25 February 2015

Mil-Blogging is Dead? Long Live Mil-Blogging!

Here's a quick sit-rep on my never-ending quest toward a Grand Unified Theory of Mil-blogging. Readers of the Red Bull Rising blog, Facebook friends and followers, and/or participants in previous writing or blogging workshops will recognize much of this history and logic.

My usual caveats, of course, still apply: This is my view from my foxhole. "Everybody has their own war." Take what you need, leave the rest. And, most importantly, I reserve the right to change and evolve my opinions over time. Because that's what good conversations do. And blogs, among other things, are inherently conversations.

I look forward to your comments and suggestions.

The First Wave of Mil-blogging (2001-2007) was defined and dominated by first-person, boots-on-the-ground narratives, unmediated by news editors, broadcasts, and publications. Some of these, such as Matt Gallagher's blog, later grew into larger, book-length works: "Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War."

There are also published collections of mil-blogs, such as "The Blog of War: Front-Line Dispatches from Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan" (2006), and Doonesbury.com's The Sandbox: Dispatches from Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan" (2007).

The alchemy of blogs-into-books is important, because technologies change. Print stays.

The popularity and influence of mil-blogging culminated sometime after 2007. One favorite anecdote from the Internet trenches: In 2007, President George W. Bush met with a group of mil-bloggers for a hour-long chat in the Roosevelt Room. Here's a useful report from that event, written by John Donovan:
The President acknowledged, so to speak, the rise of the blogosphere—which he seems to see as complementary to the [Main Stream Media], a view to which I subscribe, as well. We're another vector that people can use to disseminate or gather information—whether the MSM is gate-guarding it because of their biases, or simple economics. There are only so many air minutes, so many column inches, and the MSM is a business. They have to make editorial decisions.

If anything, the blogs hearken back, really, to an earlier time in the growth of the Republic.

We're the "broadsides" of this era. [...]
The Second Wave of Mil-blogging (2007-2014) happened as blogging platforms became more ubiquitous and easier to use. More people deployed, or had family members deploy. More people started writing and sharing their experiences. At the same time, others had returned from one or more deployment experiences, and sought to put those experiences into more context. Without the content of more-immediate experience, many turned to new analysis, opinion, or advocacy. To paraphrase one mil-blogger of the time: "Some of us went political. And some of us went bat-SH!# crazy."

Blogging was cool. Everybody was doing it.

In the later years of this period, however, mil-blogging began to decline. As did all blogging.

That's because Facebook happened. Tumblr happened. Twitter happened. Tablets and small-screens happened. Blogging turned into yesterday's news.

The last official Milblogging.com conference was in 2013, although there are rumors of informally getting the band back together later this year. The website Milbloggging.com went dark in 2014.

Also in 2014, Garry Trudeau's/Doonesbury's "The Sandbox"—a digest of blogs and other original material that was started in 2006, and resulted in a one of the aforementioned print collections of early mil-blogs—switched to an archive-only status.

Mil-blogging isn't dead, however, any more than journalism is. It may be evolving, we might not recognize it, but it ain't dead yet.

The Third Wave of Mil-blogging? You're soaking in it.

The Third Wave of Mil-blogging (2014-present) is being driven by new blogging platforms, such as Medium, which de-emphasize comments sections (once the engines of blog-traffic and engagement), and focus on a providing to readers a professional-looking (somewhat generic), tablet-friendly visual experience. The focus is back on words and content and reasoned argument. Authors are often policy analysts, strategists, and other communicators.

As I've observed before, "journaling" and "journalism" share root words. It's all about documenting events, making informed arguments, and sharing stories. Using that definition, I was blogging before there was an Internet. And I'll be blogging long after the Internet is put on up on cinder blocks, as the media and technology change.

At a 2012 experimental event called the Sangria Summit, I first encountered how big a G.P. Large tent military-writing could be. There were those who aspired to be published writers, and those that already were. There were those who wanted to write Tom Clancy-esque techno-thrillers, and those who wanted to write the Next Mother of All Great American War Novels. And there were those of us who made their livings writing doctrine, or news reports, or strategic analysis.

The writing is the thing.

In early 2013, I was lucky to have been on a mil-blogging panel with Paul Szoldra of Duffel Blog, and Mark Seavey of The American Legion's "Burn Pit" blog. Szoldra and his colleagues regularly skewer military culture and group-think with satire and style. Seavey and his colleagues passionately expose cases of stolen valor, while also reporting on other veterans issues. Me? I write about how to support, celebrate, and remember military service members, veterans, and families, while also writing about citizen-soldier history. While on the dias, I came to this epiphany: Through our writing, each of us is attempting to help readers understand and interpret the military experience.

With humor. With argument. With news-you-can-use.

Even with poetry.

At some level, it doesn't matter what you're writing, only that you're engaged in the conversation.

That's particularly important as we try to stitch together what the last two wars have meant to our country and its military, and how we move out smartly from here. Every type of writing—literary, genre, professional, academic, journalistic—is an opportunity to bridge the civil-military divide.

Recently, a group of movers, shooters, and communicators established an on-line confederation called the Military Writers Guild. I'm pleased to find that it seems to be a mix of young turks and salty dogs. There are digital immigrants and digital natives. There are soldiers and sailors and fellow travelers—and all of them, naturally, are storytellers.

The group's mission statement reads:
The Military Writers Guild (henceforth The Guild) exists to gather writers committed to the development of the profession of arms through the exchange of ideas in the written medium. Through its members, The Guild will encourage an open dialogue from diverse perspectives, thereby supporting the study of military affairs, spread knowledge of the military profession, and increase the assistance available to those writing in the national security space. The Guild will help foster a strong peer ecosystem focused on writing about military affairs through our ability to, "Advocate, Collaborate, and Promote."
A website is here.

A Facebook page is here.

The mil-blog is dead! Long live the mil-blog!

And keep writing!

1 comment:

  1. Group like the Military Writers Guild perform a public service by proving the existence of intellectual culture among veterans. Civilians on either coast who have never experienced the military need to hear veterans articulate their experiences.


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