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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Posts Tagged ‘blogging and teaching’

Blogosphere of flying: Leaving cyberspace to become more grounded

Posted by James McPherson on April 21, 2009

Yesterday I gave some of the  reasons why I have enjoyed maintaining this blog, and what might tempt me to continue it (and the nice responses I’ve already had to that post make it even more tempting). I also noted that tomorrow’s post, to be mostly a list of previous favorites, may be my last. (Despite the fact that, as my brother reminded me, I said in passing back in December that I’d be blogging “as long as the power was on.” But hey, Bush and Cheney were still in the White House then; who knew we would  still have affordable energy four months later?)

Anyway, today I’ll explain why I’m at least partially leaving cyberspace. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the biggest reason is the time involved. I loved how one respondent put it yesterday: “the beast that is online journalism,” even though what I do usually isn’t quite journalism.

On some days I have spent hours crafting a blog post that very few people would ever read. Oddly, by far my most popular post (in one-day numbers, not overall) was a four-paragraph piece I wrote in about 15 minutes just before going to bed one night. I typically spend anywhere from five to 15 hours a week doing this. During the past year I’ve written more than 300 posts, and have probably produced more words than were in my first and second books combined.

That’s time that I can now spend doing other things, including other writing. During the past year I have managed to write chapters for the country’s leading journalism history textbook and a forthcoming book about popular culture, but have other more personal projects in mind (including the books of fiction I mentioned yesterday). I might try to rework my doctoral dissertation into a book, if I find a publisher interested in the story of Samuel Day Jr. (the publisher of the Progressive during the 1979 H-bomb case).

I also have at least three other books I’d like to write–one that combines history, politics and journalism (the three areas that I studied for my Ph.D. and which of course also led to my most recent book), and a couple that would be exercises in literary nonfiction. Chances are I’ll also write more letters to the editor of my local newspaper, assuming it survives, and will continue to contribute comments to other people’s blogs. Though I don’t expect it, perhaps I’ll get an “offer I can’t refuse” to write something yet unforeseen.

Aside from writing, I might also get more exercise, play more golf, do more camping and fishing, watch more Seattle Mariners games, or spend more time doing nothing while sitting by the small pond I built in my back yard–mostly things that have the extra benefit of giving me more time with my wife.

Other activities that we or I have barely tried, but have enjoyed and might pursue further, include learning Spanish, kayaking, chess, ballroom dancing, and  learning to play blues harmonica. In short, I won’t live long enough to run out of things to do, even if I suddenly stop finding new interests.

In terms of teaching and technology, I intend to keep learning about it for the sake of (and from) my students. In a comment on yesterday’s post, one outstanding student noted, “I’m interested to hear about the ways you will hope to continue to show that to students if you are not blogging.” (That’s something else I should have thought to mention yesterday about reasons for blogging–it helps keep me accountable to the people I’m working for.)

A year has been long enough to learn what I felt I needed to learn about intensive blogging, and I intend to keep finding new ways of learning along with new ways of teaching. That’s also why a few years ago I briefly hosted a radio program. I never expected to become either a radio celebrity or an Internet star, but I greatly enjoyed both, and in both cases the learning experience was a main point of the activity.

Among the possibilities I’m now exploring are public access television, another radio program, and ways that I might incorporate technology into the aforementioned literary nonfiction projects. In the classroom, I’m bringing in more multimedia, and am seeking funding for flipcams to use in my reporting class. I also would welcome suggestions from any of you for ways to continue to improve my (and my students’) skills.

I do think it is important to try to recognize what you’re trying to achieve with an endeavor, and then to move on to something else when you either get reach your goal or realize that you never will. Of course that’s the same thinking that went into my fighting to get to–and then to get away from–the Presidential Inauguration back in January, and why I strongly dislike the fact that politicians are accused of “flip-flopping” if they change strategies as circumstances change.

If I chose to keep with blogging, readership might have continued to rise. Over the past 12 weeks, I’m averaging more than 180 hits per day, but like most other bloggers I reached fewer readers in a year of blogging than I did in a week of newspaper writing. Yet despite the small readership, my natural competitiveness sometimes makes me take this too seriously. I admit that I check the daily traffic, and want it to keep increasing.

The positive aspect of my competitive streak  is that if I’m putting something “out there,” I want to be able to stand by it and take some pride in it. I’m more careful when writing an argument than when I engage in verbal exchanges. That awareness of “public vs. private” is also why I now make my reporting students post their work on a blog to be read by people other than just them and me.

