Handy Dandy Blogging Advice!

This weekend, I went up to Baltimore to attend a session of the Fall General Assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The session was called, “An Encounter With Social Media: Bishops and Bloggers Dialogue” and included a presentation of survey results about Catholic blog reading habits, a panel discussion, small group discussion, and then a period where the bishops asked questions of the bloggers en masse and then we switched and asked them questions.

They encouraged us to livetweet the event using the hashtag #bpsblog, which I used to double check if I were the youngest person in the room.  (I was tied with Anna Williams, a junior fellow at First Things).  Anyway, as a young person, I get a little nervous when adults express generic enthusiasm for blogs and social media.  ”Yes!  Yes!  More of this thing!  Try to remember to post frequently.”

 

Content aside, what makes for a good blog post?

There’s not always enough discussion of what to post, or how it might differ from the writing that you’re already doing in your essay for the parish bulletin or whatnot.  I got to talk a bit about form and content at the meeting, and some of it is applicable outside the Catholic blogosphere.

The first rule of a good blog post is that, if you tried to transfer it to another format, it wouldn’t work as well.  So, what are the unique markers of blogging as a medium?  I think the most important fact is that, when someone is reading your blog, they’re online.  That means it’s easy for them to move to a different site or post and keep reading.

So, the magic words are blockquote and hyperlink.  What blogs do better than any other medium is to share references for a conversation.  Go watch this video, and then discuss.  Here’s my take on this article, and here’s someone who disagrees (plus a blockquote and short rebuttal).  There was a big argument in the combox of an old post, go check out the whole thing or get up to speed with these key permalinks.

You can write in more conventional styles (like the non-hyperlinked op-ed or essay), and, if the content is good enough, delightful!  But if you’re trying to figure out whether to start a blog or what to put on it and you don’t plan to make use of the open-link-in-new-tab advantages, it might be worth asking if it’s actually a blog you want to start.

 

Oh no, I’m blogging for an institution!

My sympathies!  This might be a place where blog-as-aggregator/curator works really well.  Lots of the bishops weren’t really sure what a parish or diocesan blog ought to do, and I think Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish blog is a good model.  Share essays, prayers, art, and commentary from all over the blogosphere and comment/expand/make connections where appropriate.

When this idea came up, several people in the room said that curating links wasn’t authentic enough, and that people come to your facebook page or blog to be close to you.  I disagree.  Choosing reveals character.  I might learn more about someone by looking over their bookshelf than having an awkward, half-hour conversation.  And, after looking over the titles on their shelf, I’m probably better prepared to have an interesting coffee klatsch.

 

Ok, now let’s talk about content…

Looking over the survey results, several people seemed dispirited by the respondents reports that they go online to be entertained.  But entertainment and deep content aren’t opposed.  I said to one of the other bloggers at the pub that Catholicism (and a lot of other topics) could us a Vi Hart.  Hart’s math videos are interesting without being gimmicky, and she doesn’t dumb down her material.  Oh, let’s just pause and watch one for a second:

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I’d love to see someone translate the metaphysics of The Last Superstition into fast-talking doodle-y videos, but, luckily for those of us who can’t draw, that’s not the only way to get people’s attention for abstract-seeming topics.  When it comes to talking about ethics and morality, I’ve found that bloggers who do cultural criticism provide great entry points for new or casual readers.

When I write about healthy relationships in the context of Harry Potter, I’m starting from material that people already know and are fluent in.  That way, I’m not trying to teach you a whole new language of technical terms before/while we’re having the discussion.  And talking about the arts naturally lends itself to this discussion, since we like to pick sides, decide why something seems unrealistic or repulsive, or talk about why we’re so in thrall to beauty and whether that’s ok.

Here’s a list of some of the culture bloggers I really like: Rod Dreher, Alan Jacobs, Noah Millman, Alyssa Rosenberg, and Eve Tushnet.  They don’t all blog about culture full time, but I often get a better sense of their philosophy from their theatre and book reviews than any other writing they do.  And that’s when I start itching to try it out, pick a fight, or grab a blockquote and a link and talk to you all about it.

