monoblogue turns eleven

To borrow a phrase from Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel, I have to give this post that extra push. Whether that push is over the cliff or not remains to be seen, but this website is going to 11.

Once again I’m writing this “state of the blog” address on its anniversary. Since this is year 11, I don’t have to be as fancy as I was last year with “10 from 10″ – just one post will do. That’s a good thing because, to be quite frank, this past year was a brutal one for this site that I would rank as the worst, for a host of reasons. Maybe it’s the realization that it may never quite be all I wanted it to become since I just don’t have the resources or talents to make it so. And almost everything I’ve tried to do recently has failed to make an impact.

So I came to the decision back in July that this could not be an everyday endeavor going forward. The reward just hadn’t been there for the effort I had been putting in, either in readership or political change.

I have had the same program count my readership for nearly a decade, so I have a pretty good idea of what the numbers will look like in any given year: even-numbered years generally outperform odd-numbered ones because this is, after all, a political-based site so interest will peak coming into an election and wane for awhile afterward. (Since only 32,000 people live in Salisbury and only a tiny percentage of them bother to vote, municipal elections really don’t help the readership cause out much. Moreover, I don’t even get that modest benefit next year because the city adopted a system similar to the state of Maryland: all of last year’s winners are set until 2019, so there’s no city election in 2017.) With Maryland’s four-year election cycle, this makes 2012 the most comparable year to 2016 – and unless I hit a readership number in the next month I haven’t had in many moons I won’t even reach half that 2012 level. Simply put, since the 2014 election my numbers have been terrible in comparison to my peak years of 2012-14. For 2016 they may not even make it back to my previous all-time low year of 2009, which was be the similar point in the cycle as 2017 will be. I never really got the October peak my site usually gets in an election year, but what’s done is done I suppose.

Another conclusion that I reached last year was that I couldn’t do justice to my Shorebird of the Week series, so it’s gone by the wayside. And given the paucity of other long-running features such as Weekend of local rock (just four volumes in the last year) and odds and ends (only six this year, and one since March), this site is undergoing a transition to a completely different look and feel that reflects my own changing priorities. (That’s not all my doing, though: I will miss having Marita’s columns each week, too. Hopefully Cathy Keim hasn’t forgotten me, either.)

One of those priorities used to be that of being a reporter, but because of the aspect of political change I haven’t recently done a number of on-the-spot posts I had previously done – and they’re not coming back. Because I decided I couldn’t support a particular candidate, there was no longer a monthly Republican Club post, reports related to events I would attend on their behalf such as the Good Beer Festival, Autumn Wine Festival, or Lincoln Day Dinner, or the other “insider” stuff I used to receive. (As an example, the Maryland Republican Party will elect a new leadership slate on Saturday – and I haven’t seen or heard a thing about it, as opposed to the contested elections we had in the spring when I was still on the Central Committee.)

Perhaps that’s why I didn’t get the October bump, but then again if you were reading this site just for that sort of reporting you were somewhat missing the point. And if you’re on a jihad against me because I wasn’t a good Republican who fell in line to support Trump (as many of my cohorts did, for the sake of party unity) you probably don’t understand the philosophy I live by. If the choice is between my conscience and increased readership, I will choose the former and live without the latter, every time. We all have choices to make in life and I made mine.

So now that I’ve gone through all the doom and gloom as well as the murmurings and disputings, allow me to look forward. And yes, despite the lower readership numbers, there will be a forward. The site is paid up for the next year so I may as well use it every so often.

Where I see this enterprise going is that it becomes more of a teaching tool, and part of that is because of another project I am doing simultaneously with this website.

We have three elements at work here: first, we have the results of socialism and government overreach that arguably were rejected with the latest election returns. (At least they were rejected in enough states to put Donald Trump in the Oval Office.) Secondly, we have the premise that President-elect Trump will govern from the center to center-left rather than the Right, at least on balance. Most of his “alt-right” supporters are surely disheartened with his transition as he’s backed away from several campaign planks and placed those who didn’t necessarily support him in positions of authority, but I never expected Donald Trump to be a doctrinaire conservative in the first place. This premise leaves the distinct possibility that some faction of the GOP will not back Trump on his proposals like paid maternity leave or increasing the minimum wage, among others. For those issues Democrats will cross the aisle to support him, probably in return for additional liberal folly.

Thirdly, and most importantly, there is an argument to be considered: was Trump a product of a conservative wave that gave Republicans resounding victories in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, or was Trump’s election a populist revolt rather than a conservative one, meaning conservatism as governing philosophy is back to the place where it was before Ronald Reagan? Corollary to that, one has to ask whether the TEA Party movement was extinguished by Donald Trump or is he their logical extension?

Truth be told, I was thrilled by the TEA Party because I thought the populace was finally coming around to where I was in terms of political philosophy, and I embraced it. So the question above is fascinating enough to me that I am underway with a book that will answer these arguments and questions for me and (prayerfully) many thousands of other readers. It’s something I am truly enjoying researching and writing, so I will ask your pardon if this website isn’t updated on a daily basis. Answering these queries is going to take some of my time, although I now enjoy the advantage of having a little more of it being away from the active political world.

So the book will address the third part of my above troika, but the philosophy of this site will ponder the first two elements, as well as those issues I care about within the states of Maryland and – to a more limited extent – Delaware. I’ll still be doing the monoblogue Accountability Project, for example. It may not be the type of content you’ve come to expect over the first eleven years, but I’m still striving to make that content I write of the highest possible quality.

For your consideration, that is the push I’m going to give you when I take this site to, and beyond, 11.

The writing game

I wonder if people thought Marita Noon’s final column was actually about me since I hadn’t posted in several days. (However, I did a little work on the site and updated the SotW Tracker page.) But you may recall I made some comments at the end of her post regarding what she had chosen to do in her career beyond writing in and about the energy field.

Something you may have missed earlier this week ties into the plight of the energy worker, and it’s a shame Marita won’t be commenting on it here on my site. On Tuesday the United States Geological Survey (USGS) came out with the news that a west Texas oil field could be “the largest estimated continuous oil accumulation that USGS has assessed in the United States to date.” They estimated 20 billion barrels of oil could be recovered, which would supply our needs for three years just by itself. (Ironically, this field probably lies deep under Marita’s house.) It’s great news, but with a catch: the price of oil needs to rebound to $60 to $65 a barrel to make this bonanza worth recovering economically. According to an oil industry expert quoted by CNN:

Morris Burns, a former president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, told KWES the low price of oil - currently around $46 a barrel - means the oil will sit underground for the foreseeable future.