And speaking of being more thoughtful: I’m a feminist male who was a teenager in the 1970s and who now teaches a “women and media” class, so yes, the Erica Jong reference in the title above was intentional. Those of you who are teaching or majoring in psychology, gender studies, or English lit can now feel free to start your analysis engines.

Besides having other things I want to do (and probably for the sake of continued growth, need to do), I also recognize that there’s already too much hastily written stuff whirling around cyberspace–and no shortage of people writing about the same topics I do. Many of them are idiots, of course–but many others are smarter than I am. Links to several of them can be found on this page, though I’d also encourage you to find some favorites of your own. I’d also remind you not to fully believe any of them.

I briefly considered trying to open the blog up to advertising as a further media experiment, but don’t want to feel obligated to write (even if I have been somewhat obsessive about doing so even without pay). Besides, despite the fact that for years it provided my salary, I hate most forms of advertising. I can’t imagine working hard enough at this to make a living at it, even if I didn’t already have a “real job” that I love.

I will keep the blog alive (as long as the power is on, brother Guy), and may occasionally feel moved to post something. I’ll keep using blogs as a part of my journalism classes, and will encourage students to create their own. I’ll keep reading and commenting on other people’s blogs, including those of professional journalists, academics, students and former students.

Of course if you enjoy my writing, I’d encourage you to read my books, especially the less-academic second one titled, The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right. Or just fire me off an note–if you care enough to find my email address (hint: check “About the blogger”) and send me something, I’ll answer it.

Even if I don’t write more posts, I’ll keep the blog so that I (and others) can keep using  some of the pieces I’ve written during the past year, and especially to provide easy access to the links I’ve put together. I’ll continue to add to those links from time to time as I encounter relevant sites in the ever-expanding blogosphere.

Thank you for joining me on part of my journey. I hope you enjoy your future travels in cyberspace, wherever they may take you.

     Peace,

                                         Jim McPherson

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Media literacy, Personal, Politics, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

Blogosphere and loathing in academia: To blog or not to blog

Posted by James McPherson on April 20, 2009

I created this blog it to try to reach students in a new way while learning some new technological skills and sharing information about two subjects in which I have some expertise. This Wednesday will be the one-year anniversary of the day I started blogging. It also may be my last day.

The blog has proven to be a valuable method for saving Internet links and ideas that I use in teaching and other writing, and to help students (and at least a few professionals) access some useful tools. I’ve been able to share a lot of information and some skills achieved through this experiment that I, and therefore my students, might not otherwise have picked up. An unexpected side benefit is that it actually seemed to boost my credibility–my “cool factor,” as one student put it–with some of those students.

All in all, my year of blogging has been a great experience–interesting, useful and usually fun. I would recommend it to about any teacher, in any academic discipline (though posting weekly might be more rational than my almost-daily approach).

But I’ve decided to step away from regular blogging, and this seems like a logical time. Tomorrow I’ll offer more details about why I’m quitting–or at least cutting back considerably–and Wednesday I’ll offer a list of my previous favorites, in case you want to check out any you’ve missed. Today I’ll note some of the things I’ve most appreciated about doing this.

Though I’ve tried to make the vast majority of my posts about media and politics rather than about me, please forgive this departure into the personal. Feel free to skip this post (and tomorrow’s), but if you’re a fellow academic or media professional interested in some of the reasons you may or may not want to actively participate in the blogosphere, you may want to read on.

After spending a few days at a Poynter Institute workshop and talking to some other professors and journalists about the idea, I wrote my first blog post (a prediction of success for Barack Obama and potential problems for John McCain) last April. But I’ve decided that one year (and more than 300 posts) is enough. And though I’ve been thinking about it for some time (and mentioned it in passing here a couple of weeks ago), my decision caught even my wife by surprise.

By the way, if you’re a regular reader, you may have noticed that I never use her name. She actually appreciates a level of anonymity on the Web and elsewhere, as difficult as that may be to believe in this viral, egocentric, Twitterific, in-your-Facebook, screw-YouTube, blogtastic culture.

