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Blogging About Blogging - Is Blogging a Career?

I'm currently taking a class called 'Online Journalism' in grad school.  Every few weeks, we have an assignment called a 'Thought Paper', which is a pretty free format essay on whatever topic related to online journalism we like.  In short, it's basically a blog post.  After I finished my first one, I posted it here on Clips Nation, because, hey, why not?  It's all very meta, but we're not above a little navel gazing around here.  At any rate, here's my second one.  It's more introspective - and frankly not as good as the first one.  But it's not without merit.  As always, if you're only here for the Clippers, if this high-falutin' talk don't interest you, then don't read it.

The essay is after the jump.

I'll warn you up front - I don't really know where I'm going with this thing.  In my experience, it's not usually a good thing when I sit down and start writing without knowing how it's going to end.  But sometimes the process of writing helps me understand the situation better, and by the end I learn something I didn't know at the beginning.  I hope this is one of those times.

In class this week we've spent a fair amount of time discussing the financial viability of web 2.0 'killer apps' like Facebook and Twitter.  I don't pretend to have any idea what's going to happen with either of those things.  I do think it is completely fascinating (and perhaps unprecedented) that something can be an overwhelming popular sensation and an abject financial failure at the same time.

More apropos to my own situation of course is the potential for the financial viability of a blog.

I had no intention of making money when I started blogging.  Interestingly, many of my fellow SBNation bloggers absolutely do plan (hope?) to make a living at some point.  I certainly had no idea when I started that I'd still be sinking so many hours into this thing three years down the road (and I guarantee you my wife had no idea).  But it almost goes without saying that I've discovered something here that I enjoy doing, and wouldn't it be wonderful to think that someday, perhaps in the not too distant future, I could actually make something approaching a living wage doing it?

I think, as it stands now, that blogs are quite sustainable - but blogging is not.  If that seems like a contradiction, let me explain.  No, there is no time... let me sum up.

A successful blog may be a little bit like the Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride

Roberts had grown so rich, he wanted to retire. He took me to his cabin and he told me his secret. 'I am not the Dread Pirate Roberts' he said. 'My name is Ryan; I inherited the ship from the previous Dread Pirate Roberts, just as you will inherit it from me. The man I inherited it from is not the real Dread Pirate Roberts either. His name was Cummerbund. The real Roberts has been retired 15 years and living like a king in Patagonia.'

Ultimately, it doesn't matter who the specific person is at the helm - and no one wants to be the Dread Pirate Roberts indefinitely.  So the DPR recruits and trains his replacement and retires to an island somewhere.  (The difference here is that the DPR retires incredibly wealthy.)

Clips Nation may be a bit about Steve Perrin, aka ClipperSteve.  But at this point, isn't it more about the Clips Nation community?  (By the way, this finally explains the pirate ship on the Clips Nation logo.)

In that sense, what SBNation has done is pretty clever - they own the URL ClipsNation - if I decide I don't want to blog anymore, they'll just get one of the more active members of the community to take over the ownership (authorship, editorship, bloggership, helm, whatever it is that I do).  This has happened already with several SBNation blogs and usually it's a a bloodless coup  - the blogger who helped build the community wants to see it continue. Bright Side of the Sun is on it's third lead blogger in three years, and it's a strong as ever.  The founder of Peach Tree Hoops actually defected to ESPN in December- but the blog continued with barely a hiccup in it's monthly growth.

It's a good strategy for the company, but it leaves the blogger completely in the hobbyist category - putting lots of hours into an enterprise with essentially no remuneration, and walking away with nothing at the end as the enterprise continues to thrive (at least from a page views standpoint, if not from a revenue standpoint).  If that's the way it ends up going for SBNation, it's a strange but potentially successful buisness model - think about it - the most important and productive employees of the company are working for free indefinitely!  With over 200 people currently blogging for the network and very little expense associated with them, surely SBNation can make a go of it, even if web advertising remains relatively depressed.

So what of the blogger?  Is there a living to be made here?  Can I show up at my daughter's school on career day and talk about blogging?  The short answer is I don't know.  There may be a handful of independent bloggers out there talented enough, with large enough followings, that they can generate substantial advertising revenues all on their own.  More likely, blogging is a way to establish one's writing bona fides and find a paying job as a writer.  I'm in J-School hopefully to develop some additional skills that might make me more attractive to those potential employers (or, more cynically, to try to eliminate some of the road blocks others might throw in the way, to get all the check marks on the form during the interview process if you will).  Of course, I'm trying to do this at the exact time that thousands of experienced journalists are being laid off.

I had an interesting conversation with a reporter at the Clippers' training facility the day of Blake Griffin's workout.  She was freelancing, covering the story for the AP, having been laid off from her paper months before.  I told her that I was a blogger, that I would like to make a living at it, but that it didn't look very realistic given the landscape.  She was probably feeling more than a little negative, but she insisted that I was much better positioned for the jobs of the future than she was - she seemed to think that an experienced blogger learning to be a journalist had some sort of an advantage over an experienced journalist learning to be a blogger.

We'll see.  Quality writing will continue to be in demand, whether the writing is ink on dead trees or pixels on screens.  I don't think anyone really knows what the media landscape of the future will look like.  I'm just hoping that I can maybe be a part of it.