“We are picking up a few rigs every now and then but we won’t see it really take off until we (get) that price in the $60 to $65 range,” Burns told the station.

Many years ago I remember the price of gas getting under a dollar a gallon; this was probably back in the late 1980s/early 1990s. At the time oil had plunged to about $10 to $15 a barrel. For consumers it was great news but for oil companies and workers it was a desperate time. A few weeks before her “retirement” from energy writing and commentary, Marita had wrote what seemed like a counter-intuitive piece concerning the slowly increasing price of oil. But if you look at it from the perspective of an energy worker, the best of all worlds is a price where demand stays constant but profitable. Oil scraping $30 a barrel may have dropped our pump prices close to $1.50 a gallon but it was killing the domestic energy industry (which several OPEC members wanted it to do, as the U.S. is now their major competition.)

By the same token, Marita began her career in the energy field at a time when oil prices were sky-high and we truly needed to work out ways to make ourselves energy independent at a lower cost. (One such idea I played up in the summer of 2008 because it was done with such humor was the “NozzleRage” campaign. Unfortunately, their answer was a government mandate for flexfuel cars and additional requirements for ethanol.) But these prices also came with the benefit of sustaining the industry in such a manner that the fracking revolution created a boom in the energy industry and made previously dormant regions like the Dakotas and west Texas economically attractive again. (North Dakota, in particular, was depopulating prior to the Bakken oil boom because there was little there to attract young jobseekers who were abandoning the state in droves – by 2005 it had the largest percentage of residents age 85 and older.)

And Marita was sharing in that boom – as she noted, her “field of dreams fundraising model” was getting her enough $500 annual donations to provide a reasonable living. But as the industry suffered, her own revenue sources withered and it eventually led her to dismiss her PR person and in the end chased her away. (Had Hillary Clinton won, the result of her withdrawal from the punditry game would likely have the same but surely Marita would have considered herself a failure.)

In a roundabout way, this brings me to a point I began to make the other night: writing for a living is a difficult game at which to succeed. I found this out several years ago when I was out of work and tried to make a go of it – there are too many people out there chasing too few dollars, particularly in general interest writing. When I reviewed political websites during the campaign I openly questioned whether the people some hired to write their copy even lived in the country, which I can do because I have had to compete with people who can live on a few dollars a day. A penny per word nowadays is a huge amount to make for an article, but even if you wrote 5,000 words a day that doesn’t fly in America. Yet on competitive writing job sites you’ll often find people who are willing to take half that – or less – just to write copy. (And that doesn’t count the old adage used to trap aspiring writers who get convinced to write for nothing because “it’ll give you the exposure you need.” Yeah, right. Expect to double your salary every week from that point.)

So when a polished and experienced writer like Marita, who wrote several motivational and Christian books under her maiden name Marita Littauer and the energy columns under her initial married name Marita Noon (she has since remarried, but maintained the name for professional reasons) can’t make a go of it, one has to wonder what’s in it for others in that same predicament?

Now I have never done a “field of dreams” fundraising approach, although I have been known to “bleg” every once in awhile. And it brings a smile to my face when I see someone actually clicked the donate button up top and chipped into my PayPal account. But as I have told you when I left the political party game (and slowed down on my own writing pace to some degree) part of the reason I stepped back was to write a second book – hopefully learning from the mistakes I made with the first one. That will continue nonetheless because I believe I will be making important points and contributing to dialogue going forward. The same also goes for this website – I really meant to write this column Wednesday but was sidetracked for several reasons. So you get it late Saturday night instead.

Sometimes I wonder, though, if my priorities are quite where they should be. Truly I enjoy writing, but I also have to make sure to be a good Christian, husband, stepdad, and employee. So I may never get back to (or even arrive at) the place where some said I had to be to maintain a successful blog, meaning lots of content updated frequently. After all, I often get the opportunity to sell article space on my site for dubious reasons, probably someone else’s marketing scam. I’m not going to damage my brand like that.

But the reason I went into this spiel is to make it plain I can understand why people get so frustrated with the writing game. We seem to be the last thing people need, but I happen to think we are the most indispensable people out there when it comes to making sense of the world. For that reason, Marita’s insight (as well as that of several others I have known through the years) will be missed.

Trying to help?

November 14, 2016 · Posted in Bloggers and blogging · Comment 

It’s amazing how many people want a piece of this website. For instance, over the last two months I have received three e-mails following up on this appeal:

Hi Michael,

I am currently working with a news outlet, I noticed your site has published a very interesting article, which is why I think a collaboration between us could work well.

We would like to feature a bespoke piece of content on your site, which we think would be of great interest to you and your audience. For the privilege of being featured on your site, we would be happy to offer you a fee of $50.

We hope to hear back from you soon.

I write a lot and think I have a pretty broad vocabulary, but I had to look up what “bespoke” meant:

made to fit a particular person; also : producing clothes that are made to fit a particular person

Yet despite the fact the writer made me look something up in the dictionary, what he conveniently forgot was to add for whom he’s currently working! Nor does he cite which of my many interesting articles he was referring to. Obviously this makes me quite suspicious because I have built up a brand (such that monoblogue is a brand) and he wants me to put it at risk for $50? Very, very shady – yet I wonder how many people take him up on it? After all I just did have a server fee to pay.

Needless to say, the answer is no. I like my bespoke pieces of content to be written by this bespeaking person or the other two who I allow to contribute.

And then on my other e-mail address was this:

I am contacting you with an advertising proposal: we are seeking to publish one permanent article with one DO-follow link on your website Monoblogue (monoblogue.us).

The link inside the article will point to a real-money online gambling website.

The article in question will be original, unique, and good quality. It will be provided by us, and it will be relevant to the topic of your website, or have the topic you choose. (It won’t necessarily be an article about online gambling).

Please, if you are open to such deals, reply with a price for such an article under the above conditions.

Besides, please let us know if you own or maintain any other websites that we could include in our deal. Maybe we can even work out a bulk deal for multiple articles.

