Reaction to Mention in Old House Journal

Category: Daily Diary

We didn't realize that HouseBlogs.net had been mentioned on the Editor's Page of the July 2006 edition of Old House Journal until we returned yesterday from a vacation.  We caught wind of the mention via other housebloggers.  Some of the language in the article seemed to rub a few folks the wrong way and I was intrigued since I've been a fan of OHJ from WAY back and still have all of the issues I've ever received.

So, we went out last night to pick up a copy...
 

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Before I even read the article, I was feeling a little apprehensive.  When you decide to buy a fixer-upper, you have a target painted on your back from the moment you leave the realtor's office as there are MANY people who will question your sanity.  Often.  Often loudly.  Many times you can shrug it off, but sometimes it hurts a bit, no doubt.  And if you blog about it?  Paint a bullseye on your front as well, because, well, why on earth would you waste all of your time (not my words) on THAT endeavor when you could be (fill in the blank here)?

Hence, my nervousness when I imagined that my sanity was being called into question in a magazine.  Published by fellow old house lovers.  With a much broader readership than anything I could write.  Ouch.

I sat down and read the piece from top to bottom a couple of times. 

Having discussed houseblogging with more than a few curious journalists over the past couple of years, I breathed a sigh of relief as I recognized familiar themes.  I don't believe that the Editor-in-Chief of OHJ, Gordon Bock, was writing his piece as an old house owner or even an old house lover.  He wrote his piece from his perspective as someone who is in the print media business.  Someone who is sincerely curious to know what this houseblogging thing is all about and where it is going in relation to what he is closest to...print media.  I can respect that because I have heard these questions before.

There are a few moments in the piece where I cringed.  For example, when these two sentences were written in this order:

Just this spring, both the Washington Post and The New York Times Magazine highlighted [houseblogs] proliferation, with the latter noting that "an army of the competent have taken to the Internet in recent years, starting up blogs that follow, step by grueling step, the renovation of their old houses."  That may be an outsider's perspective...

Was the intention of this text to mean that only outsiders, those who don't know old houses, would consider housebloggers to be competent?  I would never say that I'm a professional in the old house arena (I'm not) and my blog is more of a "How Did" than a "How To".  But I feel pretty competent when taking apart a 90 year old wood window and then putting it back together better than it was.  Or when I repair a major appliance and it works. I'll give Mr. Bock the benefit of the doubt here and assume that I'm reading into things too much.  On to the next words that made me pause:

Why should folks bitten by the old house bug--still an eccentric passion in some circles--feel compelled to not only keep a running journal of their construction exploits but also post it for all the world to read?

Well, that one is easy to answer.  Mr. Bock, I'm lazy and I'm forgetful.  Therefore, I blog.   Yes, you read that correctly.  Lazy.  Forgetful.  Okay, so I blog for other reasons too, but let's start there.

Lazy.  I hate to repeat myself.  Hate it.  The photocopier is my friend.  Email send lists are a gift.  Every time someone asks about our progress on the house, I send him or her right to the blog.  Most friends and family don't even ask anymore.  They know to go there first.

Forgetful.  BB (before blogging), I had all of my old house ideas, business cards, vendor contacts, diagrams and product wish lists on tiny bits of paper all over the place.  Falling out of my desk drawers, crammed into files and notebooks.  Now?  Everything is kept in the blog and is (oh THANK YOU technology) searchable.

Other reasons I blog:

I would journal this anyway.  I've kept a journal since the seventh grade when Mrs. Soccio, my beloved English teacher from Peters Township Middle School, taught me how.  Journals help me to sort out my thoughts and feelings, to remember things in detail that I find interesting or amusing, and to purge racing thoughts before I jump into bed at night.  I'm not a great writer, but I write.  A lot.

Commiseration.  This one should be self-explanatory.  Old houses can equal pain.  Much pain.  The kind of pain only understood by other old house owners.  How do I commiserate with other old house owners?  Through writing and reading blogs.

Motivation.  First, the photos.  Because the work goes so slowly, I think that, without the photos in our blog, I would believe that we've accomplished very little in three years.  Luckily, there is a lot of photographic evidence to the contrary.  And, yes, I am going to admit that I have thrown myself into finishing a dreaded project JUST so I could have something to post on the blog.  Accountability to others, even those you've never met in person, is a great motivator. 

I felt better about Mr. Bock's article when I read the following:

Perhaps, a houseblog is simply a 21st-century incarnation of an oral tradition that includes the trading of old-house war stories and hard won experience. 

