Why Am I Writing A Blog?

I first learned about blogging with the release of We’ve Got Blog: How0738207411.jpg Weblogs Are Changing Our Culture (Perseus) in 2002. I’ve resisted doing a blog at least since then.

Why? The biggest obstacle for me, conceptually, was the idea of writing for free. As a working journalist with 20 years of practice, I felt no more comfortable with unpaid writing than, say, a taxi driver might feel giving several hours of daily rides, for nothing.

Another fact was blogging’s promise of new audiences. With bylines in VIBE, The Village Voice, The Source, Billboard, The New York Daily News, and other media; by doing occasional TV appearances; and through producing a weekly radio show, NONFICTION (WBAI-NY / 99.5 FM, Fridays at 2 pm), I didn’t feel particularly hungry for readers or listeners, as an unpublished or self-published writer might.

But I soon realized that blogging was rapidly growing and becoming more influential. I began to see that bloggers were modifying the coverage of mainstream media, and serving as an alternate voice to the establishment viewpoint—the so-called “Rathergate” furor being a prime example of this.

When I looked closer, I also understood that I was already doing a lot of writing for free. I was doing it in internet forums, in lengthy e-mails to friends, in comments on various sites, etc. (Sometimes, it was pretty good writing, too!)

Neither of these realizations was enough to make me want to blog, though. It was only when I directly connected the opportunity blogging presented to developing aspects of my work life—four, to be precise—that I decided to make the leap. (Perhaps you’ve reached similar conclusions about your own output, whether you’re a writer, or not.)

1. Like Prince or Radiohead, I got tired of waiting to release new work. Any writer worth his salt typically has a backlog of ideas that they want to get into print, but that they’ve had a difficult time publishing.

Sometimes the hump is the hierarchical culture of the Fourth Estate, the space limits of “physical media,” the tentativeness of editors, or lead times that are too long, or short. Sometimes a piece doesn’t fit existing formats, they’re too personal, or they’re otherwise too idiosyncratic. (Of course, if you’re a Black writer, interested in the nuances of your own experience, all of the above goes triple.)

Blogging is a cool way to cover subjects in which I’m interested. Sometimes that interest is merely temporary, and I just want to get it out of my system. Sometimes the subject is a longstanding or an ongoing passion. Blogging, I’ve begun to realize, may be a way to scratch these itches, and, like Prince or Radiohead, quickly make sweet, engaging music.

2. Practice makes perfect…though sometimes practice makes it too perfect. You can spend a lot of time as a writer waiting to do it, and thinking about doing it, as opposed to doing it, especially if you’re a freelancer. If you’re on staff somewhere, the opposite can occur: You can get so used to doing a certain kind of thing over and over and over that it becomes rote.

Blogging every day, I believe, can be a good way to keep one’s skills sharp, but without having to write the same inverted pyramid each afternoon. I think this is especially true for someone like me who is definitely not one of those “If I couldn’t write, I would just die!”-type of writers. I do it when I have to do it, but by blogging, I’ve freed myself up to do more of it. To make another music analogy, blogging can be the writing equivalent of running through scales.

In order to maintain excellence in your ability, whatever your field, I think that it’s important to give yourself an assignment from time to time. By “assignment,” I mean an unscheduled task, unconnected to the way you provide for yourself or your family, but that refreshes your creative juices and, as a side effect, strengthens prowess. If you write, and you do it the correct way, I think blogging can be a way to build these muscles.

3. I wanted to elevate my work and reposition the brand: Me. I’ve never been comfortable explaining who I am or, even more, certifying my credibility, on the basis of publications for which I’ve written.

I’m happy to have written for all of them, and certainly thankful for the gigs. But I don’t think having written for them defines me in any meaningful way, and it certainly doesn’t authenticate me as a writer.

Some part of this has to do with having written a great deal, mostly about hip-hop, before some of the magazines that published me existed, or before others covered the form seriously.

Another part just has to do with how I view power. I’ve always seen my relationship to magazines as one of parity. I know that this doesn’t make sense in a certain regard. Writers are essentially subsumed within the masthead or the content. Yet this is how I truly feel.