Thank you in advance.

So this person wants me to promote online gambling? I don’t care if it has a “dofollow” link or not (SEO is not something I worry about with this site anyway – I write in my own style) nor is that sort of advertising worth any price to me. The fact I sleep soundly at night, confident in what I place on my website, is just another enhancement of the brand I have built.

And these solicitations often make me wonder who the article writer is on the other end. Chances are it’s someone from a third world nation/non-native English speaker who is getting a dime for an article he or she dashed out in 15 minutes for a content mill. And because writing is so easy to come by, they are killing the industry for good writers. (Trust me, there is a difference. I may not be a great writer, but I still have clients who pay me rather well for what I do if you figure it on an hourly basis.)

I think I will return to this subject in a day or two (for reasons you may understand by then) but suffice to say the answer to both is no. To paraphrase Patrick Henry, I guard this website with jealous attention and suspect anyone coming near this precious jewel.

The road I’m taking

Now that I have made my way onto the exit ramp, perhaps this is a good time to alert you about where I may wish to go.

I was told that leaving the Central Committee would be quite liberating, and I can see that being the case. Then again, I probably wasn’t your typical member anyway – early on, one of my cohorts was very concerned about my website and, honestly, he had some good points. Over the years I learned just how far I could take certain things and when it was right to keep things under my hat. I mentioned in my announcement post that I wouldn’t be covering certain meetings or the state convention anymore, and I have to admit there were a lot of readers for the state convention posts. But I suspect the next one will be more of a wake anyway, and I’ve already done my share of those.

It’s worth noting that my website predates my tenure on the WCRCC by about a year, since I was formally sworn in back in December 2006 at one of those wake conventions I noted - it was immediately after Bob Ehrlich lost and we found out the MDGOP was thousands and thousands of dollars in the hole. Among the things I wanted to do early on with my site was to speak about issues, which led to this comment about my site in 2006. (The original is lost, but the quote was placed here.) The author of the quote is Stephanie Dray, who was once a Maryland-based blogger (and part of the erstwhile Maryland Bloggers Alliance) but graduated to be a successful writer of historical fiction:

“This blog about Maryland politics is located in Salisbury, and that’s a good thing. In any discussion of Maryland politics, the Eastern Shore tends to be neglected. Monoblogue attempts to pick up the slack. Unusual for conservative commentary, the tone of this blog tends to be wonky. There’s a slew of useful links on the right-hand side, and it’s filled with content. A handy resource for those looking to learn more about Maryland politics.”

I know I have maintained a fair share of issue-oriented writing, mainly regarding manufacturing, the energy industry (which is how I became acquainted with Marita Noon), and other business-related items, but I think it’s time to focus more on that wonky tone in preparation for a post-Trump conservatism that will be infused with a heavy dose of libertarianism. One question I may need to ponder upon in these writings is the conflict and tension between the ideas of libertarianism and the authority placed on us by faith and religion. It’s argued that we cannot legislate morality, so how and what distance from the straight and narrow shall we place the guardrails?

So instead of doing so much reporting and interpretation of events - particularly on the horserace aspect of elections, which I know I concentrated a lot on in the 2014 gubernatorial campaign – I’m looking to shift focus and begin exploring the benefits of limited government. In addition, there are certain cultural influences I think need to be broadcast and expounded upon. (That’s one reason I miss having Cathy Keim’s commentary on my site, but I’m sure her hiatus is just temporary.)

That is the first lane of my road. In the other lane is a project I’ve started on, but progress has been somewhat slow. Once I clear some commitments out of the way, though, I’m hoping to have more time to write my second book. Instead of being based on a series of blog posts I did like So We May Breathe Free was, this will be all original writing.

As one who was a member of the TEA Party movement, I have experienced this political phenomenon firsthand. There are many who have written the obituary of the movement, but I think there’s a need to look at the entirety of the TEA Party era, explore its impact, and, if its death has already occurred, do the autopsy. It’s the basic premise of the book I’ve started to write, although as I do research I’ll be interested to see how my theories bear out. Perhaps it was really all a mirage.

Just as a Christian is called to be in this world, but not of this world, perhaps stepping away from active participation in the political process may be the best way to have a perspective on it. While I was bad at it anyway, now there’s no call to be an apologist for the actions and views of our candidates Donald Trump, Kathy Szeliga, and Andy Harris. Truth be told, I’m sure that even Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton aren’t completely bad people, but neither of them is a person of their word and we always need honest leadership.

When I was a child, we always looked up to those who would run for President. Richard Nixon resigned when he failed to uphold the honor of his office, but otherwise it was a situation where, while you may not agree with the people who ran for President on a political basis, you still found them trustworthy. Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, George H.W. Bush: all fine men who differed in their political views but were men of character.

But when Bill Clinton ran for and won office, all that changed. The Democrats of the last 24 years (Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton) seem to be flawed individuals. Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney were not perfect, either, but I thought them honorable and decent in character.

Unfortunately, 2016 is the election of the flawed individual. I’m actually saddened that my involvement in the political process has coincided with the coarsening of political culture, and I feel that maybe the better step is to proceed as a recovering (albeit very low-level) politician. It’s been said that those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it, so my job now is to attempt to change history’s course in some small way by enlightening people about the advantages of liberty and, perhaps, the benefits of spiritual liberation.

That’s my road. I’ll surely be moving at a slower pace than I used to, but feel free to follow along nonetheless.

It may be time for some changes.

July 10, 2016 · Posted in Bloggers and blogging, Personal stuff · 1 Comment 

This is a hard post to write, but I think it’s necessary to be forthright to my readers and followers. So here goes.

I just looked up some numbers and since 2007, with the exception of a few months in 2009 when my world was turned upside down and inside out in a number of ways, I have posted on this site practically every day. In fact, there were a number of months around election time when I was manic and averaged almost two a day. Somewhere along the line I made the commitment to myself to post every day because I was told, in order for a blog to succeed, it needs fresh content on a regular basis.

The original intention in adding Cathy Keim and Marita Noon to the mix was to supplement the content and hopefully bring the average back to about 10 posts a week. Now I know why Cathy has been missing from these pages and I have no issue with this – she is definitely still valued and when the opportunity presents itself again on her end I look forward to a lot more content from her. By that same token, I enjoy being among the first to read and share Marita’s valuable opinion. It’s not going anywhere, either, and I will try and keep it on its normal Tuesday slot.