Yes, that is IT!  When Aaron and I were invited to talk about houseblogging at K/BIS, we explained it as the "back fence phenomenon."  People talk about these things anyway.  They have photograph albums that they dust off for visitors after a project is complete to demonstrate that their current comfort was hard won.  They ask each other advice over the backyard fence, trade stories and experiences, share the names of vendors and products.  Blogging simply "lifts the veil" and lets others see and hear what has been going on for decades.  

Perhaps this is what Mr. Bock was referring to earlier in the article about an "outsider's perspective."  That the Times and the Post were making a fuss about old house lovers sharing ideas and talking about our houses, but the insiders know that we've been rambling on long before the internet was around. 

So, where does blogging fit in with magazines and newspapers and TV and radio and any other form of mass communication?  Are blogs and more traditional publications in competition?

Aaron and I took a walk around the block tonight and I asked him this question.  I really liked his answer. 

"I think this diversity of content is all good.  Blogging is popular because it is different than what was previously available.  If it was a replacement for what had already existed, it would never have gotten this much attention in the first place." 

That seemed to make a lot of sense.

As a nerd with a background in research and knowledge management, I could go on and on about the needs that I believe blogging meets.  And none of the things that I would talk about would have anything to do with fame (for my groady kitchen??) or money (ah ha ha ha hah ha!) or a desire for Mr. Bock's job.

No, I would talk about the psychology of connecting information and people.  How exciting social networking is and how I've really enjoyed blogging.  How blogging has helped me to retain my sanity during tense moments when laughing about tragedy with others online sure beats crying in the bathroom alone.  I would be very long winded and passionate about it in an extremely geeky way.  I'll spare you that.

As for me, I'll still be reading Old House Journal.  And Fine Homebuilding.  And Cottage Living.  And Natural Home.  And all of the house and DIY publications that I'm addicted to.  Because they are different than the houseblogs that I read...not better or worse.  I really can't compare them or their content.  It would be like comparing apples and oranges. Making myself choose one or the other when what I REALLY love is a nice fruit salad.


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Comments

Perhaps the first thing I would do is find out how "old" Mr. Bock is. My generation has a hard time figuring out what the word "blog" means and they complain how the children and grandchildren don't call anymore - they e-mail. Backyard fences gave way to the telephone and then answering machines and now the computer. Rather then feeling let down by the article you should be proud of your generation's leap into the new "instant" mode of communicaton. I spend hours on the internet yet my house has piles of magazines, catalogs, newspapers, periodicals, etc. The "media" has nothing to fear and much to learn about communication. Perhaps their apprehension comes from the fact that they no longer can "feed us" without getting an instant response that now not only appears on the editor's desk as a praise, rebuttal, exception, etc. but reaches thousands of readers at once. Blog away - today's generation is embracing it and tomorrow's generation will enhance, change or find a better way -----------

My nosy research efforts have Mr. Bock's age pegged as approximately 54 years old(?) The internet. Nothing is sacred.

Holy cow did I resonate with your words! My wife & I are embarking on our own old-home ownership journey-thingie. We just put a bid on a 1905 quasi-victorian house that needs extensive repair (houselift & new foundation, plumbing and a bathroom ...outhouse was 'joined' to the house, and various other major projects). This would be our first home. We have committed ourselves now to this lifestyle of living in a house of flux, be it this one or some other, because we love the legacy an older home affords and we are both architects. We have also found essencial value in online communities for some of the things life has presented us with. One example involves our daughter (whom is 2 years old now) and whom also was born with a serious congenial heart defect (HLHS). Having a group of peers with whom one can truely relate with, to understand/be understood by, has been invaluable. For this reason and all of the reason you mentioned, we had chosen to 'publish' the particulars of our homebuilding endeavors, starting with our pre-homeownership, joys, heartaches, and lessons hard learned. Thank you for sharing yours. It is well appreciated.

I agree. I was a little taken aback at this editorial and wasn't sure how to spin it.

everything you said was dead on, down to your reasons for why you blog which are all but identical for my own

ps. since when is it some crazy, baffling idea to share your thoughts with a world that may or may not be listening? (Is that guy in the toga TALKING? But why?!!)

Personally, I don't have an older house I'm doing a DIY remodel on. I have Houseblogs bookmarked because I admire what all of you are doing and I do love old buildings. I also have become very interested in what goes on with all the bloggers. I want to know if John and his family have moved into the Devil Queen yet. How's Enon Hall coming? What's the latest progess from the Petch House? There's lots more but you get the idea without my going on and on.
I appreciate that you take the time to write and are willing to let the rest of us peek in the blog "windows" of your lives. I can't think why anyone would want to put down houseblogs. It's not like it's a scam or an attempt to spread so much of the garbage found on the Internet. What you do is so admirable on so many fronts. Thanks for sharing your lives with the rest of us.