A blog is like a magazine by one person. So, the degree to which these thoughts about my writing and other work are true will utterly be proven here. In the blogosphere, you rise or fall by how interesting people find your work, not by the other stuff in the issue, because there is no other stuff.

In line with that, finally…

4. I want to compete more purely on the level of ideas. When I started writing, especially in the VOICE, part of my goal with each piece, and the way I sought to establish my authority as a thinker on hip-hop culture, was by both the number of new ideas in a given piece, and by the quality of those ideas.

This was very conscious on my part. I was actually striving for a certain kind of density in the work. So, when Dr. Tricia Rose (Black Noise) told me her unguarded response to “Hip-Hop Hi-Tech,” my 1988 VOICE feature on music production—”It blew my mind!“—I immediately registered a little pang of glee. That’s what I wanted to do.

This is a function of writing that I take very seriously. That is, I’m a fairly competent stylist, as freelance journalists go; I get off a good one, every now and then. But here are people whose ability with words and color—William Langewiesche comes to mind—leave me in awe. In hip-hop, there are folks I think are clever with stories, and just way funnier than I am, like Jimi Izrael.

This ideas thing, however, particularly regarding hip-hop, is how one separates the adults from the infants. What new knowledge are you adding to the culture, and/or our thinking about it? How readily can you pull from other bodies of human thought, especially seemingly unrelated ones, to make your argument? When you discourse, I wanna see sparks. I wanna see some new code jumping out of your writing; some new theorems get unsprung.

It’s a real, if subtle, combat stance. Scratch the skin of almost any scribe and you’ll see some form of it. Certainly, on one level, the name of my blog, Media Assassin, represents this offensive question in nominative form: Exactly how well would your ideas stand up under direct assault? In the blogosphere, you live or die by the power of your ideas.

Blogging doesn’t replace other writing, or other kinds of writing. Indeed, I expect that it will grow new outlets and markets for my work, and new places to speak about what I’ve seen and learned.

But blogging most reminds me of a visit Chuck D made to the house once, when I was still living at home in Freeport, L.I.

I don’t like bare walls in work spaces, and am best sustained, mentally, by a flood of visual information, covering every spot. When he came over, Chuck looked around my room at what must have appeared to be thousands of images, randomly juxtaposed against each other. He then, in a bemused way, said to me, “Man…if you could just take the energy on these walls and put it into something, it would be amazing.”

“Putting the energy on these walls into something” feels like a really succinct way of describing the objective of Media Assassin. It’s what I’ve strived to do in my print work, on NONFICTION, and now the web, which will combine all of these previous efforts, and many new ones. So let’s see what happens.



#1 Bernice McFadden on 02.26.08 at 11:26 am

Congrats Harry! Looking forward to reading all of what you have to say!

#2 dionne on 02.26.08 at 11:27 am

hi harry,

thank you! i love reading your work. happy day to you.

dionne from perth.

#3 Testify on 02.26.08 at 11:37 am

A truly needed new voice in the blogosphere. Hot fire, Harry! Can’t wait to read more…

#4 Dr. Goddess on 02.26.08 at 12:49 pm

Harry, I am so happy you’re writing a blog and so pleased to see it up and running. Indeed, you’ve inspired me to be even more careful and deliberate with my own (new) blog.

And you definitely have done alot of “free writing” in emails and exchanging ideas with so many folks, so this will be a lot of fun.

I’ll see you tomorrow! LOL

dr. goddess

#5 Zei on 02.26.08 at 1:59 pm

Excellent blog! I get Chuck’s observation.

#6 Blac Ren on 03.04.08 at 8:50 pm

Glad to see you’re on board.
Blogs need a voice such as yours.

#7 Debbie on 03.06.08 at 11:18 am


Congrats. This is awesome…I can’t wait to read more!

#8 jimi on 07.30.08 at 6:30 pm

Wow. Just now seeing this nod. It’s really humbling. Thank you.

#9 Lester Spence on 08.23.08 at 9:14 pm

I needed this.

And it’s good to “see” you. Been YEARS kid.

#10 clay on 09.13.08 at 7:35 pm

hey Harry, I’m an old face from bsda and good to see your work again…. you’ve been missed…

#11 suistialm on 11.18.08 at 2:28 pm

Hello! Such good site! Offensively, whatever I knew about him before

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