Sunday, April 6, 2008

Death by blogging

When a NYTimes article includes a qualifier like this--

To be sure, there is no official diagnosis of death by blogging, and the premature demise of two people obviously does not qualify as an epidemic.

--you know you're in for a ride. That Times disclaimer follows this obituary recitation:

Two weeks ago in North Lauderdale, Fla., funeral services were held for Russell Shaw, a prolific blogger on technology subjects who died at 60 of a heart attack. In December, another tech blogger, Marc Orchant, died at 50 of a massive coronary. A third, Om Malik, 41, survived a heart attack in December.

Other bloggers complain of weight loss or gain, sleep disorders, exhaustion and other maladies born of the nonstop strain of producing for a news and information cycle that is as always-on as the Internet.

Since Malik, who survived the heart attack, is also a technology writer, there's always the possibility that it's tech journalism, not blogging per se, that's lethal. But the overall effort to paint blogging as an extreme sport (they even mention that it "may be a young man’s game") seems to be quite a stretch.

The Times continues:

The pressure even gets to those who work for themselves — and are being well-compensated for it.

“I haven’t died yet,” said Michael Arrington, the founder and co-editor of TechCrunch, a popular technology blog. The site has brought in millions in advertising revenue, but there has been a hefty cost. Mr. Arrington says he has gained 30 pounds in the last three years, developed a severe sleeping disorder and turned his home into an office for him and four employees. “At some point, I’ll have a nervous breakdown and be admitted to the hospital, or something else will happen.”

“This is not sustainable,” he said.[…]

Blogging has been lucrative for some, but those on the lower rungs of the business can earn as little as $10 a post, and in some cases are paid on a sliding bonus scale that rewards success with a demand for even more work.

I can't say I've made it up even to the "as little as $10 a post" range, although once TJ at Loaded Orygun arranged for me to get in free to hear Storm Large sing the national anthem, so of course there's that to be factored in.

But, apart from the natural stress that comes with living large, is the grueling, 24/7 pace of blogging a health hazard in itself? Some think so:

Speed can be of the essence. If a blogger is beaten by a millisecond, someone else’s post on the subject will bring in the audience, the links and the bigger share of the ad revenue.

“There’s no time ever — including when you’re sleeping — when you’re not worried about missing a story,” Mr. Arrington said.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we said no blogger or journalist could write a story between 8 p.m. Pacific time and dawn? Then we could all take a break,” he added. “But that’s never going to happen.”

Are we bloggers all racing the clock like Jack Bauer, hissing "Damn it! Right now, Markos is our only lead!"? Only one missed political rumor away from myocardial infarction?

Honestly, as I review my morning, it's more like the memoir of a drudge:

I was up at 5.38am this morning, relentlessly driven to shut off radio when "The Puzzle Master" comes on "Weekend Edition: Sunday." Grabbing a bottle of water--personal hydration is critical to survival as a blogger--I sat down at the keyboard to post about Charlton Heston's death, which apparently had occurred last night sometime between 8pm Pacific and dawn. I knew I didn't have a millisecond to waste if I wanted to scoop Blue Oregon--it's the kind of story those guys live for over there. I struggled through several YouTube clips--some as long as four minutes, including the end of "Planet of the Apes" and the beginning of "Touch of Evil'--looking for something that would set me ahead of the competition. In the corner of my monitor screen, the system clock clicked over remorselessly.

Between about 6am and 7am, I got caught up on the overnight news. Four different blogs list the panelists on today's Sunday news programs. I could feel a vein in my temple beginning to throb.

At around 7am, I fixed breakfast. (Tech bloggers take note: I had heart-healthy oatmeal and decaf Earl Gray--probably the only reason I'm still here to write about breakfast.)

After breakfast, and until about 8am, I read editorial cartoons for my weekly toon post. I liked Jack Ohman's cartoon about the China Olympics in Thursday's Oregonian, but should I include it in this week's list? I re-heated the last of my tea while I agonized: Ohman: In or out? Decisions like that are a lonely burden, I can tell you.

I'm honestly not sure what happened between 8am and 9am. Are blackouts and lost time experiences a symptom of blogging pressure too, or only of alien abductions? Anyway, I do remember that at 9am I took a half-hour nap. (Mr. Arrington, take note.)

Driven by the relentless 24-hour news cycle, I awoke from my nap at 9.30am. I checked Blue Oregon--they still haven't moved on the Heston story! What mind games are they playing with me over there? Those bastards have icewater in their veins.

From then until shortly after 11.30am I wrote this week's Spanning the State. Usually I write that on Saturday night, and set the system to publish it at 5am Sunday morning--I figure the thought of me up and blogging at 3am will freak out the competition. Better their coronary systems than mine. But the pressure of apiary jokes begins to wear me down. Timing--apiary jokes are all about the timing. It's brutal. Sure, Stapilus is good, but he doesn't have to do bee humor at Ridenbaugh Press; he could never understand the pressure. Easy to see why Carla bailed out of doing StS for something less stressful.

It took me until almost 11.45am to get the system to accept and post Spanning the State--a couple of faulty html switches. Had to preview it three times. Now I know why presidents seem to age before our eyes.

As the clock marched inexorably toward noon, I suddenly realized: The paper edition of the Oregonian was still on my front stoop--unread. I feel the darkness settling in . . . .

The Times story ends with this vignette:

For his part, Mr. Shaw did not die at his desk. He died in a hotel in San Jose, Calif., where he had flown to cover a technology conference. He had written a last e-mail dispatch to his editor at ZDNet: “Have come down with something. Resting now posts to resume later today or tomorrow.”

"Posts to resume later today or tomorrow"--a fitting epitaph for any blogger.

(Image via Wikipedia.)

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