I have to tip my hat to Kevin Guidry of Mistaken Goal for prompting this post. In his comment on Friday’s post about the Northern Illinois University shooting, Kevin brought up some good points about these kinds of blog entries.
There seems to be a difference between “covering major news event in my area of expertise” and “using a tragedy as a means to establish how hip and up-to-date I am, please bookmark my blog and heighten my reader count!” I’m not always sure on which side of that line many blogs fall and the very idea of exploiting an event like this is quite sickening. I’m not pointing any fingers or naming any names as I’m not thinking of anyone in particular but it’s something that should be acknowledged and discussed in the open.
I agree, Kevin. So let’s discuss it.
But first, a bit of perspective on my decision to post about this incident.
When I first got word about the shooting on Thursday afternoon, I was putting the finishing touches on a snarky, self-serving entry about this site’s status as a top referrer to a recently launched blog aggregator. I was taking a Stephen Colbert “I made you!” tone in this particular post. It isn’t a tone I often assume, but on Thursday I was feeling playful, cocky about my status as a top referrer, and anxious to gloat.
Then I was told about the shooting, and I knew that my original plan for the Thursday blog post would have to be set aside. How could I in good conscience post my Colbertesque entry when such a tragedy had just occurred?
So I decided instead to post a link to the CNN story and a screen shot of the NIU website as it looked at that moment. I did so because:
- I wanted to appear relevant in light of this breaking news event. This isn’t a news blog by any stretch, but if news breaks that pertains to the subject of higher ed marketing and communication — and campus shootings qualify, in my view — and I happen to be in a position to post links to the news source or any other useful information, I will do so. I was educated to become a journalist, and I spent enough time in the news business that it’s “in my blood,” as they say. And I am at heart a writer. I love to write, and to report.
- I wanted to capture the moment.
- I wanted to show the screenshot
But tied to this notion of relevancy is the “cool blog” factor that Kevin Guidry alludes to. One of the reasons I blog at all is because I want to be read, recognized, noticed and, yes, linked to. I think every writer (and blogger) shares that same need. One of the things I loved most about my journalism and writing career was to see my byline, or my name on the cover of a book. I still get a rush out of seeing my name on a byline in our alumni magazine. I even like seeing my name linked from other blogs. I’m egotistical. I probably need help.
But I don’t think I’m alone. I’m reminded of a William Faulkner quote that I take to heart:
Since man is mortal, the only immortality possible for him is to leave something behind him that is immortal… This is the artist’s way of scribbling “Kilroy was here” on the wall of the final and irrevocable oblivion through which he must someday pass.
So, yes, I have the kind of ego that desires recognition. Guilty as charged. But does that mean I have exploited a tragedy for my own personal gratification? Before you judge, please, read on.
Just as traditional journalism is described as the first draft of history, so blogging or journalism might be considered. I still have old paper journals in which I jotted down my thoughts of historical events — the L.A. riots after the Rodney King trial, for instance — that capture what I was thinking at that moment in time. Those journals remain private (for now) but one day they may contribute to or form the basis for my memoirs. Who can tell? The difference between blogging in public and writing in private journals is just that: one is public, the other private. Often, however, we bloggers tend to project our personalities, our personal thoughts and our personal biases into our posts. Few bloggers take on the role of objective, just-the-facts-Ma’am reporters. We want to offer our opinions and thoughts about events, to show that we are part of a larger story, a bigger picture, a metanarrative that is unfolding. We are storytellers as well as actors in this story. All the world’s a stage and all that. And we want to capture events, present our perspectives on them, as they occur. Again, is this self-aggrandizing or exploitative? Maybe so. I mean, any blogger who publicly refers to his future memoirs probably harbors some delusions of grandeur.
to illustrate how the campus immediately handled its online communications. Many readers of this blog deal with crisis communications issues, and I thought it might be useful to them. Again, am I providing a public service? Or am I trying to portray myself as an expert in crisis communications analysis? Maybe a little bit of both. Am I capitalizing on tragedy in order to try to build my own reputation in the blogosphere? The cynic would say, Of course.
So, those are some of my thoughts about why I first posted about the NIU shooting. The reasons for my second post are similar. As for why Karine Joly or Brad Ward or Deanna Woolf or any other higher ed blogger posted about the tragedy, I cannot say. Nor can I say why other higher ed bloggers chose not to post about the tragedy. Maybe some of them will comment here to let us know. Or maybe they’ll post on their own blogs.