But there comes a time when you decide the effort isn’t being rewarded enough. It simply could be I’m not taking the time to promote and market my site properly, or it could have a lot to do with my overall disillusionment with all things political.

However, the solution could be as simple as realizing I’m overdoing it.

I don’t think my posts show the time of day they were put up, but quite often I have written something quickly over the last two hours of the day, between 10 p.m. and midnight. And the reason for this practice was that I didn’t want to miss days. I have had the attitude for the longest time that I owe it to my readers to have that calendar on my site filled each day, and whether the content is really that good or not started not to matter so long as the date was checked off.

But at long last I’ve come to the conclusion that this attitude isn’t fair to my readers and supporters. So with a simple relocation of a widget I don’t have a calendar on my site anymore, and I won’t be a slave to it. In fact it would have had a blank space for yesterday because I decided on the fly as I wrote this last night this was a better post for Sunday.

I guess this whole thought process started when I decided this would be the last year for Shorebird of the Week because I couldn’t do it as well as I thought it deserved to be by only going to about 15 to 20 games a season. (Looking at my folder that I put my photos in, I see that just past the halfway point I have been to only eight games so far this year.) But while SotW has become a little more of a chore than I wanted it to be, I still enjoy updating my Shorebird of the Week tracker and doing the Hall of Fame post each year. That will be enough to amuse me after I wrap up the week-to-week challenge of selecting a Shorebird of the Week when I go months without seeing certain players.

And then there’s the political reporting. I used to be at all of the events and meetings with my notebook and camera, but since the demise of the local TEA Party and several associated groups there’s not nearly as much to report. There’s also the fact that my work schedule is not as flexible as it once was, so I have to miss events - one example was the Kathy Szeliga announcement tour Cathy covered for me. (She also helped me out when a Second Amendment event coincided with my honeymoon.)

I have also realized, though, that I am much closer to the end of my active political career than I am to the beginning. With the prospect for certain changes on the homefront thanks to where Kim and I both work…well, let’s just say that I won’t be returning as the WCRC secretary after my current term is up and leave it at that for now. (They already knew this when I took the job this year, though.)

Once you take all these things in combination, I have come to the conclusion that less can be more and quality should outweigh quantity. So the idea going forward would be to do fewer items but ones that carry more weight, which hopefully will allow me the freedom to write the second book that’s been on my mind awhile and work on other issues like my health. Waking up in the middle of the night wondering if you are having a heart attack isn’t fun – luckily, it was symptoms more associated with walking pneumonia.

Will it affect readership? Maybe, but I figure I’m down to the most loyal fans anyway at this point. And they react the most and best to the pieces I take the time to write from the heart rather than just reaction to a press release or someone else’s work. So I don’t think they will go anywhere and will still stop by fairly often.

But if I come home from an event or meeting at 10:00 at night now I won’t feel obligated to write something that bores me just to fill the space by midnight. I think of it as addition by subtraction, and the change will do me good. I appreciate your support as I make the site better.

More online media bites the dust

May 7, 2016 · Posted in Bloggers and blogging, Business and industry, Politics · Comments Off 

Those who actually watched and paid attention would have known this days or weeks before I did, but this morning I received an e-mail announcing the demise of PJTV, the video arm of the PJ Media internet site. The reason I didn’t pay attention is because if I’ve watched PJTV a half-dozen times, that would have been accidental – not to say that it was or wasn’t quality work, but I’m the type of person who would rather read the State of the Union speech than waste an hour watching it. Movies and television really don’t interest me all that much, although I’m fine with watching a ballgame on the tube. And thanks to the power of the internet, the PJTV contributors will still be getting their message out on their own.

Still, I have a soft spot for PJ Media (which used to be Pajamas Media) because, once upon a time, I was a contributor to their site. (I was their Maryland state correspondent for the 2010 election, since we were considered a possible swing state with a key gubernatorial election, and also contributed a handful of articles like this one in the months afterward. They paid very well for the latter.)

But the site has changed since I was last contributed there. While it was once primarily political, in recent years it’s gone to a more general-interest site where increasing emphasis is placed on non-electoral areas like parenting, faith, and lifestyle. (It still features one of my favorite writers, Victor Davis Hanson, though.) Presumably the more or less modest amount of advertising they have on the PJMedia site (which has improved itself graphically over the years, evolving to a relatively clean design that reminds me of the of the homepage I have with the Microsoft Edge internet browser I use) is enough to pay their bills.

On the other hand, the PJTV side was a little confusing because it was a mix of free and subscriber content. Obviously the subscription base wasn’t enough to justify the continued expense, as a Daily Beast story by Lloyd Grove (which references the ubiquitous unnamed “former employees and outside observers”) claims:

Several former employees and outside observers described the two enterprises as money-losing ventures whose advertising revenue and online traffic—8.3 million unique visitors in the first quarter of 2016 for PJMedia.com, according to a Google analytics tracking figure provided by a PJ Media spokesperson—were hampered because much of PJ TV’s content was behind a paywall and available only to subscribers. (The spokesperson declined to specify the number of subscribers, explaining that the information is proprietary).

8.3 million unique visitors in a quarter translates out to about 92,000 a day. Even being generous and saying 10% were PJTV subscribers, that’s only 9,200 daily viewers and you have a hard time getting advertisers with that audience.

And having written recently about Erick Erickson’s struggles to get The Resurgent off the ground (which doesn’t feature its own video channel and may have to scrap its subscriber-based model, much to my disappointment) it’s becoming clear that the political audience is becoming so fragmented and fatigued that they are just tuning out. This particular cycle has become less about issues and more about celebrity, and it’s very hard to compete with that with political commentary even if it is on the humorous side.

Naturally the creation and demise of enterprises on the internet is nothing new, and survival is tough - I have outwitted, outplayed, and outlasted probably thousands of political sites over the years, but at some future time the end will come to this one as well. There are a number of websites and ideas that I have been a part of, such as Red County, Conservative Weekly, and American Certified, which failed to last. All of them reached a point where the time and effort placed into keeping up the website as opposed to other, more productive pursuits outweighed the satisfaction (or revenue) one got from creating the content. I decided early on this would not be all political because if it had been it wouldn’t have made it two years, and even on my site I have started and stopped various features when they became too much of a burden. For example, spending three hours transcribing a phone interview every week because the software to do it wasn’t affordable to me led to the demise of Ten Questions.

