again, iterating his presentation of them, using different examples, drawing different diagrams, all in an effort to make sure everyone in the room who was going to understand it, understood it. He gauged reactions with eye contact and good questions, and if he saw too many blank stares, he’d push through the idea in yet another way, or come back to it next week, approaching it from a different angle.

For those of you keeping score, this blog has been instrumental in getting every full-time job I’ve had in the news business. You don’t get to act like someone who has ideas unless there’s some evidence of your ideas out there in the wild.

So as this blog turns five years old and starts asking for bigger and better toys when we go to the store, I must admit I have a few urges.

One is to take my old “Ryan Sholin on the future of newspapers, online news and journalism education” tagline and chop off the prepositional section so it’s just me talking about the future. Of anything. And everything. I’ll do it soon, but you know I’ll keep talking about news and newspapers and publishing and reporting.

The second is to redesign again. It’s been awhile, believe it or not. I’ll get around to it.

But mostly, I’m just going to keep pushing myself to write a bit more here, as per my New Year’s resolution.

Thanks for reading.

About that resolution

Funny thing about writing is that it used to be much easier.

Somewhere around 1991, I became one of those kids who didn’t have their textbook with them in class, but always had a spiral-bound notebook with all sorts of strange numbers and notations on the covers, and nothing but my guts spilled inside, in free verse or prose or illogical proofs, or somehow critically important diagrams that outlined everything my teenage self knew about life.

And the notebooks piled up over the next 10 years, because it was so simple to write, for myself, by myself, in one form factor or another.

But now… Oh, now…

Here’s a short list of things I did before I finally started writing this post:

  1. Started thinking about writing more.
  2. Tweeted New Year’s Resolution about writing more.
  3. Considered Posterous, Tumblr, or a new WordPress blog as possible vessels for “writing more,” which has now earned quotes for itself as it becomes a concept off in the distance instead of a concrete thing I might actually do.
  4. Considered writing a blog post here along the lines of “hey, I might start writing more here about other stuff and less about journalism, because really, I think there’s just about enough of that going around.”
  5. Considered redesigning blog first.
  6. Thought better of it.
  7. Got up this morning, made coffee, etc., fiddled with my superphone checking email, Twitter, Google Reader, Facebook.
  8. Opened the laptop, checked more email, found the above tweet, took a screenshot, got annoyed with laptop, restarted it.
  9. Software Update.
  10. Your MacBook must be connected to a power source to continue.
  11. Opened up WordPress. Distracted by unusually high traffic to this blog’s homepage yesterday.
  12. Fruitless, half-assed investigation of traffic.
  13. Upgraded plugins.
  14. Upgraded WordPress.
  15. Started writing.

Just 15 steps.

Writing more is easy!

Probably related: Go listen to Merlin Mann talk about the perils of getting hung up on getting started. Wait a minute, maybe you shouldn’t click on that link. Maybe you should just… y’know… Start.

Items that recently have caught my attention


The Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2009
Published at Foreign Policy on December 14, 2009.
Global warming, international relations, Iraq, Chechnya, and more — but not the headlines you were expecting. An important year-end list from Foreign Policy magazine, spotted via
From a naval alliance that could shift the military balance of power on two continents to a troubling security gap in the U.S. passport system to a brand-new way to circle the globe, these are the stories that never got the attention they deserved in 2009 but could dominate the conversation in 2010.

Augmenting our Reality: two or three big bangs per page
Published at garciamedia on December 3, 2009.
A fun roundup of what magazines are doing with AR at this point. A bit gimmicky, but an interesting start.

Explore a whole new way to window shop, with Google and your mobile phone
Published at The Official Google Blog on December 7, 2009.
QR codes + Google business listings = Yelp killer? Maybe. But aren’t QR codes so 2007? I thought Augmented Reality was the 2009 solution to this problem.
To scan the codes, you’ll need a phone with a camera and an app that can read QR codes. For Android-powered devices, including the Droid by Motorola, we recommend using the free Barcode Scanner app. For iPhone, we have found the $1.99 QuickMark app to work best, and starting today, we’re partnering with QuickMark to offer the app for free for the first 40,000 downloads.

Sports Illustrated – Tablet Demo 1.5
Published at YouTube on December 2, 2009.

I’m a sucker for any and every slick video about a tablet or e-paper product. This one is the slickest I’ve seen yet.


Write Better Blog Posts Today
Published at Chris Brogan on December 13, 2009.
Chris Brogan runs down some of the textbook tactics of the best professional bloggers. Hint: He’s one of them.
Before you write, consider what you’re seeking. Do you want the post to drive a sale? Do you want it to engage your audience? Do you want the post to handle some mechanical goal, such as receiving more links, more bookmarks, and thus improve the rank of your site? Maybe your posts only serve to point out that you’re the thought leader. Know your goals before you post.