Like me, my wife has mixed emotions about my decision to step away from the biosphere… er, blogosphere (and no, the two are not synonymous). She’s happy that I’ll be a bit less compulsive about doing this (and of course will believe it when she sees it), but a bit disappointed that I won’t be sharing my ideas (most of which she likes) so regularly. At least I think that was the mixture of her emotions, and not the other way around–that she’s glad not to feel obligated to read so much of what I write, but unhappy that I may have more free time with her.

Her surprise at my decision came because she knew that I wasn’t bored with or burned out from blogging. In fact,  in some respects it energizes me. I feel more connected with the professional worlds of media and politics, and in some ways more connected with my students.

I’m not stopping because I dislike the writing. Like George Orwell and many others, I knew early in life that I would be a writer, and I love to write in varied ways. My published works include a couple of books, several book chapters, and articles in academic journals, newspapers and magazines. As-yet-unpublished works include a book of short fiction and a partially finished novel.

I love how words work, what Orwell called “pleasure in the impact of one sound on another.” I amuse myself, if not others, with a creative headline or turn of phrase (I hope you didn’t need to read the first five words of today’s headline out loud to get it), giving proof to Orwell’s statement, “All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery.”

Though I’d been warned about “trolls” and other crazies who might find me, and some did, but I’ve never worried much about criticism and frankly I’ve greatly enjoyed most of my interactions with people here (and on other people’s blogs). I take pride in the fact that even when I know I’ll offend people, I try to do it in a thoughtful way that encourages dialogue rather than closing it off. I try to do the same elsewhere, as well: At least one conservative blogger has me linked as the one liberal alternative on his site, as a result of our online discussions.

Via this blog I’ve “met” students who have never taken one of my classes, and have engaged in “discussions” with a number of professional journalists as well as with other bloggers. I’ve been enriched by all those who comment, and am especially grateful for the regulars such as Gabrielle, Luis, Zelda, Grady and Mike (at least two of whom disagree with me more often than they agree).

A few people have been very offended, of course. Blatantly stupid or offensive remarks have come from both conservatives and liberals. At least one parent of a college student has suggested that I be fired from my job as a professor–but the reaction he received from other readers who came to my defense was one of the highlights of my blogging experience.

The professional and student connections I made quickly helped me overcome some fears that blogging might somehow detract from my teaching. I don’t personally know many other faculty bloggers, and though there are some out there this is not a well-tested pedagogical approach.

I did have someone ask me how this might affect my future promotion possibilities, especially since my opinions often run counter to those of many  administrators, donors, students and parents associated with the institution where I teach. My wife chuckled at that question (which she wasn’t surprised that I hadn’t even considered), remembering what she used to call my “continuing efforts to avoid tenure.”

After all, since long before I started blogging I’ve been writing strong opinions in local newspapers, participating in political panel discussions, and joining political protests. More recently, I wore a black armband daily for several weeks to protest and mourn the Iraq War.

Along with a variety of media history artifacts, my office is decorated with items such as a large “No War” yard sign, a poster showing the 1963 March on Washington, a large 48-star American flag, a poster of a controversial Artis Lane lithograph of the Statue of Liberty, a stuffed “George W. Bush pants-on-fire doll,” and a framed copy of the 1979 “H-bomb” issue of the Progressive that led to what should have been a key First Amendment case. (I say “should have been,” because by the time the case was decided, as I’ve noted in both my first and second books, the mainstream media had mostly  given up engaging in the sorts of activities that the First Amendment was designed to protect.)

I do think that the fact that I have been tenured and promoted, and that this blog has actually been mentioned in the university’s alumni magazine, speaks well for the administration and the values of my institution–which a couple of years ago granted me one of its highest teaching awards. Yet most of my students disagree with me politically (further reflecting the idiocy of the “indoctrination” arguments made by David Horowitz and others like him), and those who disagree with me most strenuously tend to be among the students I tend to like most (yes, like parents, teachers have their favorites, and like parents we try to hide it).

I also am not ceasing blogging because I’m in danger of running out of ideas. I typically have parts of more than a dozen drafts under way. Some entries I quickly write and posted on one sitting. Others (including this one) I work on half a dozen times over a space of days or weeks before posting. Some I never finished, and they were eventually discarded or just forgotten in my “drafts” bin. Others I went back to after extended periods of thought or after an event suddenly makes them seem more timely.

So there are some of the reasons why I have reservations about stepping away from this year-long educational exercise. Tomorrow’s post will explain why it is time to do so.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Media literacy, Personal, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »