I was told this week that I need to post here more often. That will be a challenge, but here is a draft of the column I wrote for Saturday’s Muscatine Journal:
Try to teach an old newspaper guy to dance and he’s more apt to learn other lessons.
To an observer, it may have looked as if Pat Burnette was simply teaching a clumsy newcomer Tuesday night at the free ballroom-dancing lessons offered by Performing Arts Muscatine.
And she was. But Burnette, 60, was also illustrating a point I had made earlier that same day to a Muscatine Journal reader. This lesson had nothing to do with dancing – something I’ve been trying to learn for about a month because:
A. Once upon I time, I used to really enjoy Western swing dancing.
B. I’ve been trying to lose a little weight and this seemed like a fun and easy way to get some extra cardiovascular exercise.
C. When the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa rolls around next summer, I’d like to maybe dance a little when I’m not biking.
But no one will ever confuse me with Fred Astaire, a fact documented by the many toes I’ve already accidentally stepped on at the Orange Street Theatre, 701 Orange St. This includes Burnette’s when she isn’t dancing with Paul, 65, her husband of 40 years.
“You’ve been practicing,” she said at my third lesson. “You’re getting better.”
She then went on to ask about several things I’ve been doing, but have not written about in these newspaper columns. I wondered: How does she know this stuff?
“I’ve been reading your blog,” she said.
Maybe it was because I was so focused on keeping time (slow, slow, quick, quick), her answer didn’t sink in, or, maybe, I’m just a bit thickheaded.
Finally, however, I realized she has been reading the personal blog I started a year ago to write about whatever crossed my mind that might not work for a column in the Muscatine Journal.
To some of my friends, I’ve joked that this blog is read by my mom and maybe five other people. After all, it has been viewed only some 2,700 times. It only has 15 subscribers —at least 10 of whom I actually know. And I think only four of them have ever written any of the 84 comments that have been posted.
On a much bigger scale, the same is true for larger websites, including muscatinejournal.com. Coincidentally, this was a point I tried to make Tuesday in an exchange with an online reader.
He had questioned how an editorial about vandalized Share the Road/Bike Route signs could rank as the No. 1 story on muscatinejournal.com. Other stories have more comments from readers, he said, but don’t rank as high.
“Doesn’t it seem strange,” he said.
But the number of readers who post comments at muscatinejournal.com is a miniscule percentage of its total number of readers. And there isn’t a direct correlation between the number of comments posted on any story and the number of times it has been viewed. In fact, obituaries often rank among the most-read stories and rarely have any comments attached to them.
Readers who post comments, on the other hand, are a small, but vocal group. Their numbers and importance are often overestimated by me, along with some of the targets of their criticisms and some of the commenters themselves.
The truth is there are far more Pat Burnettes out there — people who read many websites and seldom, if ever, post comments.
Burnette says she reads about 80 blogs, mostly on topics such as crafting and sewing —and only occasionally posts comments on any of them.
“I’m a lurker,” she said.
As I tried to avoid her toes, Burnette served as a good reminder of how many people may read these words. Some read them in the newspaper while others read them on the Journal website or on my blog or Facebook page.
I grateful they are reading this regardless of where they read it. And Burnette’s reminder is one that will stick in my mind even if the steps to the fox trot don’t.