Monday, 14 November 2011

Screw The King

In the republic of the word

By Mark Cantrell

ONE of these days I’m going to start blogging.

Hang on, though, isn’t this a blog? Well, no. Sure, it’s a blogging platform, but I started this site as a place to post my writing work rather than to actually blog per se.

That’s why it’s filled with poems and fiction, newsy bits (the ones that catch my eye – a hangover from a writers’ newsletter I once edited, but that’s another blog), comment pieces and essays, not to mention the odd feature article, and plenty of stuff plugging my writing elsewhere.

Since I am a writer and a journalist, the site – the blog – reflects that and though it might tend towards the literary, it also has a tendency to reflect the themes and issues that interest me: political issues, human interest, social affairs, a range of stuff, old and new, and frankly it does sometimes become my ‘pulpit’. So, what’s the point of having a blog if I can’t pontificate every so often?

Content is supposed to be king. We hear the mantra invoked like some profound snippet of ancient wisdom and most of the sages who proclaim ‘content is king’ tend to leave it that. Well, in my experience they do anyway. Thing is, all too often, this monarch is naked – if not actually dead.

The word doesn’t mean much by itself, even less in the context of that proclamation, without some thought as to what the content actually is – and who and what it is for. Face it, content isn’t content – it’s a news story, it’s a piece of investigative journalism, it’s a poem, a horror story, a romance, a fluff piece about a holiday resort, it’s a page three model with her tits out, it’s… well, you get the picture.

Naturally, content is aimed at a particular audience, some more general than others, some rather more tightly defined, some of them overlapping more readily than others, but some of that ‘content’ is what people want, while some of it is what they feel – or at least what the content creator considers – they need.

Content isn’t worth a damn without the concrete substance of what the content is and what it is for, nor is it worth much without some idea of the audience and what they want and need. And some of it hooks easier than others. That’s the way it goes. We can either accept this, or subject everything to a blind popularity contest that kills everything but the one with the highest bid. All hail the King!

To be honest, when I hear someone proclaim ‘Content is King’ my impression is that they don’t give much of a damn about the content or the audience. They just want to crunch the numbers – get more hits, more viewers more readers – and content is just a ready vehicle to keep the counter ticking upwards.

No bad thing, one might say. Got to give the punter what they want, after all, and if the numbers keep rising, then all is well and good. No doubt that’s fine, so long as one doesn’t become lost in the numbers – that way leads to an ever-narrowing focus and a stagnant range of material.

Here’s a quick-fire example: I work on a housing magazine, print and web version, and every two weeks we do an email newsletter. As a trade journal, we have to reflect a wide variety of industry news and features on a wide array of topics, from business matters to social issues, but the stories with the most hits on our newsletters are frequently accidents and deaths at work.

Now what does that say (apart from our readers being a bloodthirsty lot)? Content is King, so let’s follow the numbers in a crude manner and cull everything that doesn’t get the highest scores – before long we’re not a housing industry newsletter but a venue for blood and guts horror stories that just happens to be read by people in the housing industry.

Well, so what? The King has spoken, his subjects have taken up the cheer, so we must go with the numbers and hang the rest, right? That’s fine, if you care little for the content, for the readers, and the nature and purpose of the content – and content, incidentally, is rather more than just one item, it tends to be a package.

Sooner or later, we’ll see those skyrise stats drop off a cliff as the readers start to get the information – the news and the features on other matters – they need from other sources. So much for the numbers game.

Some material will naturally find a readier audience than others, fictional or factual, poetic or personal, but we follow the numbers blindly at our peril – for that way leads to an ever-narrower alley where the same old phrases echo endlessly in tireless repeat.

So what’s all this got to with my website, with my note-to-self that I start actually blogging rather than just using a blogging platform, and what am I trying to say about my varied and diverse writing exploits?

The clue is in the word I used above: package. This is mine. My pot pourri of words, poems, features, essays, stories, comment and – okay – outright rants, and let’s not forget my novels, they are all part of a complex whole and this site is intended to reflect that multiplicity in the work it presents. Naturally, I want to share that work with those who might gain some satisfaction out of it, but if I follow the numbers blindly, how many will I exclude?

Sure, give your readers what they want, but remember that readers are many and they are diverse – so why narrow them down unnecessarily – and it is also important that a writer remains true to their writing as well as their readers. Sometimes there is going to be an inevitable disconnect between the two. Some of my work will naturally attract a smaller audience than others, while other aspects will simply prove less attractive. It’s the nature of the game but the essence of a writers work is no one individual story, poem, feature or novel, but the sum totality of their words and the ebbing and flowing tides of readership.

Focus too much on one aspect of my writing, that which appears to draw the strongest hits, then I am not only narrowing my range, I am also imposing restrictions on readers. Go with the flow, not the numbers, and remain true to the writing – because that’s how one attracts readers over time.

There is perhaps one aspect missing, hence my suggestion that I start blogging, and that is me: too much, too often, I prefer to stand aside and let the stories and poems speak for themselves, but I figure I really ought to speak for myself a time or too. Consider this the start, then; another thread to weave into the rich garment of my writing, and a little colourful personality too. Well, I’ll do my best.

One thing I have no intention of doing is bowing to the threadbare monarch; I am no subject to bow down but a republican. My voice shall be raised within the amphitheatre, no matter whether I carry the numbers or stand in dissent outnumbered. These are my words, share in them at will or leisure, but don’t deny them to others because they don’t add up to your numerical favour.

So, yeah, one of these days I’m going to start blogging.

The King is dead – long live the Republic!

ENDS

Mark Cantrell,
Stoke-on-Trent,
13 November 2011

Copyright © November 2011. All Rights Reserved.


Category: BLOG

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