James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist

  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Pimping the blog, and flogging the chimp

Posted by James McPherson on February 25, 2009

While thinking about today’s post, I came across a piece on bloggingtips.com titled, “How to building traffic to your blogsite the natural way.” My assumption is that all of us who write these things do so because we want people to read–and perhaps respond–to our ideas; otherwise we’d keep diaries. But with several million blogs now on the web, it’s obvious that most blogs aren’t being read by many people. For example, despite the fact that I’ve written more than 250 posts, I’ve worked for a couple of newspapers that had more readers every day than the almost 37,000 total hits this blog has had in the almost 10 months I’ve been doing it.

The reason I bring all this up is because of a couple of comments I got yesterday. Since I’m guessing that most people don’t bother to read the comments (I admit that I rarely read them on other blogs, unless I intend to respond myself or just want to get a feel for the ideological range of an ongoing discussion), and because the respondents raised interesting points that I thought worth exploring and sharing a bit more widely, I thought I’d do so here. If you did read the comments, please forgive some repetition here.

Both comments (the first probably inspired the second) noted that I link to a high number of stories from CNN. One said she was somewhat skeptical of my use of those links, because she suspected I was “just trying to beat the system.” She was right about that–I’ll discuss how and why I’m letting CNN help me pimp my blog in more detail below.

The other respondent stated that I “didn’t seem to have a particular strong stand on things” and “kinda wander all over the place letting CNN, etc. power this blog”; she encouraged me to seek a wider range of sources. She also was at least partly right, in that often I do let mainstream news sites (and especially CNN–again, more on that below) set my agenda for the day.

I would note that there are some issues in particular on which I have taken a stand (prompting at least one reader to say I should be fired from my real job). You’ll find repeated complaints about Bush administration lies, the Iraq War, domestic spying, the Patriot Act, government secrecy, the Religious Right, John McCain’s dirty campaigning, voting irregularities, media lying (ranging from talk radio to bloggers to Photoshop), PUMAs, Sarah Palin’s hiding from the press, and Israeli military actions (Palin and Israel tend to draw more comments than most subjects, for some reason). The fact of the matter is, though, after the election there was less for me to complain about, at least temporarily (though I have criticized Barack Obama’s cabinet picks, his plans for Afghanistan, his “selective openness,” his generally conservative nature, and the way the switch to digital television has been handled).

Still, in general I agree that I do “wander” quite a bit within the constraints of “media and politics,” two subjects that allow a lot of latitude. When I’m busiest (as I am now, teaching three classes and advising a student newspaper, among other things), I tend not to do as much thinking or research for the blog as I do at times when I’m less busy. Also keep in mind that my Ph.D. was interdisciplinary (combining journalism, history and political science), so I like making connections between things that other people may not see.

One good thing about doing only one post per day is that there is no shortage of things related to media and/or politics that I find interesting, so on most days (including some days that I don’t initially intend to write anything) a CNN story will trigger something. I do think that CNN gives a more balanced perspective than perhaps any other site, anyway, and I still try to make sure I make posts clear and relatively complete (considering limited time and the relatively short space allowed by a blog post), though I do link to the New York Times, the Associated Press and even Fox News less often than I used to.

As seems to be true for many bloggers, writing a blog also is partly a way of thinking out loud. For me it’s also a way to keep track of things that I think it’s my job to keep track of, some of which I’ll end up using in classes (and might someday use in a future book or chapter). And it’s a way of sharing knowledge with a general audience, something that I think academics don’t do very well–part of why we sometimes get well-deserved “ivory tower””criticisms. 

Though I sometimes make people angry, in general I’d far rather educate (or be educated), enlighten and entertain than to argue. I’ll let readers determine my success at those things. I certainly don’t do this just to irritate people (though I don’t mind doing so from time to time) or to scream at injustice in the world. As I wrote in the “About the Blog” section on my very first day back in April:

“A primary reason for this blog is the same as for many other things I do: my students at Whitworth University. As a teacher of media studies, media history and journalism skills classes, I want to use as many ways as possible to try to connect with and to learn from those students. I hope they–and you, whoever you may be–will join in the conversation.”

Regular readers will know that I also strongly agree with the idea about using other media and seeking alternative voices. That’s why the long list of links down the right side of this page includes links to various foreign newspapers (including al-Jazeera), and both liberal and conservative publications and bloggers. Even so, if I’m just commenting on something that happened, or using a news event as a starting point for discussion, I tend to trust CNN more than most.

There is another reason, I turn to CNN, though, and now I’ll reveal the secret that could in theory (assuming many people read this far) reduce my readership by increasing the number of people who start doing what I do. If you go to almost any CNN story, at the bottom you’ll see a line that states, “From the Blogs.” Click on that, and you’ll see two or three links to “blogs talking about this topic,” and, more importantly for my purposes, tow or three links to “blogs linking to this story.”

Perhpas because I try to combine clear but somewhat clever headlines with simple leads (simple for the computers to understand), I’ve been very successful in having my blog linked to CNN stories. Perhaps for the same reasons, a fair number of CNN readers then come to my site. Today is the 18th in a row that I’ve had at least 100 views, and on most of those days the majority of the visitors came via CNN.

