Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Rethinking Why I Blog

My journey from live-blogging to beat-blogging to transition-blogging to a new state of grace that you might call emergent-blogging. This is going to take a few posts.

I’m still not sure emergent-blogging is the right catchphrase but it will have to do for now. What I mean is that I am now using this blog more and more to grapple with the ideas, projects, etc. I am already working on. I find that writing things out often helps me figure out what I think, what I should be doing next. You just have to be careful not to force a conclusion or a takeaway message.

The Global Health Update was one of the first blogs at Time.com. My co-workers and I launched it as a way of live-blogging TIME’s Global Health Summit in the fall of 2005. I was so taken with the medium that after the conference was over I convinced the powers-that-be to continue the blog because I wanted a place to cover global health news more often and in greater depth that we were able to in the limited real estate of the print magazine.

I quickly learned that blogging was a great way to keep up with global health news—and after TIME’s lawyers finally okayed the comment feed, we even managed to get some great conversations going. Nerd that I am, I loved checking out the web analytics software to see which .edu’s and .br’s and .mw’s were checking out the site. Traffic never grew to Swampland proportions but it grew nonetheless.

And after all, isn't that the point? That you don't need the mass audiences that make traditional media possible? It turned out there was an audience for global health issues and they didn’t all work for the same three NGOs. Also, it didn't hurt that I broadened my reputation as a global health journalist. A win-win, as the B-school folks like to say.

After I left my staff position at TIME and headed up to Harvard for a Nieman fellowship, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with the blog—other than the fact that I wanted to continue blogging about global health. So I turned to Blogger, believing what folks said that the most important ingredient for success in blogging (whatever that means) was to be passionate about something—and I had plenty of passion.

I struggled a bit with how much I should write about what was happening in classes and often played it safe by posting about public lectures (by Ira Magaziner or Tim Wirth or Agnes Binagwaho) and other events. Or I’d post my reactions to some of the ideas and concepts I was picking up (like why the phrase “maternal mortality” just drains you of the desire to do anything whereas a book like Monique and Mango Rains fires your soul.)

Then in October of 2007, I learned about a brewing controversy over Plumpy’Nut, the nutritional supplement that saves starving kids' lives, and the decision by Nutriset (and, I later learned, the French government) to protect the incredibly straightforward recipe with a patent.

My first reaction was to write a freelance piece. But that wasn’t allowed under the terms of my Nieman fellowship. (The laudable idea being that a fellowship is supposed to get you away from the grind of deadline journalism.)

That's when I really started to grapple with the ins and outs of sharing on the Internet.

Next: What Plumpy'Nut taught me.

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