The Strike of 2006: Blogging about blogging (or, metapost)

That was pretty weird.

Now that EMUtalk.org is up and running and the strike itself is in a holding pattern that could last years, the traffic on this site has returned to some version of normal. So this seems as good as a time as any to reflect a bit on just what the hell happened here.

I had been writing about the possibility of the faculty going on strike at EMU off and on for a while just as part of my regular writings here about things that happen at EMU– for example, this post about the health insurance issues was from the beginning of August. And about the same time I started getting more specific in my posts about the possibilities of the strike (or what I had hoped wouldn’t be a strike), I noticed that if you did a google search for “EMU strike” or “EMU faculty strike,” this blog came up pretty close to the top. I suppose there are a lot of reasons for that– a fair number of people link to this blog, I was one of the few places where there was anything out there on the strike, etc.

Well, after we actually went on strike, page hits and views started to climb. As the strike went on, I wrote more. As I wrote more, I got more hits and views and comments, which, in a classic feedback loop, drove me to write even more. By a few days into the strike, I was getting about three times as many hits and views as I normally get. And by about ten days into the strike, well, here’s a graphic of that:

stats

So, the purple represents page views, which is when someone comes to the site and then doesn’t do anything, and the green represents visits, which means someone did something to the site– scrolled, clicked on a link, commented, etc. On September 11, the point of the highest peak on the chart and the day before we essentially gave up the strike, this site had about 1,800 views and about 600 hits. In “normal times,” as the far left of the chart suggests, traffic here is dramatically less than that.

Like I said, it’s been weird. During the course of the strike, faculty who were relative strangers to me were coming up to me and thanking me for my blog. A bunch of people told me that I was the only decent source of information about what was going on with the strike, which to me says something about a) what a piss-poor job most of the local media did on covering the strike (other than the student paper and WEMU, that is), and b) what a piss-poor job that that union did in telling its story.

But one way or the other, people came here and they came here in relatively big numbers. I realize that sites like boing-boing probably get 1,000 hits every few minutes, but that’s record-setting traffic for the likes of me.

Anyway, in no particular order, here’s what I see potentially coming out of all this:

  • I’m trying to channel the energy on campus and to nurture EMUtalk.org, and so far, so good. There’s about four or five other people who seem pretty active and involved in making it work, and it’s already getting more traffic than this site. Which is good. It will be interesting to see how long this site can sustain itself, especially after the anger of the strike wears off.
  • This little experience represents for me a little microcosm of how blogging can work as a space where readers come to get information that is unfiltered and then to comment on that information. It’s why blogs are kind of like other news media, but also why blogs are not like these other things.
  • I think this also proves that if you write about something that others want to know about– in this case, the faculty strike at EMU– these others will find your blog through search engines and recommendations, and they will read it and comment on it. But it also proves that there’s a delicate balance here. Had I been posting stuff about the War in Iraq or anything else that already gets lots of coverage in other media and other blogs, nothing would have happened. Had the event of the strike not happened– what Lloyd Bitzer would call an “exigence”– there would be no reason for me to write so much about the strike. On the other hand, as Vatz might have argued, the situation of the strike became filtered for many readers in part through this web site.
  • Through this blip in time, I saw my blog go from a rather personal and idiosyncratic space for me and a handful of other computers and writing readers/bloggers to this “community space.” And yet, at the same time, it wasn’t really a “community space” in that it really functioned because of me. I mean, I was (and I remain) the main writer here, the person who starts the conversations that people can comment on. I suppose this is why a lot of blogs striving for the “community thing” have multiple authors.
  • The feedback loop I found myself in here was really fascinating. Like I said, while my motivations for my initial posts about the strike were more or less personal– that is, I wasn’t thinking of myself as providing news to a large audience– I felt myself posting more and more in response to the presence of more readers and commenters. And then, as I posted more and as more people out there heard about my site via a Google search or just by other people on campus, more people read and commented on my blog. Which just made me want to write more. And so forth. I’m not entirely sure what this means, but I do think it says something worth exploring about why people blog (or not) in the first place, and I think it also says something about why students in classes across the board write well (or not) too.
  • Finally, all if this makes me rethink some scholarly activities. As one of my colleagues said to me during all of this, “you have to at least write an article about all this.” I’m beginning to think that’s true, or maybe there is a reason to actually try to start writing a book about blogging this year.

In any event, I’m not happy to return to normal around here. At least once I finally get caught up on my life….

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6 Responses to The Strike of 2006: Blogging about blogging (or, metapost)

  1. paul says:

    Steve – congrads on the traffic. I could probably write a similar post based on my experience at http://pauljusticeblog.com

    I’d agree with some of the problems in local media coverage. The Detroit teacher’s strike overshadowed us. The administration has access to PR newswire and lazy reporters read that as if it’s gospel; others go to emich.edu as if that’s the only source.

    The union did a good job getting info to faculty, so I disagree with you there. (I don’t mean to say the union did a perfect job with the PR. We’re debriefing now, regrouping and strategizing.) People came to your site not for ‘news’ but your analysis and commentary. You were well positioned here because of your willingness to criticize both parties.

    As academics, we also tend to value the written word, believing the written thoughts and opions are more considered than the some of the spontaneous chat of our colleagues. So, while the union put out a daily email, you were a good person to be analyzing the situation and in a (written) forum that engaged academics.

    I hope you push forward on some writing about blogging and would be happy to share expereinces over a coffee or beer sometime.

  2. Kelly says:

    As a person outside of the union loop (not a faculty member), I have to say that I agree that the union did a *very* poor job of PR. While there may have been daily emails (as the first commentor noted), that was only to faculty and didn’t get filtered down to the students. While I recieved numerous and daily updates from the administration as well as their updates on http://www.emich.edu. If it hadn’t been for your blog, I really wouldn’t have had any other solid information except for administration sided. And while I am sure that students living on campus had a lot more contact with strikers for information, in my limited time on campus I didn’t run into any strikers or union information.

    So while I did come to this blog for your commentary and because you seemed to be making a solid attempt to look at both sides and criticize where necessary–but I did come here for news as well. The first place I checked for updated news was this blog, and then over to emich and usually (almost always) this blog had that news available first.

  3. aginghippie says:

    Hey Steeeeeeeeve,

    Aren’t there “Public Relations” major/minor/courses offered at EMU?

    What department? Taught by what group of bargained-for employees?

    Is this a case of “process” being completely divorced from “product?”

    Is this another wonderful example of some of those tertiary and beyond definitions of the word “academic?”

  4. Steven D. Krause says:

    Well, aginghippie, the problem (IMO) was that the union leadership didn’t try to get folks who were outside of that leadership involved in the PR and other issues until it was too late. I do know that some of those folks are trying to help out now though.

  5. Do, or do not. There is no ‘try.’

  6. randal says:

    I’m a little confused about this observation. Hmm, had there been no strike, then the events would not be there to write about. What did I miss in the translation?

    “Had the event of the strike not happened– what Lloyd Bitzer would call an “exigenceâ€�– there would be no reason for me to write so much about the strike.”

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