Fri, 30 Jul 2010 04:49:27 +0000

About eight months ago, I signed a deal with the devil. He said he'd give me a stable job for a while. And I said I would be a blogger.

But, as always with the devil, there was a catch: I had to be a stay-at-home blogger.

About 500,000 words later, I got my first full day off from work. The devil said I could. So I spent the day writing 10 things I've realized about blogging, journalism and life.

1. I don’t work in my mom’s basement: There are some horrible stereotypes about bloggers. People think we work in our mother’s basements, in our underwear, eating huge bowls of Lucky Charms and watching The Price Is Right between posts. It makes a serious journalist come off as unserious.

Well, for me, most of it's true.

It’s easy to mock the lifestyle. But it takes a lot of discipline to work at home. Psychologically, it’s hard not having a separate work and home space.

It took a few months, but I finally forced myself into a healthy routine. I put on pants, bought blander cereals and I weened myself off Drew Carey.

2.  I am like Russell Crowe: Some people think bloggers don’t do their own reporting — that they piggyback off other people’s work. This notion is ridiculous. I don’t just piggyback off other people’s work — I find the best stuff, rip out its soul and put it in the headline.

OK, so it’s not that bad. In reality, I aggregate and analyze.

Each morning, I read (or skim) about 20,000 words to find content. Often times, the best stuff is buried 800 words into a piece, so I guess you could say I’m a treasure hunter, too. And after reading that much, I naturally see patterns — connections — so the analysis comes naturally. Basically, I’m like Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind.”

When I was in the newspaper world, I often criticized bloggers for not reporting. But it’s not everyone’s role to report. In the vast internet world, it’s some people’s job to organize and interpret information. Some people might say it isn’t journalism. That brings me to...

3. The ‘j’ word: Journalists are very protective of the word “journalist.” If you falsely label yourself the ‘j’ word, you’re a heretic. So, when I started this gig, I wasn't sure what to call myself without being flogged by Tim Russert's ghost.

But I thought back to when I could confidently call myself a traditional journalist. And I figured out why, back then, I was so protective of such a broad title.

First off, I felt it was a calling. It was always more than a job or a profession, and I think most of my peers felt the same way. So when some hack came along and put themselves in the same category, they were infringing on sacred territory.

More importantly, though, I felt I had paid my dues. I had to talked to grieving widows and angry politicians, time and time again. And I learned to organize that information into something clear, truthful and compelling. It was hard. It is hard. So when bloggers — in the comforts of their mothers’ basements — called themselves journalists, it wasn’t fair.

But, eventually, I decided I didn’t care what I was labeled. I had a specific job, which sometimes felt like journalism and other times felt like something else. But I knew exactly what service I provided. So I just performed my duty the best I could and stopped being so serious about the 'j' word.

The academics can fight about it.

4. Things I forgot how to do: When I tell people I work at home, the most frequent question is: How is it?

I tell them a story.

A few months ago, I went a week without human interaction. When the exterminator knocked, I opened the door and said, “How what do here?”

Social incompetence — it happens.

5. Things I didn't forget how to do: I still got reporting skills.

When I see something newsworthy happening, old instincts kick in. I can't help but ask questions.

As for my num-chuck and bow hunting skills, well, they’re suffering.

6. Things I miss: I got addicted to the culture of journalism — the high pressure, the intense pride for the craft and the elusive satisfaction of telling a beautiful and impactful story. It was a lot like baseball: Every game matters, tradition is sacred and ultimate satisfaction is rare — but oh so wonderful.

7. Things I don't miss: Also like baseball, journalism is often romanticized.

When I was removed from this journalism community, I became less engrained in the culture — less caught up in the theatrics. It helped me realize that we freak out about a lot more things than we should. I suppose this is true about most fields of work.

8. Tax write-offs: A wonderful perk of working at home: You can write-off the home office on your taxes.

9. Work hazards: Like I said, I’ve published around 500,000 words in the last eight months. It hurts. I have hand cramps and joint pains. I should’ve taken this advice seriously.

10. It matters: I've always said words matter. But it's easy to think they don't when there are so many.

Yet, after writing 500,000 words — and reading 5 million — I finally get it.

Last week, I was reading a story in the Ottawa Citizen — one of 300-some I read that day. And about halfway into the piece, there was one of those perfect sentences that made me smile and cry at the same time. I thought about it all day; I still think about it today.

It's happened a few times now — some writer will arrange a collection of words that says something profound about the world. And when you read one of those sentences, it doesn't matter if the writer composed it in his mother's basement, or if it's journalism or whatever.

When I first started this, I thought the devil had surely tricked me. I read too much, I wrote my hands off and I woke up way to early. But then I started looking in the details, and it wasn't him I found — it was a slice of divinity.