For the reasons set out in this note, I am ending contributions to the blogs Waldo At Home, and Cooking With Waldo, effective today. I will keep them up until September 1, 2016, to allow time to sift through and see if I want to save anything, and as a courtesy to what I imagine are, in fact, pretty much nonexistent readers, in case they suddenly rematerialize, spring to read the latest, and, finding nothing, wonder, “WTF?”
My thoughts on the topical areas these blogs have covered will continue at Waldo Lydecker’s Journal, which I will continue at least until August 2017. That will be the blog’s tenth anniversary, and a fit time to consider whether it, too, has a continuing reason to be.
On July 10, 1789, Edmund Burke wrote his friend, the Earl of Charlemont,
My time of life, the length of my Service, and the Temper of the Public, rendered it very unfit for me to exert myself in the common routine of opposition: Turpe senex miles. There is a Time of Life, in which, if a man cannot arrive at a certain degree of authority, derived from a confidence of the Prince or people, which may aid him in his operations, and make him compass useful Objects without a perpetual struggle, it becomes him to remit much of his activity.Burke had been in Parliament since 1765, and held office only briefly in 1782-83. His campaign against the French Revolution had been a rhetorical and philosophical tour de force, but did nothing to improve his fortunes. Ahead lay only his last, ruinous quest: the eight year impeachment of and trial of Warren Hastings, the governor-general of India, which resulted in Hastings’ acquittal in 1795. In two years, Burke was dead.
I’m no Edmund Burke. I do think we share an intellectual notion of hitting one’s sell-by date and going to ground, without the more quotidian sense of when is the time to do it. I think I’ve hit that latter flash of recognition in the last week.
I came a bit late to the blogosphere, starting Waldo Lydecker’s Journal in August 2007. It did well, though, building a good steady audience and surviving a cross-country relocation to South Carolina in January 2008. The watershed election of that year was WLJ’s boom time: readership took off, and it was consistently rated one of the most influential political blogs in South Carolina. Andrew Sullivan, then the king of the blog world, cited Waldo several times, each time pushing readership up over 5,000 in a single day. That was, of course, a rounding error in his circulation numbers, but it made me feel I was onto something. On election night 2008 WLJ was a live-blog contributor to a big UK political blog, Iain Dale’s Diary. I thought I was on a roll.
After President Obama’s election, all the political consultant blogs with which I’d done battle pretty much folded up shop. The ecosystem of South Carolina politics is rather biblical, with one fat year followed by three lean ones. Still, I thought I could make something of WLJ, and, to focus it more, spun off Waldo At Home in June 2008. I moved all the arts, music and food posts there.
In October 2009, I got the idea for a sort of online recipe box, and spun out Cooking With Waldo. Both did reasonably well; I hadn’t much expectation of either. They were just sideline projects.
Waldo Lydecker's Journal never took off as the political site I hoped, but had enough of a following to make keeping it going worthwhile.
In 2013 I relocated to North Carolina, and as I tried to reconnect with the political culture of the state I left in 1978, not planning to return, all the blogs turned into cut and paste operations, clipping stuff I found interesting, but with little value added on my part. And so they have remained.
Cooking should have been drowned years ago. 447 posts in seven years is the way to get only 18,750 page views in the bad luck span of one broken mirror. It has had one follower, and if anyone ever commented on anything there, I can’t remember it. The most popular post ever was four years ago this month; of the top ten, only three cracked 100 pageviews.
Home has done better: almost 90,000 page views in eight years. But only two of its top ten posts have come since 2010.
Even Waldo shows signs of incipient senescence, or, at least, boredom. It’s had 163,000 visitors in nine years. I weeded out 8,000 posts, mostly from the 07-08 election cycle, in 2013. There’s 5700 or so on the record, and only two of its ten most popular posts have come since 2010 (the most popular of all, from August 11, 2014, consists of six words: “Well damn. Robin Williams is dead.”) It has only surpassed 10,000 pageviews a month twice in the last five years.
This month, I started a new blog, HB2day, which I aimed to make a clearinghouse on the culture storms surrounding North Carolina this year. It seems to be going nowhere fast. I’m going to rethink it and WLJ this summer to see if there is a new way forward that satisfies me, and gives some value to readers. Starting it, and seeing it lumber down the runway, takeoff uncertain, has convinced me I’ve got no business trying to run five blogs, two twitter accounts, one Google+ page and three Facebook pages.
I veer between two theories of what has changed. One is that the blogosphere has fragmented, what with Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Snapchat, and God knows how many other faster, shorter, hipper apps.
The other is that Facebook has become the big black hole of lesser social media, and will eventually swallow us all. Jessa Crispin, the founder of the highly regarded literary blog, Book Slut, recently shut it down. The Internet’s move from haven for eccentrics with a point of view to the province of big media and Madison Avenue, she wrote in an obit in The Guardian, changed things:
Your revenue stream is linked directly to how many clicks and pageviews you stack up, and that 8,000-word interview with a Nigerian author published in English for the first time just isn’t going to draw the crowds. Which was the most disappointing revelation about the books world: even an intellectual is susceptible to clickbait. They might carry a New York Review of Books to read on the subway, but tweet a link to a slideshow of 37 regrettable Ernest Hemingway-inspired tattoos and they are all over it...In order to make enough money to run a real publication, you have to write about books everyone has already heard of. You have to indulge in clickbait. You have to narrow your conversation down to the one that is already happening elsewhere.It’s a lot like what has happened to classical music radio. The stations that survive are all running a top 50 hits format. Never, except after midnight- even then, many switch to the BBC World Service- will you hear much, if any music you didn't start hearing in cartoons and movies as a child.
Those are my external causes: I am a blogger overwhelmed by the forces of Fate and the Cosmos.
Probably the real truth is I just don’t have that much to say that anyone wants to read,and haven’t for six years. If I ever really did, it is a long time since.
Blogging has been useful for me as my circumstances have rendered me increasingly solitary, and it provided me a way- I imagined- to participate still, to make a contribution to the life of the mind: anyone’s would do, really.
A hard look at the numbers, though, persuade me I’ve been more like a reverse-SETI researcher, blasting endless jabber into space, imagining that someone is reading it, and likes it. A friend of forty-plus years has needled me twice, in six months, for being “the angriest man in America.” If that’s the rap I’ve got in the first year of my seventh decade, I’m probably not far from becoming Grampa Simpson, shouting at clouds.
The great early 20th-century lawyer Elihu Root said most of being a good lawyer was knowing when to tell his client he was being a damned fool, and to stop. I looked in the mirror today and said, well, maybe not stop entirely (St. Augustine comes to mind: “Make me chaste, oh, Lord, but not just yet”), but at least stop being a damned fool.
At Waldo Lydecker’s Journal, I plan to post less often- a decade ago, I was doing a couple dozen a day- but, I hope, better content. If I’m not, please let me know. I’m a crap typist, and I can shut the bugger down and save the hunting and pecking. Otherwise, the bus will keep coming, just a bit less frequently, and on just the one route.