Monday Morning Breslin: A Death in Emergency Room One
Published at Gangrey on December 7, 2009.
A classic Breslin piece from the New York Herald Tribune on the death of John F. Kennedy. Be sure to read the whole thing, then check out the links in the comment thread below to bits of history, rebuttal, clarification.
These things he was doing took only small minutes, and other doctors and nurses were in the room and talking and moving, but Perry does not remember them. He saw only the throat and chest, shining under the huge lamp, and when he would look up or move his eyes between motions, he would see this plum dress and the terribly disciplined face standing over against the gray tile wall.

Peter Gammons: My 20 years at ESPN
Published at ESPN The Magazine on December 12, 2009.
Not a huge Gammons fan, but as a huge baseball fan who came of age while he was reporting for ESPN, I love the litany of anecdotes here, from Jack Morris to Mariano Rivera.
And I watched Fidel Castro stand for and sing along with the U.S. national anthem, because it was baseball, and it didn’t surprise me because Gene Mauch had told me that when he played there in the 1950s, he had befriended Castro and that first and foremost, in Mauch’s words, “Fidel loved baseball the way you and I love baseball.”

The Content Strategist as Digital Curator
Published at A List Apart on December 8, 2009.
This article from A List Apart is mostly geared toward the producer who works with *internal* content — think of the archives of a — but the principles all apply to anyone curating the best of the Web for a given audience.
In galleries and museums, curators use judgment and a refined sense of style to select and arrange art to create a narrative, evoke a response, and communicate a message. As the digital landscape becomes increasingly complex, and as businesses become ever more comfortable using the web to bring their product and audience closer, the techniques and principles of museum curatorship can inform how we create online experiences—particularly when we approach content.


How to Make an Interactive Area Graph
Published at FlowingData on December 9, 2009.
Nathan at FlowingData provides this Actionscript/Flash tutorial on how to build a graph that looks a bit like those baby name explorers and unemployment charts you’ve seen lately.
This tutorial is for people with at least a little bit of programming experience.

Man Promotes Band In The Middle Of Nowhere On Google Street View
Published at TechCrunch on December 4, 2009.
I’m personally fascinated by the physical hacking of the world to insert messaging into virtual representations of the world. In this case, the plot involves tracking a Google Street View car and getting ahead of it to set up, essentially, an advertisement.
After making a sign and keeping it in the trunk of my car for about a month I finally chanced across the google street view car. Then I had to follow it until I figured out its pattern, then get ahead of it with time to set up.

baratunde: “I can reach more people on my Twitter account than the Star Ledger reaches with its Monday edition.” – @CoryBooker
Published at Twitter on December 7, 2009.

Innovation is messy

Michele McLellan has been doing some liveblogging of the Knight Digital Media Center’s Leadership Conference this week.

Check out her notes from Krisztina Holly’s talk about innovation.  Holly mentioned seven myths about innovation; I’m going to flip the proverbial script and turn them into Seven Reasons Innovation is Messy:

  1. Focusing your vision on the core problem means missing opportunities popping up in your peripheral vision.
  2. Fail fast, fail often, move on.
  3. Innovators can be irritating.  Especially to fans of the status quo.
  4. Innovation isn’t about putting together the puzzle pieces; it’s about rethinking whether or not that’s the right puzzle you have spread all over the floor of the newsroom.
  5. All the market research and focus groups in the world can’t tell you how readers, or customers, or users will feel about the product of innovation until they have it in their hands.
  6. By definition, planning and management of innovation can be stifling.  You really don’t want to find  yourself on an “Innovation Task Force” unless you’re really into meetings.
  7. Innovation isn’t a race.  First isn’t always best.  Use the tools that are available right now and build on the work of others as necessary to improve incrementally.

To explore this a little further, take a look at some of Matt Waite’s notes on rolling out Politifact.  Someone had an idea, and someone happened to have a way to implement it.  Getting those two serendipitous elements together was the easy part.  Implementing it took a lot of pushing through versions of the messiness above to make something happen.

RelatedMindy McAdams relays this list of seven steps to writing like a digital native from Bill Dunphy.


Steve Yelvington, on the consequences of removing copy editors from the newspaper equation:

“The dirty little secret of newspaper journalists is that a lot of them can’t write very well. That’s by no means universally true, but it’s true enough.”

Zac Echola, on his vision of a distributed and loosely joined newsroom:

“The Internet is my platform. Not a Web site. Not twitter. Not mobile devices. The entire Internet.”