 

Other Patheos bloggers were in attendance for the panel (that’s our post discussion get together shot above), and here’s a linkaround of their reactions and impressions:

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

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  • jenesaispas

    I saw this on twitter definitely something we need to talk more about as the Church.
    I was just marveling a couple of days ago about how bloggers manage to fit blogging in around all their other ‘stuff’.

    Why was Pythagoras using roman numerals, I thought he was Greek?

  • grok87

    Thanks Leah I loved the Vi Hart Pythagoras video!- great fun!

    This isn’t exactly a blog, but a Forum on investing and consumer issues.
    http://www.bogleheads.org/forum/index.php
    Even if one is not interested in investing, the personal consumer issues section is pretty generally applicable and useful.
    http://www.bogleheads.org/forum/viewforum.php?f=11
    The forum is very well moderated and there are no (or virtually no) shills or trolls.
    cheers,
    grok

  • Kiel

    The quote on the picture leading this article reads “I had my own blog for a while, but I decided to go back to just pointless, incessant barking.” Does this picture imply the author is changing from blogging to Twitter? ;-)

    I really do think there is much garbage on Twitter simply because there frequently isn’t a large enough character limit for the author’s opinion (or ego) and reasonable justification for their opinions. However, Twitter is great at encouraging one to express thought succinctly. What do you think or feel about Twitter?

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  • Billy

    “The first rule of a good blog post is that, if you tried to transfer it to another format, it wouldn’t work as well.”

    Great insight! Partly, blogs are meant to be conversational and that goes for social media as well. So, anyone blogging or Facebooking or a tweeting for their parish is going to have to not only be prepared for feedback, but actively seeking it, with all that implies in the not exactly polite atmosphere that prevails on much of the Internet.

  • http://ayearoflivingadventurously.wordpress.com Emily

    I don’t agree with the idea that what you write should only work in the blogging/internet/online format. I see blogging as a great way to get ideas out there, to have discussions with people all around the world, and to share information. The immediacy of the format is also appealing, as is the creative control. There are no editors in blogging–I’m my own editor.
    Now, when I’m writing about Church issues, yes, it’s great to be able to link to CCC passages so people can get that in real time. But I think a good blog entry also has to work as a good piece of writing.
    I use one of my blogs to talk exclusively Catholic stuff. Sometimes I have links, and sometimes I don’t. Really, linking gets sort of annoying sometimes. It’s great, like I said, if I want to bolster a point or attempt to show proof of something. But I think a blog is mainly a place to share thoughts, ideas, writing–and that can be done sans any hyperlinks.

  • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

    The concept is first to do it and they full take advantage of the medium. Think of the TV ads in the 1950′s. They worked but they were pathetic by today’s standards. They got on the new media first and learned how to use it later. Fr Baron is another example. He made a lot of simple videos. Just get on camera and do something. Then he made the Catholicism series. You need to crawl before you dance.

    The other key is to have the heart of an artists. The Catholic faith has historically inspired great art. Don’t try and get the bishops to plan it. That is not the way it happens. Find young people inspired by the faith that have artistic talents.

    For the new media young is important. I know Leah is not THAT old but it disappoints me that she was basically the youngest one there. Teenagers are huge in new media. Old guys have a role as providing more depth and content but the young people will be able to attract attention. They are energetic, sexy, fearless, and fun-loving. A great gift to the church.

    • Ted Seeber

      Hate to say it, but she was one of the youngest ones there because huge numbers of us Older Catholics have simply failed to transmit the faith to a younger generation.

    • Iota

      > I know Leah is not THAT old but it disappoints me that she was basically the youngest one there.

      You can find younger people, if you think of “new media” as not just blogging.
      See e.g. http://www.youtube.com/user/SheIsCatholic

      Even on Patheos you will find people younger than Leah (Marc Barnes of “Bad Catholic” for one, although personally I don’t like his blog half as much as this one here)

      Unless, of course, what you meant is that she was the youngest invited to that particular meeting…

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  • http://backoftheworld.com Ryan M.

    As a math teacher who makes frequent and liberal use of Vi Hart’s videos, all I have to say is: yes! Catholicism needs a Vi Hart!!!