A few thoughts as 2012 winds down on Brome Hill

cropped-steinbach-road.jpgDec. 31 is always a good day to look back — especially since downtown Muscatine is so slow today you almost can’t cross the street for fear of being hit by the tumbleweed.

The Powers that Be at WordPress.com prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. Of course, they’re encouraging WordPress bloggers to post something about these stats. And if I am nothing else, I am an obliging guy.

Becoming a blogger
No. 3 with a bullet.

The report shows that this blog had 36,000 page views in 2012. Nearly all of those happened after my old job was eliminated at the Muscatine Journal on Feb. 27. And one of the early posts I wrote about that experience ranked at No. 3 on my list of most-read posts this year.

A little-known fact is that I actually started what would become this blog at least two or three years ago. And then I ignored it, turning to it only when I had no other outlet to write whatever was on my mind. Since Feb. 27, I have written 225 posts (counting this one) on Brome Hill.

Journal twitterWithout trying to sound overly bitter or critical, the way I used to think still seems to be the mindset of many of my former newspaper colleagues — and not just those at the Journal. There are still too many editors who think about the newspaper first without paying enough attention to what they are doing online or with social media. To cite one example, take a look at the Muscatine Journal’s twitter feed. The automated tweets deal exclusively with headlines from the paper’s website. There isn’t a recent breaking-news tweet in the feed. And whoever manages the account doesn’t use it to follow anyone.

On the eve of 2013, how can anyone think this is the way local news should be done?

As the year ends and the hurt of losing my old job dims with time, I can say I’m better off because of it. I have a new job that I like. I didn’t have to leave Muscatine. And I’m not commuting to Iowa City or the Quad Cities. The eight months I spent in between jobs — while filled with anxiety — gave me time to try new things such as Crossfit. It also gave me the opportunity to learn more about blogging and social media than I ever knew before. What I have learned can be boiled down to: Post early, post often and post regularly if you want to build and keep an audience. And tell that audience something it doesn’t know.

top postsIt’s not as easy as it sounds and I don’t do all of these things well. But all of my most-read posts in 2012, according to WordPress, dealt with local news stories that I tweeted and reported here well ahead of my former employer.

To me, that helps illustrate the conundrum of producing news in the online world. It’s not hard to out report the traditional media. In fact, sometimes it may be surprisingly easy. Nor does it cost much to jump in and go. It’s not as if I had to buy a printing press.

What is hard, though, is to make money at it. My solution to that challenge has been to get a job and blog when time allows.

Since I’m no longer at the Journal, I’m not privy to its plans beyond charging for access to its website. Whatever those plans are for 2013, I hope they succeed for the sake of my former colleagues. I wouldn’t wish for any of them to experience the anxiety and self-doubt I wrestled with in 2012. Well, I might wish it upon the occupants of some of the big corner offices at the Lee Enterprises corporate offices in Davenport, but I try not to dwell on those negative thoughts.

Still, I can’t help but be pessimistic about the local news business, especially for newspapers owned by the big publicly owned chains, so I will close with some worst-case scenarios for what could happen at the Muscatine Journal in 2013:

  • More jobs will be cut. In fact, this is already happening with Ron Steffeson, a longtime graphic designer whose job is being eliminated, I’m told, even if it hasn’t been reported.
  • Don’t be surprised if the Journal tries to sell its building at 301 E. Third St. and lease a smaller office elsewhere, a decision that would make a lot of sense.

I hear from many Journal readers who fear their newspaper will someday be absorbed by its larger sister newspaper in Davenport. That’s not likely to happen, if you ask me. What is more likely to happen is that the Journal will continue to cut staff and eliminate publication days from six per week to maybe three or four.

I’m glad to be done with it and I’m looking forward to better things in 2013.

Happy New Year to those who found this blog in 2012. Thank you for continuing to come back.

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