Sunday, October 7, 2012

Write On

  In August, I started my fourth year of blogging in the Broken Pawn. I had thought of adding a blurb noting I was entering my ‘fourth year of blogging irreverence’ to the broken pawn picture at the top of the blog, but I never got around to it. I quickly read through my 3 years of blog posts in the past month and while there are more errors than I’d like to admit to, I think many of the posts are top notch and as a whole the quality is improving year by year.

  I write my blog mainly for myself, but after I won a Best Chess Blog award from the Chess Journalists of America, I was asked to write a column about blogging for the quarterly magazine of the CJA, The Chess Journalist. I quickly agreed and am currently working on my sixth column. It would seem that writing about chess blogging four times a year for the hundred or so subscribers of the magazine wouldn’t be that different than blogging itself, but there are a lot of differences. I have a fairly hard limit of a thousand words and as the title of the magazine suggests, the subject matter is limited to chess in general and chess blogging in particular.

  There are 2 decidedly different aspects to blogging that I’ve tried to write about in my column: the writing side of blogging and the technical side of arranging content, promotion, etc... My first column was used to introduce myself to the readership (you can see it here) and my second article discussed attempting to engage your blogging adversaries in respectful discourse instead of resorting to name calling or other insults. I then switched to discussing some technical aspects of blogging with a column reviewing 3 free products to display chess games online and a column discussing the ins and outs of placing pictures in blogs. I returned to a writing topic for my fifth column with a discussion of using boxing as a metaphor for chess. My next column will be of a technical bent with a discussion of how to use Google Analytics to determine where readers are coming from and how to measure a blogs overall effectiveness.

  It is extremely cool to be a columnist in a national publication (albeit one with just over a hundred readers) and there are other benefits as well. When the political survey people call and ask me if I am a member of the media I can truthfully say with an exaggeratedly journalistic sniffle ‘Why yes, I happen to be a nationally published columnist.’ and sometimes the surveyor hangs up. The other big benefit is being able to get many of my chess friends and acquaintances into the pages of ‘The Chess Journalist’. I managed to mention John Flores in a contrast of honest and dishonest people, my sample screen shots of on line chess games included games by Lee Gordon Seebach and Alex Golubow, and my article on pictures will hopefully include the crowd from Zanzibar Coffee Adventures. If everything works out perfectly, my article on chess and boxing metaphors will include the shot of David Skaar and me trading punches at the Iowa State Fair from my August post. The editor told me that the picture may not be sharp enough to include, but I would consider getting that picture in the pages of The Chess Journalist to be a personal triumph equal to the time I was a DJ at a party and got a group of college students dancing to 10 minutes of Brian Eno’s ‘Music For Airports’ without even realizing it.

Could getting this picture of David Skaar and myself published in 'The Chess Journalist' be a greater accomplishment than getting college students dancing to 'Music For Airports'?

  In July, I started to notice a lot of fan articles on the main Yahoo! Sports page. The writers were all signed up to the ‘Yahoo! Contributor Network’. I like to write about sports and signed up to the contributor network, thinking my sports writings could reach a larger audience and if I caught lightning in a bottle I could get a big enough audience to make some money. (you make around $1.10 per thousand page views). I submitted my first article on September 9th. It was a short write-up on the Yankees losing streak and my opinion that their starting pitching wasn’t good enough to win the World Series. I submitted the article and waited and waited and waited three days. The slowness bothered me since I would see fan articles on football games published moments after the game ended. On Wednesday the 12th I received the notice from Yahoo that my paragraph was too long, my title (‘What Happened to the Yankees Season?’) shouldn’t be a question, all numbers less than 10 should be spelled out, and I didn’t cite my sources. By this time I got my feedback, the Yankees had started playing better and I didn’t have the inclination to rewrite a now-dated article. I decided that the Yahoo! Network was probably not for me and didn’t pay any more attention to it until September 28th when I got an email from the Yahoo! Contributor Network offering me five dollars to write a 200 to 400 word swing-state election story.

  I like writing about politics and it seemed like an easy enough story to write so I accepted the assignment and planned to write about it on the weekend. I knew from my first Yahoo! experience that I would need to spell out my small numbers and keep my paragraphs short. I also decided to try not to use any facts that would require me to cite sources. After a little thought I decided to make the theme of my story my opinion that Marshalltown was being ignored in the presidential election based on the very low number of Romney or Obama yard signs compared to large number of signs for local candidates that there were in my neighborhood. l mentioned how even though Marshalltown is not a big town, it is 40 miles from any town over a thousand people as a way to show that it is not a suburb by any means. I also mentioned my age and profession because it was a requirement of the article.

I had a lot of pictures of yard signs to choose from but in the end I chose the one in the middle since it covered 2 yards and was the nicest house.

  I wrote the article on Sunday, September 30th and submitted it the same day (here it is) along with one of the yard sign pictures I took. I was well ahead of the October 4th deadline and prepared for a rewrite, but was happily surprised to see that the article was published less than 24 hours later. I looked at my article and of course I found 2 typographical errors, but otherwise it looked good and read well for a general audience. I got a few of the normal Yahoo! ranting comments along with the ever-present commenter who pointed out four towns within 40 miles with a population of more than a thousand people (Tama and Toledo have 2,000 each and are 20 miles away; Grinnell with 9,000 and Newton with 15,000 are 30 miles away) while calling me a nut job and another commenter pointing out my typos. I’ll have to be more careful about the typos in the future and the next time I describe Marshalltown’s size I’ll just mention that the town has the only Wal-Mart within 30 miles and everyone in the Midwest will know exactly what I’m saying.

  It was quite an ego boost to be published on Yahoo! and my ego felt even better when I got my five dollar payment via PayPal within 48 hours. Aside from the regular Yahoo! readers, I believe my article has been noticed by the major candidates. There has been a huge influx of Romney and Obama yard signs in my neighborhood this past week. During the debate, I felt like Governor Romney was talking directly to me when he said he would cut my taxes, since now that I am a PAID journalist, I could use the tax savings to hire a proofreader to help the economy with some job creation. I might have declared him the winner of the debate if he had mentioned some reliable off-shore banks that I could deposit my five dollars in. Then the next day at work, I decided to spend some of my journalistic earnings to help the local economy by buying a bag of Crunchy Cheetos from the vending machine at work. As I opened the bag and placed it on a break room table, someone came up to me, took one of my Cheetos and said ‘You didn’t build that article. Somebody else made that happen.’ and walked off!