My justification is that in this ongoing experiment I’m trying to boost “circulation” so that people might read a variety of other things that I have to offer. For example, a few days ago CNN stories apparently directly brought 145 readers to my site. Thirty-one more views seemed to come as a result of search engine search terms. But I had 266 page views that day, looking at 25 different posts, so apparently some of those readers hung around.

In addition, some of them come back. Today I’m over 115 page views so far, and only three people came directly from CNN links. For whatever reason, I seem to have developed a small but loyal following, and an unknown number of other bloggers–ranging from a blogger in Thailand to a reporter in South Carolina to a high school journalism teacher in Massachusetts  to a journalism student in Oregon–have permanent links to my site. I also get a fair number of hits from my own students looking for resources, and of course quite a few via search engines. For example, the 25 terms used so far today to find my blog include “famous journalist,” “faith hill made fat,” “crazy chimp,” “flag at half mast,” “khalilzad y obama,” “prediction 2012 election,” “japanese gay married,” “george bush anthrax,” “hannity colmes brother in law,” ” and  “james mcpherson” (I suspect most of those are looking for the famous Civil War general or the famous Civil War historian by the same name).

Increasing numbers isn’t the only thing that matters, of course, or I could simply keep doing what I did as an experiment back on Sept. 11. That day was my second-busiest ever in terms of traffic (topped only by the 876 views I got on Nov. 13, in that case with a lot of CNN help). The week of Sept. 11 and the next remain my busiest weeks, but the idea of repeating that titillating technique bugs me more from a moral perspective than does using stories that do relate to something I think worth saying, anyway. I’d obviously never make it in advertising or at Fox News (and I am frustrated to see CNN, Sports Illustrated and the Huffington Post, among others, also injecting more sex and sensationalism, no doubt for the same reason as my regular links to CNN–to attract readers). I will note that neither of my most popular posts overall–the Sept. 11 post and a July 3 piece about the flag been the most popular over time by quite a wide margin–links to CNN at all. 

 Finally, a note about one other recent comment: In talking about the “crazed chimp” and an offensive New York Post cartoon, one respondent wrote: “How many of you honestly believe they were trying to be racist with the cartoon? If they did make a mistake, are they not allowed to simply apologize for it? Do we as people not forgive people for making honest mistakes anymore?”

Well, as I noted in the orginal post, I’m willing to accept that the cartoonist didn’t have a racist intent, even if he and his editors are fairly clueless. And I fully agree that we should be able to accept apologies and move on–even if that’s not good enough for Al Sharpton, according to today’s reports. But if Reverend Al were the only one offended I wouldn’t have bothered writing about the incident.

Nonetheless, I also believe that those who are quick to be offended should also be quick to try to forgive and move on. That will do more to promote better race relations than probably anything ever done by Sharpton. Let’s move on from the cartoon, trying to learn from it. And please, can we move on from stores about the attack chimp himself? The media have flogged that story long enough.

12 Responses to “Pimping the blog, and flogging the chimp”

  1. Gabrielle said

    I continue to be annoyed at the insistence of the media on focusing so much like dumb things like chimp attacks when a good chunk of our population is on another continent fighting a war.

  2. zelda said

    What do you think about the release of Tim Masters ?
    Was he a weird kid at 15 ????? Why did they think he was responsible for the murder? Why did no one believe him? Did he have a record?

    Interesting case.

    If I were him I would have been screaming every day in that prison in one way or another.Did he quietly just “go to prison” ?????? Chilling. What was his mental status at the time of his arrest?Did his parents make a noise about his arrest? Did they fight to get him out?

    I would like your thoughts.

  3. James McPherson said

    I think most kids are weird at 15, though in different ways. 🙂 I actually know almost nothing about the Masters case, though for me it enforces my distrust in the criminal justice system (a distrust that came partly from working as a police reporter and finding some cops–not all, because I also knew good ones–to be every bit as scary as most crooks). The Rocky Mountain News has a pretty good history of the case at http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/special-reports/tim-masters/.

    By the way, cases like this one (and the case of the guy who recently was cleared after he died in prison), also are why I oppose the death penalty. I think there are people who deserve to die, but I’ve never understood why some of the same people who don’t trust government to handle money trust it to determine who should be executed.

  4. zelda said

    I hope you take time to read up on the Masters case.It’s a blog owners dream in that it will cause much needed discussion.

    I will hook into the link .Thanks

    I hope you open it to discussion on here.

    By the way, I do believe in the death penalty if the evidence is absolutely clear.And I am thinking of the new tech we have that just got Tim Masters out of jail.They are doing a great job on righting the wrongs in this area. The reason I believe in the death penalty is because I am remembering the victim and the heinousness of many crimes. It’s ugly……….. inhuman stuff.

    Thanks James

  5. zelda said

    I read the story about the police set up against Masters.
    Yup…..there are “dirty” cops out there for sure. As you said there is a fine line between some of them and the criminal.I believe these particular ones should be held accountable and have to do time . Lots of time……….at least equal to Master’s.

