20 years of One Man & His Blog
Twenty years ago today, I opened a Blogger account, and started my second blog, named, rather wittily I thought at the time, One Man & His Blog. The name was a riff on a distinctly British TV show, and, as a fresh voice in the emerging UK blogosphere, I wanted to play off that. I’d come to regret it, as I tried desperately to explain the joke to journalists in Malaysia a few years ago. But then, when I named the site on a whim, I had no idea that two decades later, I’d still be using the name. And still writing the same damn blog.
I’ve now served 20 years in the creator economy trenches, and an entire two decades as a media artisan. We didn’t call it the “creator economy” back then, of course. It was “personal publishing” or the “blogosphere”. But there’s a straight-line between the two ideas. The initial spirit that drew me into blogging is still very much in evidence in today’s personal newsletters on Substack, Beehiiv and Ghost. I can see it in the waves of people using creator tools to build an alternative to the traditional media, and reshaping that media as a result. Indeed, some of those early voices that inspired me back then, like Andrew Sullivan, are back “blogging”, after years in the mainstream media again.
So, yes, as you’ve probably guessed, this will be a terribly self-indulgent post. But, after running one site single-handedly for 20 years, I think I’ve earned it. But rather than retell the story of how this site came to be yet again, I’m going to dive into the emotional journey that 20 years has been — and what we can learn from it.
So, that’s what I’m going to do now. Buckle up.
Trapped in MSM Hell
In 2003, I was features editor of a business magazine, and I was deeply professionally frustrated. I was chafing at the unnecessary boundaries, as I saw it, being put on my work. I had a more expansive vision of what business media could be than the people I was working for, and was impatient to make editor, so I could implement it. Yes, I was actively looking around for a new job, and was even offered one, the editorship of a consumer tech mag, but turned it down because it involved a significant pay cut. (Hilariously, in retrospect, one thing they asked me in the interview was how I’d cope working with a much younger staff. I was in my early 30s…. That’s consumer magazines for you.)
One Man & His Blog was my escape. My permission to explore this exciting new world of personal publishing that blogging enabled. Remember, 2003 was before Facebook, long before Twitter and about the same time LinkedIn launched. TikTok was something watches did.
Nobody at work knew I was doing it, for the first few years, at least. I shared more in the early days of the blog than I would these days, including silliness like this, because the online world felt smaller, safer and more friendly. It was certainly a lot less judgemental. And I rapidly fell in love with the form, finding the same freedom I’d felt as a student magazine editor — and as the publisher of a newsletter for the children on my street when I was a child. I’ve never particularly needed the validation of a “big name” title, and taken every opportunity to publish that came my way.
That said, ironically, starting this blog eventually provided that longed-for escape from the job I was coming to hate. Only three years after OM&HB launched, I was running a network of business blogs for the same publisher, thanks to this site. I was still deep in that work at the 5th anniversary of the blog. But I was rapidly developing the skills that I’m using today as a lecturer, trainer and consultant. Even as OM&HB transformed my career once, it was setting the stage to do it again.
But, in the meantime, blogging was in trouble. Because social media was on the rise.
The blogging wilderness years
Five years later, the job was gone, and I was into my second year as a self-employed consultant who was slowly realising he was a pretty good trainer, too. Mainly, though, I was dealing with the culture shock of being a new dad, with all that entails. I’d actually go on to drop my working hours to spend at least a day a week with my daughter, rather than have her in nursery an extra day. And then did the same with her younger sister when she came along. I put my career on the back-burner for my family, and I have never regretted the decision.
Half a decade later, my daughters were in school, and I was well-established as a trainer, having worked with news organisations all over the world. But I was clearly beginning to feel like the last man standing:
At the point, I suspect that OM&HB is one of the oldest continually published journalism-centric blogs in the world. So many of my compeers have dropped the form, or been sucked into the journalism mainstream, which consumes all their energy for writing. Others have been seduced by the platform publishing game, and are publishing into Facebook or Medium where once they would have been in their own space.
The world was already swinging back my way, though, even if I couldn’t see it yet. 2018 was also the year of the Facepocalypse, when dramatically reduced organic reach led to many publishers questioning their relationship with social media. Ghost was developing rapidly as an alternative platform to the increasingly unwieldy WordPress, and a little startup called Substack was starting to make waves about newsletters…
20 years in the creator economy
And today, five years on? Far from being the last man standing, I’m just another voice in the proliferating number of journalism-centric blogs and newsletters, some of them authored by people who were still children when I got started. (Gotta tell you, I’m trying hard not to think about that too much…)
Ironically, 2023 feels more like 2003 than 2013, because we once again have an active “blogosphere”, although it’s now spread between blogs, newsletters, and podcasts. And so, for perhaps the first time in a decade, I’m truly invested in the name of the site. One person and a great publishing platform is all you need to have an impact on the world, if your ideas and your writing skill can rise to the challenge.
Have I risen to the challenge? Perhaps. The blog has brought me neither fame nor fortune. But it has enabled at least two major career switches, and now pays its own way through the membership offering here. It’s taken me to the US, Malaysia, India, the UAE, and Singapore, as well as all over Europe. Extracts from it are to be found in an ever-growing number of academic papers and books, and I get occasional pics from people who see me quoted on slides at conferences on workshops.
I’ll take that. Because, in the end, One Man & His Blog is likely to be my life’s work. The longest I spent on one title was 9 years on Estates Gazette. I’ve over doubled that with this site. And I may not have two decades of working life left to me.
The next 20 years?
So, will there be a 40th anniversary post here in 2043? I certainly don’t have any intention of stopping, but I’m also incredibly conscious that my Dad died when he was 65. That’s less than 14 years away for me. But, providing I manage to live longer than my Dad did, I can’t see me giving up writing One Man & His Blog. If I was going to do so, it would have been in the last decade. I was tempted during the wilderness years when everyone was telling me that blogging was dead, and I should be building my Twitter followers, or publishing on Facebook, or moving to Medium or….
But I’ve been through the blogging doldrums, I’ve survived the great diversion that was the rise and fall of centralised social media, and I’ve come out the other side. The creator economy is here, and it’s not going away. It will continue to evolve and change, but, after 20 years, the power of owning your own online space, your own writing and your own domain name has never been clearer to me.
And it’s lovely to see the rest of the world rediscovering the power of one man and his blog.
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