When Lawrence Booth was interviewed by The Cricket Couch, he said that one difference between blogging and journalism is that bloggers are not required to write to a brief. That freedom presents as many challenges as opportunities – and it’s not a bad place to start thinking about what good blogging looks like. Here’s how I try to meet the blogger’s challenge.
Be bold in finding a voice. There’s no party line, no insider relationships to keep sweet and no editor to please – so the blogger can be as forthright as they like. The equivocations of the first person singular can be avoided too. Everything is IMHO – who else would be writing the blog other than its author and what else is written other than the blogger’s opinion? I cheat a little by becoming The Tooting Trumpet, a device that can come in handy when skirting the issue of sounding a little like Adrian Mole.
Say something different. Blog readers will have already read at least one report in the mainstream press or on Cricinfo. So, if a blog has to give any detail, the hyperlink is a useful format option (“Write what you need to write and link to the rest.”) By omitting detail, the blogger can get pace into the writing – likewise, a healthy contempt for SEO means that a blog need not squeeze in four references to Miley Cyrus in the first par in a transparent attempt at click-farming.
Say it differently. Blogs are not commercial – or not very commercial – so the blogger can indulge in references to pop culture, high culture and er… agriculture. If readers get them, they get them: and if they don’t, well it doesn’t matter does it? I like to use cliches and catchphrases (the T20 team of davidhusseys often crops up) – but I like them to be mine own.
If there’s a chance to be funny, take it. Humour might be the most difficult aspect of writing about cricket and tends to be a niche in the mainstream media. But the blogger can do funny and serious, sometimes in the same piece. Not everyone will laugh of course (sometimes nobody will laugh) but, like telling jokes, if you’re thinking about that, you’ll never get to the punchline.
Use your perspective to your advantage. The cricket blogger can pause and rewind their television feed as often as they like to examine that little detail about which they want to write. The blogger at home can follow the commentary and, in turn, comment on the pundits’ comments. The fact that the blogger has experienced the match in the same way as the vast majority of their readers, can promote a natural conversation. The Press Box is a great place from which to watch and write about cricket, but it’s a perspective that takes with one hand what it gives with the other.
Don’t apologise for being a fan with a laptop. Bloggers are sometimes dismissed by the pros as “fans with laptops” but that can be turned into an advantage. Watching cricket is never a day at the office for a blogger – by definition, it’s its opposite. That enthusiasm and wonder at this extraordinary gift of the game of cricket, has to come through in the writing – if it doesn’t, it’s probably best not to write. For the pro journalist, it is a day at the office and, inevitably, there will be times when that comes through a little. And don’t forget your laptop – almost any fact can, and should, be checked. Just twenty years ago, newspapers used to employ staff in book-lined rooms to do what anyone with a wifi connection can do now in a matter of minutes.
Develop a regular format. If a blogger finds a format that works for them, it’s worth persisting with it. Readers will become used to how it works and bloggers will sharpen their style. I stumbled a little on the “The Final Over of the ….” format to write about matches, weeks in county cricket, series, anything really. It works for me and allows me the odd long hop and jaffa in between the line and length.
Build relationships with readers. The appalling abuse that internet disinhibition promotes amongst the readers of professional journalists, can usually be diffused by bloggers. (“No I don’t get paid for this rubbish.” “It’s not lazy journalism because it’s my spare time and it’s er… not journalism.” “No I’m not frightened of offending friends in the team – they wouldn’t recognise me if I lent them a cigarette outside a nightclub.”) That doesn’t mean that the blogger is immune from unpleasantness, but the blogger can delete the comments and block the person who is typing with their fists. And, in exchange for that shallow downside, there’s the opportunity to meet new friends online and even in that scary place called real life. One’s own enjoyment of the game is enhanced immeasurably as a result.
Live the dream. Well, maybe. Just a little.