I coached at Isaac Newton Christian Academy in Cedar Rapids for about 13 years, before I moved to Sioux City, both soccer (we were the dominant program in Eastern Iowa among Christian middle schools) and basketball. I kept track of stats and analyzed them. I still have the files. Numbers and statistics fascinated me.
SBC Voices is coming up on a strange confluence of significant statistical milestones. WordPress has analytics and I monitor them and noticed that several statistical boxes are about to be checked. This is in a time when we have been having a lot of discussions about the future of our blog and the direction we should take. I have no idea how our stats compare to those of others – we are likely more active than some and less so than others.
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
We have made two decisions recently that will affect the future of the blog.
1. We have spent a lot of time analyzing what our role will be in breaking news in the SBC. We are aware that there will always be someone criticizing our decisions, but we are trying to find our sweet spot. We are generally made aware of “breaking news” before it breaks and have even been given access recently to stories that could have blown the lid off situations in the SBC, and of course, drive our stats (one story stands out – it could have been BIG).
But there are legal and ethical considerations attached to breaking stories. Confirming stories, checking sources. Being investigative journalists and checking sources is appealing and it certainly is a way to increase traffic here at the blog, but we all have fulltime jobs and are not willing to become investigative journalists.
We have decided that our role will be to opine on stories others break. We will let Baptist Press, the Houston Chronicle, or other national journalism entities (or bloggers like Ben) break the stories and then we will give our perspective. This is a guideline more than an actual rule. We just are not equipped to be the Baptist Woodward and Bernstein.
It’s tricky. Some of our leaders love secrecy and protect information like it’s gold. The more they do that, the more the Baptist grapevine goes to work. Deciding what information to share and what not to is never an easy task. We have lengthy discussions every time and are seldom unanimous on whether to publish. Here are our basic principles
- We try to act for the betterment of the SBC, not this site. We’ve held stories that would increase traffic here dramatically. If we publish, it’s because we believe that the information will advance the work of Southern Baptists.
- We are willing to criticize SBC institutions and leaders but will seek to do that constructively and redemptively. We realize those we criticize will not likely appreciate what we do or feel that it was right.
- We understand people will disagree with almost every action we take. People have often disagreed (privately) when we failed to publish hot stories we could have broken. People have often disagreed, both publicly and privately, when we publish. We recognize that as part of the process. We do what we think is right and then brace for impact. Bloggers will never be popular with the powerful because they want to control information and we prevent that.
- We are gradually becoming less enamored with anonymity. While we still allow some to publish anonymously (both comments and posts), we are doing less and less of that. Anonymity is under constant discussion.
- Comments are under constant review. Moderating comments is a task none of us has time for. We want to provide open discussion but also accountability and responsibility.
These are basic guiding principles. Application of them is under constant discussion…and disagreement! If anyone thinks we are monolithic at Voices, they should see some of our behind the scenes discussions about whether to post certain stories.
2. We are going to be adding some ads soon. Since we took over ownership of the blog (technically, the blog is now a nonprofit corporation and we run it as a group), we find there are expenses. So, you will be seeing some ads at the top and on the sidebar.
Our editorial position will not change. We are Southern Baptists committed to advancing the work of Southern Baptists. We will criticize when we feel the need, and if an advertiser objects to that, they will have to invest elsewhere. We will criticize constructively and redemptively. We are not a discernment blog that is looking to see how many people we can tear down and destroy.
Here’s where we stand. We are relentlessly and unapologetically pro-SBC. That does not mean that we agree with everything that goes on in the SBC. That does not mean we will cheer every action or sit idly by when things happen that we see as wrong. As loyal Southern Baptists, we will articulate our convictions, even if that puts some off, and we are willing to criticize those in power if we believe that criticism helps our convention.
Milestones, Milestones, Milestones
The nature of blogging has changed so much since I took over as editor of this blog on my birthday (September 13) in 2010. Back then, I would often just put up discussion starter posts and we’d have comment streams that went 1200 to 1500 comments. I learned to hate moderating comments and through the years, as the SBC splintered more and more, comments became more unmanageable, aggressive, and sometimes hostile.
