Blogging Back to the Basics
Jeff McIntire-Strasburg, Assistant Professor, Lincoln University, Jefferson City, MO
When I started my first blog, Sustainablog, I saw myself focusing completely outside of my academic interests of modern and contemporary drama, composition and rhetoric, and interdisciplinary humanities. In fact, I held the (perhaps naive) assumption that my blog, which focuses on issues related to environmental sustainability, might open up other career possibilities. Having developed a fascination with the sustainable/green business movement, I thought I might want to make the move to professional writing and marketing for these types of businesses. Sustainablog, thus, started as an effort to build credibility in a field where I had no formal training.
In a number of ways, I have achieved the goal I sought with the blog. I now serve as the editor and creative coordinator of a commercial book project on green business and have landed some volunteer marketing projects. I have even submitted an article to E/The Environmental Magazine about the online community GreenBusiness.net. The blog has helped me make connections with some of the heavier hitters in this relatively young field and establish myself as an outside observer who does understand and appreciate the challenges and complexities of doing business according to both environmental and economic values. Yet, while I’ve enjoyed some marginal success, I’ve also found myself much less willing to leave academia for the corporate world, even if it is a division of that world that works according to my own values. Blogging has reintroduced me to ideas that I once considered from a theoretical perspective in graduate school but now know from a more practical position: Writing is a social act, and a writer develops his/her skills within a social context. Rediscovering these simple concepts has reignited my passion for teaching writing, and blogging has introduced me to new tools and techniques that help me convey this passion to my students. By exploring career options other than academia through blogging, I’ve become a much happier academic.
This transformation came about, in part, because of the conception I had of blogging when I began doing it. I didn’t discover this medium through academic channels but rather through my interest in progressive politics. The word blog brought to mind Daily Kos and Talking Points Memo as opposed to Kairosnews or Weblogs in Higher Education. In this context, I understood the blog as a means of entering an ongoing conversation as opposed to being a place to generate and experiment with original thoughts, a place for engaging with and interrogating published writing rather than presenting a diary or journal. Sustainablog became my space to link to articles dealing with topics like alternative energy, green building, sustainable agriculture, and “cradle-to-cradle” design and to interact with the ideas presented in these articles (if not with the authors themselves). While I wrote entries that looked more like traditional journaling (such as my responses to Daniel Quinn’s novels The Story of B and My Ishmael), my writing generally took (and still takes) the form of engagement with arguments started by others. My typical blog entry introduces the article that inspired the post, summarizes it, and then responds to the ideas. Sometimes I can do this from a position of knowledge, but other times I’m forced to admit that I’m new to a concept. In all cases, I’ve rediscovered the notion of writing as learning and, if I’m lucky, can engage in conversation and debate that forces me to dig deeper in terms of my own argumentative skills, research abilities, and general curiosity. I’ve become Bruce Ballenger’s “curious researcher,” with the blog providing an outlet for publishing my ideas and findings, occasionally even getting feedback from other interested writers.
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