When I was much younger, half a lifetime ago, MTV was blamed for shortening the attention span of youth to a point where their education was suffering. Johnny couldn’t read because he was not interested in a 50-minute English class. Perhaps the same is happening to long-form entertainment such as a TV network, such that PJTV was.

But the real issue is that we are spoiled: the internet is more or less free, although you pay a provider to place you there. What I think PJTV has become the latest to find is why should people pay for content when they can get comparable entertainment for nothing? I don’t have that answer because, if I did, this wouldn’t be an enterprise which probably pays me millage per hour to create. (Is this an appropriate moment to remind people I have a “donate” button?)

With the absolute mass of content now available thanks to the World Wide Web, there really is no such thing as “must-see TV” anymore. PJTV won’t be the last to learn that lesson.

An open letter to Erick Erickson

April 11, 2016 · Posted in Bloggers and blogging, Business and industry, Personal stuff · Comments Off 

Dear Erick:

To begin, I’d like to thank you and Bill Blankschaen for writing You Will Be Made to Care. I was pleased to be selected as one of those who received an advance copy for review, and even more pleased with the final result. Again, I was “intrigued by the direction that it went and by the emotions this book took me through as I read through it.” So congratulations for its success, and know that many of us appreciate you bringing up this necessary discussion as subsequent events have placed religious freedom squarely in the headlines again.

At around the same time as YWBMTC was in its final stages of editing and initial promotion, you were embarking on a journey which interested me as a blogger: trying to succeed with a sponsorship-based advertising system. As I wrote on January 11:

I’ve been impressed with (Erickson’s) new website, one which I can read without being overrun by annoying pop-up ads and false story breaks that only serve to increase page view count (in order to extort more money from would-be advertisers.) On Thursday he had a candid assessment of how his website was doing and so far he seems to be successful. Good news for those of us who value content over clickbait.

Thus, I was pleased to see a couple weeks back that your venture was growing, with a doubling of readership and significant increases in areas that you are trying to stress, such as listenership to your radio show and engagement with elected officials. I’ll grant that over time this may level off, but I think you have a long way to go until you reach that plateau given that you are still in the startup stages.

But there is one aspect of your three-month assessment that troubles me:

Our advertising model is very unique among conservative websites and, frankly, may come to an end as I’m struggling to fill sponsorships going forward. But it has been so different I’m actually getting attacked for it. (Emphasis mine.)

I was cheered somewhat that you then wrote:

But I have to try to work on that area to beef up sponsorships. What I do know is that it works. Several of the advertisers tell me they saw an uptick in donations, sign ups, and volunteers through their sponsoring the Resurgent. That makes me hopeful we will be able to keep this going a while, particularly as my radio presence keeps growing.

Now I realize that, compared to your site, mine is small potatoes: my page views in a good year might equal yours for a weekday. I also know that, while by necessity and God-given talent in my chosen field I work outside of media to help put food on my table, you are using The Resurgent and your radio show to put food on yours. You have a lot more skin in the game with your website than I do, as I’m just a part-time blogger. But I’m using my venue and an open letter format because I want to share my thoughts with you as well as encourage readers to go to your site, helping it to succeed. I believe in what you are trying to accomplish.

So I’m imploring you to stay the course on this sponsorship-based model as long as you can because I think it will eventually succeed and hopefully lead others to follow. I never felt comfortable with having the clickbait links when they were on my site, but it seemed to be the only way to get a modest revenue stream going. I’m praying The Resurgent changes that and provides an example to follow for other high-readership sites.

For about a decade I have worked as a remote contributing writer for a publication that has a donation-based revenue model with no advertisements, the Patriot Post. Like you, they have struggled to make their expenses over the last few years but by the grace of God they are still going. If their website can go two decades with the support of their readership carrying them through I think it’s possible for your enterprise to prosper as well with the weekly sponsors you are cultivating – with the results you’re getting they should become repeat business.

One thing we have in common is that we have both run websites for over a decade, so you know as well as I do the ebb and flow of working in the political commentary field. You picked a good time to make a successful debut, so my hope is this successful beginning prepared you well for the trials and tribulations still to come once the political season is over and interest wanes.

Again, I want to express my hope you can stay with your sponsorship-based model and keep the clickbait and pop-ups away from The Resurgent. While we both pray for a resurgence of faith to overspread our country, our little corner of the internet can use something worth following as well.

Sincerely,

Michael Swartz
Salisbury, Maryland

The milestone

February 27, 2016 · Posted in Bloggers and blogging, Delmarva items, Personal stuff · Comments Off 

This has been the political winter of my discontent.

You likely know I’m not a fan of The Donald, but this post isn’t going to be about him per se. The sheer divisiveness of Donald Trump’s campaign, however, is not only relevant to some of the things I’m going to say but also serves as a good analogy to a lot of what I have been seeing and hearing about other, more peripheral political issues.

Over the course of doing monoblogue I have liked to take stock on my anniversaries (December 1 each year) and when I reach milestone posts, of which this is one (post 4,500.) Some may say I do too much navel-gazing but it should be pointed out that the original intent of blogging was to be a public diary of sorts – in fact, the political blog RedState is simply a collection of the diaries various contributors put up. Normally it’s those given front page access who have their voices heard, but they also have the right to promote others as they see fit. Besides, Saturday is usually my slowest day reader-wise so this is as good as time as any to share some of these thoughts, one of which led off this piece.

While the original intent of all these websites was to promote a diversity of thought, it seems that there are lines in the sand being drawn that could alter the political landscape for years to come. Perhaps this is simply a repeat of the era when each city of any size may have had its Democratic newspaper and Republican newspaper, but anymore it seems like we have “Trumpbart,” “RubioState,” and so forth. (Maybe it’s my personal bias, but I haven’t seen a really pro-Cruz national site - let alone Kasich or Carson.) The folks at National Review don’t like Trump, the Trump backers counter that both Cruz and Rubio aren’t “natural born citizens,” and everyone has staked out territory from which to fight this conservative un-civil war.

