On Blogs – Think like a Journalist

Today, I was reading a blog post.  The article was published by a group that I would consider reliable and reputable.  It was on a topic that I have passing familiarity with, and would like to be better at.  I’m not going to name the post nor the topic, because that’s not the point.  Here’s what went down…

1130 Hours: Read post.  Surprised at the absolutes declared in the article.

1135 Hours: Read it again.  Think that either I’ve missed some really basic lessons on this topic, or that maybe the article has provided some less than ideal guidance.

1209 Hours: E-mail a friend who I know is an expert on the subject.  Ask him to read it and let me know if he thinks it is right.

1300 Hours: Get response from generous and patient friend.  His e-mail (which was longer than the blog post) explains in very clear terms that there are problems with not only the guidance that the article provides, but also how some of the fundamental concepts were represented.

1420 Hours: Go find another post on the same topic by another trusted expert.  Read it and confirm for the second time that my original suspicions about the article were correct.

1430 Hours: Pat myself on the back for knowing just enough about the topic to realize that it seemed off in the first place.

1445 Hours: Go back to blog post to write comment that maybe the article could use a second look.  See that someone has already done that.  Decide not to pile on.

Now, I’ve been watching a lot of The Newsroom and House of Cards lately, both of which have characters who are journalists.  I think that reading blog posts, articles, and books is a lot like being a journalist.  One source is not enough.  If you’re hearing something new or something that contradicts what you think you know, don’t take the article at face value.  Go find a second source, and make sure that the second source didn’t use your first source as their source.  (Caveat:  I do have a list of absolutely trusted writers.  But it is my list, and is based on a lot of factors.  Okay, fine.  I’ll share one.  His name rhymes with Tall Candle.)  Also, if you’re finding conflicting advice, don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Any writer worth her salt is willing to accept some peer review.

And yes, if you’re wondering, I felt very MacKenzie McHale for all of 3 seconds. 

??????????????????????????? (photo from: http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/the-newsroom-2012/images/33579445/title/mackenzie-mchale-photo)

I imagined myself, headset on, shouting, “We’re not going live with this until we confirm a second source!”  Then I remembered that no one but me was consuming this information.  Oh well.

If you’re on the other side of the keyboard and are writing an article you plan to send out into the world, here are a few guidelines to live by:

1) Unless you are 110% sure that your guidance applies 100% of the time, don’t speak in absolutes.  “It depends” is a running joke for a reason.

2) Find someone you trust to tech edit for you.  Heck, find two people.

3) Remember that there are a lot of young database professionals out there who are reading your work in order to figure out how to do their jobs.  Don’t take that lightly.

4) If someone comments on your article and says you’re wrong, engage with them.  They’ve taken the time to read and comment on your work.  Granted, there are trolls out there, but a thoughtful comment demands a thoughtful response.  And keep an open mind.

5) If you’re preaching something that goes against conventional thought, take the time to post links to opposing views.  Help your reader make an informed choice about which advice to follow.

6) Encourage your reader to do their own research with the information you’ve provided.

7) If you discover that you’ve presented bad information, correct the article.  Own it.

All that being said, the proliferation of online resources has made us all better.  Don’t be afraid to put your research and opinions out there.  Just research, verify, and test.  And look for that second source before going live with the scoop. 

Blog on, my friends…

–Audrey

#Meme15 – Why do you blog?

I have a confession to make… Blogging is hard. Staring at a blank page, cursor blinking in that impatient, foot-tapping way, crappy blog ideas spewing from my desperate mind like oil at Spindletop circa 1901.

Pictured: Audrey having crap ideas

“I know… I’ll blog about my cat. I’ll, um, equate my cat’s love of shiny things to my love of foreign key constraints. You know, because foreign keys are shiny. Wait? What? I’m an idiot.” So, when Jason Strate (B | T) proposed the idea of #meme15, I was all for it. Tell me what to blog about? Save me from myself? Sign me up!

This week’s questions are:

1) Why did you start blogging?

2) Why do you currently blog?

Question 1: Why did you start blogging?

Let’s go way back to January 2010. Julie Smith (B | T) and I were talking and we said, “Hey! Let’s do a blog! It’ll be fun! We can write funny stories, be irreverent, and amuse ourselves with our oodles of witty”. I’m pretty sure there was wine involved. We didn’t think much about networking or career development or even education. We just thought it would be fun to do. Some technical blogs can be, shall we say… dry. We name no names. We both like the idea of making data fun. “Hey”, we thought, “we crack ourselves up regularly. Maybe we can crack someone else up”. That’s it. Almost 2 years later, we’re still blogging. We love it. And our reasons for it have evolved. Which brings us to…

Question 2: Why do you currently blog?

Easy. I can name all my reasons in three words: Me. You. Us. Oh, you want details? Gosh, you’re demanding. Okay, twist my arm. I’ll elaborate.

1) I blog for myself.

This is an important principle to me. I blog because I enjoy it. My first rule of writing is: Amuse Yourself. If something amuses me, I like to share the fun. I think that as humans, we’re all storytellers. We want to know that there are people willing to listen to our stories, and what is a blog post but a story? Sure, it might not be Shakespeare, but it’s still my story. It could be called narcissism to say that I want people to hear what I have to say, and that’s okay. Anyone who tells you that they’re 100% altruistic is probably trying to recruit you into their cult. Don’t believe them. They’re going to make you wear burlap robes and ugly running shoes and refer to their leader as Supreme Ultimate Bob. And burlap is so 1990’s.

Trust me. I'm only thinking of you.

Point is, on the day that I don’t get a rush from hitting “Publish” on a post is the day I stop blogging.

p.s. That’s my Gavin, showing off his new winking skills. Watch out ladies!

2) I blog for you.

It’s sappy. I know. But it’s true. Absolutely NOTHING in my professional life makes me happier than having someone tell me that a blog post I wrote (or a presentation I did) helped them do their job better. The idea that something I put out there made somebody else look smart… that’s so cool.

Dramatic reenactment: Me hugging our readers

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=2664

This is part of the evolution of blogging. When we started, I honestly didn’t think anyone was paying attention. Then, I had a few people come up to me and say that they’d read my post on Random Topic X, and that they had a question or that they’d applied my solution. It was a little scary to realize that people occasionally pay attention to my ramblings. I realized that I had a responsibility to be as correct as I knew how, and to continue to share what I learn. And it is so SATISFYING to share information. Try it. You’ll like it.

3) I blog for us.

By us, I mean the SQL Community. A community like ours requires care and feeding. I’ve benefitted in a thousand ways from this loose network of passionate people, and if I’m going to take from the community, I feel an obligation to give something back. If everyone read blog posts but no one ever wrote them, then we’d all be reading the same Microsoft Support articles about Installing SQL Server 6.5 over and over again. Boring. Blogging allows me to contribute to this awesome community while letting my Geek Flag fly.

What? I'm a geek, not an artist.

Plus, I get to have cool conversations with interesting people. Like I said, “Sign me up”.

Blog on, my friends…

–Audrey