We have fewer comments now and have discussed closing comments (we decided against that). But that doesn’t mean our posts are not getting discussed. Now, people share a post on Facebook and have their own discussions. Many Facebook groups have arisen that discuss Baptist life. The comment streams of blogs are no longer as active as they once were.
But here are some of our statistical milestones. Again, other blogs blow ours away. We are Baptist-focused and we are not controversy-mongers. We have decided against publishing many articles that could have doubled or tripled our traffic over that last year, but we felt those posts were not honoring to our Savior or best for Baptists. Even what we posted was offensive to some. I would only say to those offended by what we posted – you should have seen the stuff we decided NOT to post!
Looking at these milestones says something about blogging today.
1. We are nearing 10,000,000 page views.
Our computer guy, Brent Hobbs, tells me there are several ways to measure “hits” on a blog, but we measure individual page views and separate guests. If you log on to Voices and look at 5 different articles, our stats record you as one visitor and 5 page views. Brent says there are measures of “hits” that include much larger numbers but I sorta blanked out as he started speaking with other tongues (computer stuff).
I hear all the time that blogging is dying, but we broke every record our statistics measure (except for the one-day record) last year. Of course, the Paige Patterson story was the wind beneath our wings there. We were running strong a few years ago when we had the blogroll (remember that?) and when Google deactivated that, we took a major hit (down about 500 to 1000 page views a day). But we are back running stronger than we were back in the blogroll days. This year is running a little behind last year but still ahead of previous years.
We will cross the 10 million page view mark in May.
2. We are nearing 200,000 approved comments.
This is the biggest change in the dynamics of Baptist blogging, and I am all for it. We have far fewer comments at Voices, and we tend to moderate and block trolls and shrill commenters more readily. People are free to share our posts on Facebook and say whatever they want.
I hate moderating comments because I have not, after 12 years, found an objective system to use in the process. Which comments cross the line? Am I more likely to excuse a comment made by a friend than by someone who annoys me? (I’d like to say not, but, well, probably.) We try not to moderate comments based on POV (within reason) but there is no clear standard.
So, we are within a few comments of 200,000, but we are slowing down. We will likely cross that barrier before the Annual Meeting as well.
3. We are nearing 11,000 Twitter Followers.
That is about double the number of followers we had when we first started running the twitter account (I think it was nearing 6000?). This form of communication has boomed.
We are still learning how to use it, and I am constantly transgressing. I have a personal twitter, a church twitter, a Voices twitter, (and a Yankees-related twitter). I have often tweeted on the Voices account thinking it was my own account. Brent is patient with me.
4. We have nearing 1500 Facebook followers and approaching 1000 subscribers to our posts.
We have never done “like us” appeals to build this and it was only a couple of months ago that Brent added the “subscribe” option (or re-added it). We’ve gone from zero to about 800 in that time, according to stats.
We probably should have focused on this more.
5. We are nearing 5000 published posts.
When I took over the blog, I had the idea that to drive traffic, let’s push posts. We tried to have an early AM post, a noon post, and an evening post. We had 3 per weekday for a long time. Can you say burnout?
Now, we try to focus on quality more than quantity (we still let Adam Blosser post), and we look to have one post every day, Monday through Saturday. Sometimes, we have two posts. Breaking news posts go up when, well, news breaks.
We are less than 90 posts short, and in the run-up to the convention, with the frequency of news, we will likely cross that barrier around the Annual Meeting time.
Hopes, Dreams, Ambitions
What do we talk about when we talk?
1. We’d like to add regular minority contributors.
2. We’d love to see more regular contributions from SBC women.
3. We have some ideas about regular features.
4. We continue to look for writers who have a variety of viewpoints. We are a pro-SBC blog willing to offer positive, constructive criticism of the SBC. We do not engage in conspiracy theories and we resist the us-vs-them splintering ideologies that have torn us apart. But I would love to have people who articulate well positions that differ from mine.
Sometimes, I like to read back through old posts and remember the “wild west” days of blogging. It was awful in many ways. Oddly, many of my blogging opponents back then are good friends now. We are constantly morphing and adjusting and changing. We hope to do better every month, every year.
It’s a challenge.