We’re even seeing this extend to the state level in politics and the blogosphere. One such battle is ongoing between Ryan Miner (who blogs at A Miner Detail and does his own radio show) and the folks at Red Maryland (who pretty much do the same.) It would probably not be a good idea to put Ryan and Brian Griffiths in a room together right now, and to me there’s no reason to stoop down to the eighth-grade level because they back different candidates in a Congressional race. That’s not to say this is anything new, because when I first began there was a lot of bad blood between local bloggers in Salisbury that I had to work around since I was lumped in with them.

Perhaps it’s my nature, or maybe – just maybe – I’ve learned a couple things along the way, but over the years I have tried to write in such a way that I don’t lose any sleep by regretting what I said. My measuring stick for political candidates is mainly issue-based, so my dislike for Donald Trump is because I find him far short of being conservative enough for my tastes. The attitude he exhibits is just rancid butter on the moldy bagel that is Donald Trump.

But let’s talk about the future. I’m going to pick on Red Maryland for a moment, but there are any number of websites out there which qualify. It’s unfortunate that A Miner Detail is down as I write this (for what reason I don’t know) but they did a parody piece recently on clickbait articles. Yet if you go to the RM site (as I just did to check this) you get a pop-up ad for Windows drivers (probably malware) in the corner with each page and an annoying pop-up ad when you click on an article. To be fair, this is true with a number of “news” sites with the Washington Times coming to mind as another prime offender.

But if the guys who do Red Maryland, the Washington Times, and 100 other national conservative sites are making money with the plethora of pop-up ads and clickbait, and can sleep at night satisfied that they are doing their part to advance their cause, well, more power to them. It’s not for me, in fact, I just decided to pull the Newsmax and content.ad pop-ups off my site because they’re now pretty much populated with clickbait. I still have the Amazon account and will keep TrackBill because they are selling goods and services for which I am compensated on a commission basis.

Lately I’ve also noticed that RM is doing “sponsored” Facebook ads, which can be a somewhat expensive means of getting out the word. But I decided to join them with a very modest (as modest as I can get) boosting of my book review post that I did recently. It will run through Monday. It’s just an experiment to see if it affects traffic in any meaningful way.

But I think an alternative is possible. For several years I have written for the Patriot Post, which does not do advertising – yet I still get a modest stipend each month. (Modest to the point where I would love to have about 15 other such clients and just write for those all week. The commute would be a lot better – bed to my chair.) About three or four times a year they have a campaign to solicit funds from their readers, with the key one being around the holidays, yet they succeed in raising over $300,000 annually to support their operations.

Yet the example I have been following over the last few weeks is Erick Erickson’s new site, The Resurgent. They will accept advertising but it is limited to one sponsor a week that pays $5,000 for the privilege. So you have a very clean site with a minimum of advertising, and this is the sort of model I would like to see promoted.

Granted, it’s taken Erick about a decade to build his name up to a point where he can command that sort of coin, but if you went and followed my link ask yourself: isn’t that a lot better than pop-up ads and clickbait? Today is the day I declare monoblogue a clickbait-free zone.

The way I see it, my job isn’t to provide controversy or sensationalize the Maryland political world. My job is to educate and enlighten citizens, hopefully to sway their political beliefs in a more conservative direction. While I have other features such as my Shorebird of the Week or music reviews, those exist because I want to broaden my audience and also not burn out on political posts. To me, content is king but it has to be well-written – or at least as well-written as my talent and interest allow.

So that is my milestone. There are times I wonder just how long I’ll be doing this, but I suppose as long as I’m satisfied with the effort I’ll keep plugging away.

Odds and ends number 78

Here I go again, producing those little dribs and drabs of information that I need a sentence to a couple paragraphs to discuss.

For example, I don’t need to give much more than an “attaboy” to Ted Cruz for continuing to stand against ethanol subsidies yet succeed in Iowa, as Leon Wolf pointed out recently at RedState. Such a stance may not make me a lot of friends among the corn farmers locally, but I’ll bet the chicken producers would love to see a decrease in the price for a bushel and I suspect once the Renewable Fuel Standard is pulled it will give them a break. Let’s hope Cruz (or some other GOP candidate) follows through on this common sense. After all, according to my friend Rick Manning at Americans for Limited Government, the deficit last year was $677 billion so putting ethanol subsidies on the chopping block would make fiscal sense as well.

As Richard Falknor at Blue Ridge Forum points out, though, we have a large number of gutless wonders in our House of Representatives who don’t care that the latest omnibus was a budget-buster. Maybe they just need to read some advice from my Patriot Post cohort Mark Alexander, who reminded us of what our Founding Fathers said 240 years ago. We really do need a revival of the Spirit of ’76. (I’m old enough to remember the Bicentennial, by the way.) As Alexander writes about the current GOP crop:

Patriots, in this presidential election year, I invoke this timeless wisdom from George Washington’s farewell address (1796): “Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.” Indeed, there are among even the ranks of Republican presidential contenders some pretenders. Caveat Emptor! The future of Liberty hinges on the ability and willingness of grassroots Patriots to distinguish between the genuine article and the false prophets.

Yet while Ted Cruz seems to be one of the few who is standing up for conservative principles in Congress, as Erick Erickson adds at his new website, The Resurgent, the Establishment has decided to throw its lot in with Donald Trump to stop Cruz’s polling advances. Yes, politics makes strange bedfellows.

None may be stranger than those in the state of South Dakota where the drive for non-partisan elections I told you about a few weeks ago made the ballot. Local talk radio host Rick Knobe is spearheading the effort:

For too long, both political parties have been shouting over each other at the expense of the voters, and now have an opportunity to do something about it. Just look at the growing number of registered Independents, which now numbers over 100,000 in South Dakota. That number is growing here and across the country. When this measure passes, those 100,000 South Dakotans will have the opportunity to fully participate in the election process.

The state as a whole had 521,017 registered voters as of the 2014 elections so it appears about 20-25% are not affiliated. If it is adopted in this election, the state will move to a non-partisan primary for 2018. I suspect the two major parties will lose a significant amount of their support should this happen, so this is something to watch as it develops.

