As many of you know, I recently decided to leave journalism, in part because of its abominable emphasis on page views. With the exception of the Times, every news site must use effective SEO strategies, publish over-the-top headlines, and produce morally reprehensible content to stay competitive. I hate to say it, but all this is necessary in the 24/7 news cycle, so I’m out of the traffic-baiting industry for good.
I’ve never been someone who cares about page views or hits. When I was 22, I enjoyed being a viral writer/editor for TheDC, but I knew I wouldn’t stay in that role forever. I’d often take to this blog, which I started in 2008, to write about whatever I wanted. I didn’t care who read it, I just wanted my own platform. Five years later, I’ve now earned 200,000 views, which is nothing to those who live for high traffic, but it gives me an excuse to reflect on my history as a blogger.
Let’s go back to fall 2008. At the beginning of my junior year at UA, a good friend of mine/former Wildcat colleague, Evan Lisull started The Desert Lamp, which describes itself as “the only free and independent student publication at the University of Arizona.” He’d tried to recruit me full-time a few months earlier, but because I was so new to the Wildcat staff, I wasn’t interested in writing for another publication. Luckily for Evan, the Lamp didn’t need me, and it collected a major award coupled with $10,000 just a year after going live. Though I wouldn’t contribute to the Lamp, Evan encouraged me to create my own WordPress account. At first, I thought I’d use BlogSpot, but WordPress ultimately felt like a better, more professional looking host for my work.
In September 2008, almost five years ago to the date, lauradonovan.wordpress.com was born. I initially focused more on reporting, but once I realized no one was reading my straight news items, I moved to my true love: opinion journalism. I was already writing opinion pieces for the college newspaper, but coming home to my own blog to write about a broad range of subjects was pretty nice. Everything was on my terms, something I just wasn’t used to. I was free, and sure enough, my following grew in a short period of time.
This blog started off as a place for me to ramble about celebrities and news stories that kept me up at night. Reading old blog posts isn’t super fun for anyone, as the first dozen are straight news items and pretty boring, but here’s an early blog post from May 2009 I find particularly amusing and telling of my personality at the time I began writing for the internet [editor’s note: I just added pictures to the old entry].
I wrote the blog post a day after winning the Excellence in Commentary award from the Wildcat. I hadn’t expected any accolades from the paper that year. I’d raised a ton of hell with my columns, threatened to quit twice in emotional bouts of unprofessionalism, publicly fought with the editor-in-chief, and demonstrated the thinnest skin of anyone on staff. I was just 20 years old, but I should have been better than that. Nevertheless, I was rewarded for the very thing that seemed to cause so many problems around the office: being unafraid to speak my mind. That was what Justyn said when he handed me the award (which is pinned to my bedroom wall in NYC — I know I know, I need to get a life!).
The next day, I chose to blog about the unexpected experience, and it ended up setting the tone for the personal nature of my blog, which only documents my feelings and what not these days. It started off as a news blog, but it became something richer, and this entry helped shaped that:
“I was genuinely surprised to get an Arizona Daily Wildcat award for Excellence in Commentary yesterday. From putting out more controversial columns to briefly quarreling with the old editor-in-chief, I’ve come a long way at the newspaper, and I hope to continue publishing good work.
Former Wildcat editor-in-chief, Nick Seibel, with whom I once publicly butted heads, is a good friend now, and I thought he worked hard during his time in charge. He’s funny and personable and I know he’ll go far in his future leadership positions having learned a lot from his DW experiences.
Yesterday, Seibel told me that he has a male friend who passionately hates my articles and my character, even though the two of us have never met. The guy violently disagrees with my politics and everything I write, but according to Seibel, this hater of mine never misses my columns. Every Tuesday, he picks up a copy of the paper just to read my weekly article and then calls Seibel to rant about what a stupid idiot I am. He assumed Seibel’s abrupt removal from the Wildcat was my fault (because a mere columnist has SO MUCH PULL AND POWER that she can singlehandedly overthrow the EIC of the Wildcat), and he seems to complain about everything I put in the newspaper. Basically, I’m Hitler to someone I’ve never met or even known about until yesterday. Awesome.
As weird as it sounds, I’m honored that someone would take the time to hate my writing. He is, after all, a dedicated reader of my work, so as much as he can’t stand my opinion, he can’t bring himself to stay away from it, and I’m glad to be evoking any kind of emotion out of others.
Luckily, I’ve received more writing support than criticism from students, Tucsonans, citizens, friends, strangers, etc. One person said my voice is unique and recognizable, and another said I have the purest writing of anyone he knows.
I sometimes get emails from a non-traditional UA student who thanks me for opening up certain taboo discourses on campus, and as an older student, he was grateful that I wrote about the rift between traditional and non-traditional students because other students started noticing and approaching him with their hands outstretched, quoting my column. I’m glad to have had somewhat of a positive effect on a small group of people.
To the guy I referred to earlier in this post-You may want to seek anger management if you feel so much hatred toward a person you’ve never even spoken with. There’s no reason to despise a writer or spend all that time assuming I’m the devil. Tear apart the columns, not the columnist. Your time will be much better spent if you find something to like and stop shortening your life by hating me so wholeheartedly. It makes me sad for you, because while you’re living a life of hate, I’m having an amazing year writing columns, making new friends, and winning awards.
Really, though, I’m happy to know that I have at least one faithful reader, a hater he may be.”
I still have no idea who that guy is, but I hope he’s doing OK wherever he is — and not wasting his life trashing and fuming about people he’s never met. He’s what we now call a troll, and unfortunately millions of his kind hang out on the internet feasting off the failure and criticism of others. Every once in a while I laugh about the silliness of public figures (i.e., the teen bride aspirations and outrageous music videos of Miley Cyrus), but I’ve never been someone who thrives on tearing others down, and I’m sad to say this guy was just the first of many to try to do that to me. I never learned his name, but that’s irrelevant at this point. Trolls are all the same, so he’s just as much an internet bully as he is a former, or current, UA student.
Though it’s kind of neat to have 200,000 hits on my blog, what I care about most is satisfying my audience and entertaining readers. The moment I stop doing that, I know I’ve lost, because without you — even those of you who dislike me — I can never succeed. I’m not interested in your page views, but I am interested in your perspective and support, so please keep me in check and let me know if there’s anything you believe I should write about in the future. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past few years in online media/journalism/social media, it’s that a writer cannot really be a writer without readers. This is a two-way street, and you’ve more than done your part. Make sure I continue doing mine.