Why do I read housblogs? In my real (3 dimensional) life, I live in a community where many people have little time and lots of money for home renovation. For them, working on the house means calling a contractor to paint, repair or redesign their space. Our DIY interests and behavior seem to raise eyebrows, as if there were something wrong with doing it yourself. On the internet, I can be part of a community that celebrates this ethic. It does indeed reduce the isolation that sometimes accompanies this lifestyle. As for magazines, I keep aquiring them -- the glossy images are so hard to resist. But how many print journals exist where I can write a letter to the editor and have it appear for readership almost instantaneously?

"I Blog, therefore I am."
Which is a whole lot better than
"I'm pink, therefore I'm spam".......

I started the website to keep in touch with family in England. I started the blog so all you housebloggers wouldn't make the mistakes I did. Neither worked, no-one ever listens to me. Reminds me of the lyrics in an old Rod Stewart and the Faces song called Ooo-la-la.

"Poor young grandson
There is nothing I can say.
You'll have to learn just like me
And that's the hardest way."

See this is one of those things that drive me nuts: the idea that blogging is a lesser and illegitimate form of connection and information exchange. Hmm, let's see: I can look at pretty pictures of houses on the internet, get good ideas and advice for projects, and enjoy myself at 10 pm on a Friday. But no, apparently I should find and stalk other old-home owners in my area and exchange ideas. The flaw is this: where do you find them? I can't seem to get a date, much less find an avenue for discussion on to fix my windows. The Restoration Society is useless. Until I planted the garden in the front lawn the neighbors didn't notice me. Internet fulfills the need, people. Times have changed.

Well, I'm not sure if you saw this yet, but it should make you feel pretty good...

In the Summer 2006 issue of "Arts and Crafts Homes and the Revival" magazine, on page 20 in an article titled "Lost in the Blogs", it reads:
"...one of the best reads is HouseinProgress.net, the hilarious online journal of Aaron and Jeannie Olson, a young Chicago couple who got more than they bargained for when they bought a bungalow in 2003 (like most of the previous owner's stuff)."

Wow, cool!

Also lends a favorable nod to houseblogs.net...

I'll have to re-read the editorial. I recall reading it and not being very impressed-no offense to Mr. Bock intended- but I didn't find it very meaningful. Maybe he just doesn't get the houseblogs thing?

Before houseblogs, I'd try to talk to aquaintances and friends about our projects and they would shake their heads in disbelief or worse yet- feel sorry for us! Yes, we choose to do this. HB has people who understand me better or have the same afflication- whatever it is I don't care a bit! I'm just glad we are around and I hope all of this helps or inspires some people- that's my wish. :)

See, I took that comment: "an army of the competent have taken to the Internet in recent years, starting up blogs that follow, step by grueling step, the renovation of their old houses." That may be an outsider's perspective..." to mean that an ousider would consider reporting each step (and, by extension, reading about it) grueling. Those of us (me) who read houseblogs and those of us (you) who keep the wondering minds satiated don't consider the reading about the whys and wherefores of every detail and step about how someone performed a home renovation task boring or grueling. I didn't read it as outsiders would doubt the housebloggers' competence. My perspective is a bit different, as I'm an editor myself (I know ... boo, hiss) and I did not read his whole editorial. I'll have to check it out. In the mean time, I wrote something a little more complimentary about houseblogs back in April 2004 - before there were very many at all. I'm not saying it's worth anything (and, boy, given the chance, I'd rewrite, having just read it again), it's just one girl's opinion. http://www.neindependent.com/articles/2004/04/14/special_sections/dstory.txt

Wait! Wait! Editors, YAY!! Editors are good. Editors really don't get enough credit, IMHO, for often making a diamond in the rough into a brilliant gem. Even when they have to encourage writers to mine elsewhere ;)

I think the editorial by OHJ was good, actually. If a quality editor had reviewed this blog entry before I posted, maybe that would have come across more clearly. I can understand how some of the words in the editorial might have pushed some buttons, even though they may have not been meant to. All in all, I enjoy the dialogue between professional publishers and bloggers because it really is pushing knowledge sharing into a different zone. The personal and intimate being distributed via a mass communications channel without many of the boundaries of a corporation...for better AND for worse sometimes. It's all fascinating. It's all good. And it's late. And I'm rambling...good night! :)

Regardless of their opinion, being mentioned in Old House Journal is a good thing, as I'm sure you'd agree. Some people (quite a few of them?) have a hard time getting used to the changes...

 

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