Immigration is one of the issues that has thoroughly disgusted a number of former Republicans who bolted the party when the elites adopted a pro-amnesty stance. Recently many Republicans (including the aforementioned Ted Cruz and our Congressman Andy Harris) supported a major expansion of H-1B visas despite a claim from the Center for Immigration Studies that found no evidence of a labor shortage in those occupations. One has to question how many semi-skilled workers are idle in this area due to the H-1B visa.

Finally, I’m going to circle back to Erick Erickson. I’ve been impressed with his new website, one which I can read without being overrun by annoying pop-up ads and false story breaks that only serve to increase page view count (in order to extort more money from would-be advertisers.) On Thursday he had a candid assessment of how his website was doing and so far he seems to be successful. Good news for those of us who value content over clickbait.

So ends another (hopefully) clickbait-free edition of odds and ends. Now my mailboxes are empty once again.

An aggressive beginning

Several months ago I told you about the “travel tax,” which has come up in the news again because Mike Miller believes he has the Senate votes to overturn Governor Hogan’s veto and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce is behind it. Indeed, there’s a post on what’s billed as Maryland’s premier conservative website regarding this but I was stymied in reading it by some scam invitation to get a free iPhone 6 – and probably all the malware I can unknowingly download. I’ll come back to that in due course; in the meantime I will fill you in on what is really happening.

My local Delegates are telling me they predict a bumper crop of legislation, and they may be correct – as of this afternoon, 180 bills had already been pre-filed, with 114 Senate bills complementing 66 in the House. (My, my, those Senators are busy beavers.) One bill I did not see among them was the Wicomico elected school board bill, which I would have liked to see pre-filed. Unfortunately, I think that time has passed.

Even with all that work stacking up it’s likely the first things the body will take up are overriding vetoes, with my interest coming from two bills I used for the 2015 monoblogue Accountability Project: SB340 (voting rights for felons) and SB190, the travel tax. Both passed with veto-proof margins in the Senate but neither had a comfortable enough House win – for an override the felon bill would need to pick up three votes and the travel tax one.

That one vote for the travel tax may come down to newly-minted Delegate Elizabeth Proctor, whose late husband James died in office earlier this year. James Proctor was the lone absent Delegate when the travel tax passed 84-56. Another new Delegate, Carlo Sanchez, replaced former Delegate Will Campos, who resigned after being a “yes” vote on both bills in question. As for felon voting, Proctor was absent while Delegates Michael Jackson and C.T. Wilson ducked the vote. In both cases, should opponents hold all their votes and pick up one the vetoes will stand. (Out of our local delegation it was the only Democrat delegate, Sheree Sample-Hughes, who predictably voted in favor of both.)

You’ll notice I basically ignored the Senate in both cases because all they need is the same vote they had the first time to override both vetoes – for the record, both our local Senators voted against felon voting but both favored the travel tax. So it wasn’t really news that Miller had his votes, nor was it groundbreaking to see the state Chamber of Commerce side with big business over entrepreneurs. It’s akin to the struggle between Uber and local taxi companies; oftentimes the Chamber backs the rent-seekers.

Now about that other website: it’s so funny because I used them as an example the other day. Apparently they have chosen to cast their lot with the clickbaiters of the world in the quest for advertising dollars. Self-promotion is one thing - and Lord knows all of us would like advertisers – but the ad was such that I literally could not close it, for a site which had all the red flags of being a virus-laden website. I have to question the integrity and wisdom of a site which uses those techniques.

Perhaps I’m not the biggest or best site around, nor is it lucrative for me in a monetary sense. But just remember – I’m not the one knocking you over the head with the annoying pop-up ads. All I have is a little tip jar and an Amazon affiliation, so if you get an Amazon gift card Friday hook yourself up through me.

More importantly, after the holidays it may be a good idea to ask your legislators where they stand on the travel tax (as well as felon voting.) Contrary to popular belief, it hasn’t been all fee and toll decreases since Hogan took office – if he were a purist he would have vetoed two other House bills which increased certain court fees. But encouraging entrepreneurship and making sure felons pay their entire debt to society before regaining their franchise should be no-brainers, shouldn’t they? There’s a reason a governor has a veto pen, so let him be the check and balance to an overreaching General Assembly.

A different approach to revenue

While this may sound like it’s tied in to yesterday’s post, I’m actually veering off in a different direction with this one.

Each day I receive Erick Erickson’s e-mail missive, probably because I’ve been on the RedState list for many years. Since Erick was the biggest part of RedState it made logical sense and his new endeavor has kept a lot of the same look, feel, and message. On Thursday, though, he had a post that looked at blogging and the entrepreneurship aspect of it, and he put out a proposal I found quite interesting.

I may be doomed to failure on this new radio website endeavor, but I am going to try something new in terms of ad revenue.

Over the past two years with my radio show, I’ve been growing an email list of radio listeners. That list has crossed 200,000 people. At the same time, this site, to which I have not dedicated a lot of time, is averaging about 75,000 page views a day. Again, it is not even my day job yet.

So when I kick things off again with the new design on January 4th, I’ve going to try a sponsor model instead of an ad model. In other words, I am going to strip away all the advertising and just do a sponsor a week.

What the Sponsor Gets:

They will get a graphic on the front page and a graphic on each post. It will be a static image so ad blockers cannot block it. They will not be in competition with any other advertiser.

They will also get a thank you mention on Monday and Friday that will make it in the emails of those days. So in the worst case scenario they’ll be getting 75,000 page views a day, plus 400,000 eyeballs in email over the course of a week.

What the starting price is going to be: $5000.00 for the week.

I do not need to make a huge profit off the radio website. I do need to cover costs, pay for the redesign, pay a staffer, etc.

We will see if it works. Hopefully, over time, I can raise the price.

I do not want Taboola throwing up on my redesign. I do not want pop up ads and auto play videos and semi-porn to draw in eyeballs.

I may fail. I may not be able to get the advertisers. But I am going to try.

So let’s look at this as a business model. Those of us who have revenue-producing websites don’t seem to have a lot of options on ways to make money.

First, there is always the old rumor that goes around about some billionaire benefactor like George Soros going around and propping up particular bloggers. That may well exist but I can assure you the Koch brothers have never stroked a check to me. (Maybe I’m just doing it all wrong?)