    I am curious that his family and even he did not do more.That’s odd to me.
    His behavior by his own words at the time was indeed odd.Maybe he is just ODD! Maybe his family is too?!There is something missing there.


  6. James McPherson said

    I understand your feelings on the death penalty. I once favored it, too, and agree that it is deserved in some cases–I just don’t trust people to decide which cases. Thanks.

  7. zelda said

    Well we are kinda stuck then aren’t we? Who would you want to decide the cases?Or what method?

    People are always going to be people.They make mistakes. They murder too. We need to refine our system constantly.

    We can’t distrust it all.

    We need to be watchdogs on our entire system.From the top to the most mundane.
    you know….Presidents, senators,congressmen,law enforcement,murderers,insurance companies,the telephone companies,and bloggers………eh?

    Good outweighs evil…….it’s a scientific fact.The lie is that we are helpless to it . Keeps us under control for those money mongers at the Fed.The whole idea is to rattle our cages and make disorder and distrust of everything.

    There are good people in the law……….we have to learn to keep open to that and not mistrust the system entirely.Or we could just let all the murderers etc. out of prison. Just let them out… poor devils……….And hopefully they won’t kill your children.

  8. James McPherson said

    I don’t have a better solution than the current one, though I would keep refining it so that we make better use of DNA when appropriate, while relying much less on eyewitness testimony (which has been proven to be notoriously inaccurate). I’d also stop letting police departments keep any money or property that they seize from “suspected” wrongdoers–money that the suspects have a tough time getting back, even if they’re found innocent, and money that provides departments with an incentive to target Mexican cars headed back to the border after harvest or construction season.

    I definitely would not let those convicted murderers now on death row out of prison–ever–unless later evidence cleared them of involvement in the crimes for which they were convicted. Of course if we’ve already killed them it’s a little late to let them go if DNA or recanted testimony clears them–and after someone is executed, there’s no reason to keep investigating their claims of innocence.

    As a result, there’s no doubt in my mind that we have convicted and executed innocent people (people far more likely to be black or hispanic men than whites or women–there’s another one of those race complications), and that in those cases the real criminals may indeed be walking around free.

    You make a great point about us being watchdogs. In addition, the criminal justice system is one of many areas in which the news media could do a better job of being watchdogs on our behalf, if they weren’t focusing so much on crazy chimps and crimes involving pretty dead white women.

  9. zelda said

    ooooooooooooooo…………you sound so racist.So “lefty”.I like to be the little bubble in the level that stays on target.It gets wobbly but can right itself with some effort.

    I do not deny the veracity of your statements.It’s just that we should start with ourselves being less incendiary in the way we express our thoughts.Myself included of course.Everyday is a learning curve experience don’t cha think?

    It’s kind of a “what do we do now” deal.

    Add to the problems or add to the solutions.

    I set the problems with each race directly at their own feet.If you don’t want to be thought of as a whore stop sleeping with every Tom Dick and Harry in town.

    Enough of the bleeding heart victim crap.It doesn’t fit in the emerging world.It paves the way to self destruction. It feeds the negative energy that abounds.The good news is that there is POSITIVE energy that works wonders.

    Humanity is on the cusp of either “getting the picture” or becoming extinct.Only two ways about it.We are in the neck of the funnel.

    Let’s be smarter and rise to the idea that mankind can do better with all of us pulling each other along on a positive, evolved, intelligent non ego based sled.

  10. James McPherson said

    While I don’t disagree that we’d all be better off pulling together, the fact is that we’re still not close to equality–there still are “victims.” Not as many as there once were (so there is plenty of room for the optimism you seek), but then you see stories like the one yesterday saying that the number of hate groups in America has climbed by more than half since 2000–must be those eight years of “family values” and “compassionate conservatism” 🙂 (http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/02/26/hate.groups.report/index.html?iref=mpstoryview)

  11. zelda said

    There is no Utopia on the horizon. By the nature of the human beast there will always be some kind of “unfairness” afoot.
    You see I am disagreeing with you totally…………..The point to stop and think of what to do is after realizing the problem. After that the problems are taking a backseat to the solutions. Does it happen overnight? No! Is it easy? No!
    The role of victim gets real warm and fuzzy for those who learn to use it to get by or find self identification.
    Enough already!
    Ya gotta get on with making things more equal (for lack of a better term).
    Your observations fall in the “yeah we know this stuff” area.THEY ARE NOT PRODUCTIVE.
    If we keep beating the negative drum we produce everything counter to change.
    Being optimistic does not mean I am less informed than you are lets say.
    It’s not a Pollyanna take …it’s just common sense to move on and use our brains and understanding of life in the BIG picture.
    Hate groups are filled with people banging the old drums…….Hmmmmmmmmm????
    Stand back and see who is furthering hate and division?????

  12. zelda said

    hahahaha……I meant to say…I am NOT DISAGREEING WITH YOU TOTALLY. Little slip there…….

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