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A high-speed road to office loafing

Most blogs aren't all that interesting. They're just a great excuse for putting off work, right under the boss' nose.

November 04, 2005|Steve Johnson | Chicago Tribune

So I would have started this article last week, but there was all this interesting stuff on Romenesko, and then the Huffington Post had some delicious, pre-indictment speculation about the Plame case, and, of course, Defamer was trumpeting another snotty item about Lindsay Lohan.

When will people start to give Lohan the benefit of the doubt? And why don't they show more pictures?

But it was this one Romenesko item that really caught my eye, at least to the extent that my eye can be "caught" while using my giant computer screen and my company's super-fast Internet connection.

"U.S. workers essentially take daily 40-minute blog breaks," said the headline on the most prominent blog in the journalism world, a site I just happened to look at that day.

"That seems low," was the next line from Jim Romenesko, who should know. The Evanston, Ill.-based blogger with the eponymous Web digest at is, informed sources tell me, responsible for more journalist downtime than even a Starbucks across the street.

Romenesko was citing, and linking to, an Advertising Age analysis of blog-related data that purported to quantify just how much work time people who read Web logs spend doing so rather than contributing to their employers' bottom lines. The final figure amounts to 9% of the workweek spent mucking about in non-work-related blogs.

It would be nice for this new publishing medium to be able to say that the reason so much attention is paid is the content, that the blogs that have emerged are so compelling, even good workers can't help but take the occasional gander.

It is true that some of them approach compelling on certain days, when they treat certain subjects. Some break news or force a more complete understanding of events. But there are tens of millions of blogs, and too often a blog-reading blitz can be every bit as unsatisfying as eating a whole bag of potato chips. You're really into it at the time, but when it's over -- when you've looked at every single celebrity entry in the alphabetical list professing to detail their secret proclivities -- you realize you've just stuffed your brain with calories that are worse than empty.

Maybe Beck is a Scientologist; maybe he isn't. Learning that someone on the Web thinks so seems fascinating at first, but, bigger picture, it's nowhere near as satisfying as actually completing a project or, in my case, turning in a newspaper story.

No, the reason Advertising Age comes up with a figure like 9% has less to do with blog quality and more to do with the classic reasons people commit crimes. Any crime, we all know, requires motive and, even more important, opportunity.

Blogs in the workplace are opportunity itself, the bucket of Halloween candy left on the porch with a note saying "Please take one," the abusive and heavily insured husband peering over the edge of the isolated gorge.

Blogs may be a perfect medium for instant self-publishing, for offering quick-hit takes on the world. But they are a pluperfect medium for Not Working.

Unlike a newspaper or magazine spread out on your desk in a leisurely manner, a blog can be read up on your computer screen, the place where you do real work. To a boss standing at, say, 20 paces, reading a blog resembles work.

Three employees gathered around a fax machine (or, in offices that still supply them, water coolers) to gossip can look like an anti-management cabal, perhaps even a nascent union. Three employees reading gossip blogs on their computers look like high-achievers.

And blog usage rates, studies have shown, peak during working hours, then plummet on weekends, when, of course, there's no incentive to read them that's quite so strong as productivity avoidance.

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