The second approach is to bleg, as several bloggers I know have to various amounts of success. Once in a great while I have passed on their tales of woe. Many of these bleggars’ sites also have static ads, the combination of which keeps bloggers like Peter Ingemi going. (You may know him better as DaTechGuy – have fedora, will travel.)

And then you have what many of the big guys and commercial media sites have: the ad-laden mess that Erickson is referring to. On a couple occasions I was an Examiner for that website, and the sad thing about it was that for all the advertisements cluttering up my posts and occasional slideshows I don’t think I ever got more than $50 a month. I pick on Examiner but the same is true for the Washington Times or rare.us websites as well as more local and regional sites like Red Maryland. This also encompasses the pure clickbait of the TEA Party News Network and groups like that. I don’t like going to those sites because they bombard me with ads and auto-play videos I don’t want to watch – generally I’m there to read and get out.

Erickson’s site as it exists today is actually very unobtrusive as it just has a handful of static ads on the header, sidebar, and footer. (It’s set up a lot like this one.) So there’s probably a small amount of revenue coming in but nowhere near the $5,000 a week he’s going to request.

There aren’t many who do sponsorship posts, or posts like my record reviews for which I am compensated regardless of whether I like the music or not. (The sponsor encourages the honest criticism.) So I am interested to see how a large-scale operation like Erickson’s fares under this model. $5,000 a week is $260,000 a year – I think he can afford a staffer, IT person, and still make a go of it with that sort of revenue.

Yet it’s also instructive of the power of marketing. Somehow Erickson has built up the mailing list past 200,000 even though I’ve never listened to his local radio show. (I’m sure familiarity through RedState has put many thousands on that list.) 200,000 e-mails has beget the 75,000 page views a day – over 500,000 weekly. It doesn’t work out to an economy of scale – a blog like mine that has 1,000 views a week at slow times like this can’t subsist on one $5 a week sponsorship. Needless to say, I can’t come up with $5,000 for a week although I’m sure my readership would increase.

Of course, there is the interesting question of what sponsors will come forth. Left unanswered is what criteria Erickson will have for advertisers, but the obvious advantage with his venture is that he gets to choose who benefits, unlike some other methods where someone else controls content and delivery. (They can make for interesting bedfellows because if I go to look at certain sites the cookies track with me. For example, I see Kathy Szeliga for Senate ads on a lot of places I go, even if they’re not Maryland-based.)

To me, though, the control of content is almost as important as the revenue. If you listen to talk radio regularly you’re probably aware that they host a much different variety of advertisers than, say, the NFL game of the week. I hear more ads for get-rich-quick, be-your-own-boss hucksters who have to invest in gold there than I do anything else. To me, that affects the credibility of the shows they sponsor – although, to be fair, this may be the local station selling the spots, too.

So I’m going to be interested to see how Erickson does with this idea. I suspect he will do well the first six to eight weeks, but the test will come by spring. If he’s able to do well and even raise the price it may be something to explore for the rest of the blogging world.

10 from 10: Welcome to monoblogue!

December 1, 2015 · Posted in Bloggers and blogging, Personal stuff · 1 Comment 

The final installment of “10 from 10″ is, as you might guess, my very first post ten years ago today, December 1, 2005. I have more to say after the (very brief) post.

**********

I was actually trying to think of some serious weighty subject to do the “first” blog post on, but then a package arrived in the mail today. I’ve only waited 38 years for this shirt!

And there is a parallel in the shirt’s arrival to the purpose of monoblogue. On my old site I somewhat confined myself to the political realm. But now it’s more about my passions on a lot of subjects. (If you go to the “About” tab you’ll see something about my thoughts while creating monoblogue.) If you want to see my archives from the old website, I did place links to almost every one of my 100+ posts in the “ttrwc” section of the site. You’ll see that a lot of them are politically related. Politics is something I follow closely and will frequently comment on.

The post that may tell you a little bit about the 38 year wait for my shirt is the one called Joy in Mudhenville, part 2.

But tonight I’m just getting my feet wet here and making sure it all looks good. Tomorrow I’m going to catch up on my reading and start getting out the red meat. Actually, I’m watching the MAC championship and it’s tough to work back and forth while keeping focus. How’s that for honesty?

**********

So here I go into decade number two. Doing the “10 from 10″ series reminded me of a lot of experiences I’ve had and people I’ve met over the years, many of which and whom wouldn’t have been possible without this website.

Yet it’s strange to see all I’ve learned as well as how far the technology has come. I didn’t know how to attach the photo in the original post to the WordPress site, for example, because it was all new to me. Now I do 25-picture posts without flinching. Meanwhile, this latest post is among the first to be compiled on a new laptop, which is the third I’ve gone through in doing this site. That was a liberating experience in and of itself since I used a desktop computer for the first 2 1/2 years – on the other hand, the vast majority of my posts of late were banged out on an iPad. It worked in a pinch for about 4 to 5 months, but wasn’t really a viable long-term solution.

Another thing I’ve come to learn over the years is to not make a lot of forecasts about how things will progress with this site. As one example, a year ago I had no real interest in picking up a second writer but then the opportunity presented itself and I decided Cathy Keim would be a worthy addition. That may be the best move I ever made insofar as this site goes because not only does she bring a little different audience but also a unique but comparable viewpoint. In time I think she will help me grow the site back to where it was in previous years.

Admittedly, the last year has been tough on me. For a short time I had thoughts about making the 10-year anniversary the swan song for the site. I had lost the passion for writing it, and when that goes the writing gets stale and boring. And yes, there’s been a sharp decline in readership – more than I would normally chalk up to being in an off-year election. Hopefully now that the passion is coming back, the actual equipment is improved (it’s not easy writing this blog on an iPad; however, it is good practice for particular situations), and the election cycle is coming back around to an important election year, I can rekindle both the fire of desire and the ambition of people to check this place out more often.

In short, I still think I can utilize these writing talents that God gave me for the common good of enhancing peoples’ awareness of the benefits and advantages that freedom and liberty, firmly based on a moral, Judeo-Christian foundation, can bring. It’s not a fight I’ll win in ten years or perhaps even whatever time I have left in this world, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try and do so anyway.

So I have no idea what the next decade will bring. But as long as it’s interesting to me I will do my best to keep this enterprise going for years to come.

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