Writing about my job: Internet Blogger

post by AppliedDivinityStudies · 2021-07-19T20:24:31.357Z · EA · GW · 9 comments

Contents

  Background
  Skills
  Career Growth
  Path to Impact
  Logistics
  Perks
  Q&A
  See Also
    previously on my blog:
None
8 comments

Response to Aaron Gertler's You should write about your job [EA · GW].

Background

I've been writing since September 1st, 2020, initially about voting and mechanism design, then about an increasingly varied assortment of topics ranging from the importance of economic growth within an EA framework, to the organization of research institutions and more generic career advice.

The blog has been moderately successful in terms of attracting attention from people I respect without causing any major scandals or other negative effects.

I occasionally have some interruptions, but mostly work on the blog full time.

Skills

Some skills I've developed include:

These are all skills I've developed during the course of blogging, but you can also see them as (very soft) pre-requisites. If you're really terrible at self-management, blogging might not be a good career. The degree to which this is true depends on your views on growth mindset, your own learning ability, etc. I wrote here that several prominent bloggers were "losers" in some sense in their previous endeavors, and so you shouldn't let failure in some other domain discourage you.

Career Growth

Blogging can be an end-unto-itself, but can also be a useful and low-cost way to earn a formal role at a research or media organization. You quickly build up a portfolio of past writing projects, as well as an audience and potentially connections. Some potential next steps could include:

I haven't applied for any of these myself, but have talked to people selecting for these roles, and have some sense that they believe blogging is a reasonable entry point. Of course, that depends a lot on what kind of blogging you end up doing, and how well it fits with the interests of those programs.

Path to Impact

Scott Alexander famously wrote "The less useful, and more controversial, a post here is, the more likely it is to get me lots of page views." In one view, this means you should try to:

I don't think Scott is endorsing this strategy, and I wouldn't either. As tempting as it is, the problem is that readers are not fungible. You might end up with 10,000 subscribers, but it doesn't help if they're exclusively the kind of people attractive to useless controversy.

It's difficult to formalize, but my own theory of change is closer to:

The tricky part is "people I consider to be influential". This can mean people with money, or people with large audiences, or people those people respect and listen to. To be clear, this is not really an explicit strategy on my part, but it is how I justify my particular approach to writing.

Other possible paths to impact include:

This last point is somewhat contentious, and can obviously go astray. You also have to play the balancing act of remaining close enough to the community to be trusted, but not so close that you share all their assumptions.

Logistics

Per week:

All those numbers might be +/- 50%, depending on how I'm feeling. I've also taken a couple months of vacation since September.

I received a small amount of funding from Emergent Ventures. From what I understand, grants go as high as $50,000, but that's not confirmed. You could also get around $80,000k/year from EA Grants, or seek out private donors. I haven't asked the Survival and Flourishing, but historically they seem to give out around $50k for individual grantees. You could also explore Patreon and Substack.

Perks

Though it's hard work with uncertain rewards, there are benefits:

Q&A

As always, you're welcome to email me. If you have questions you think other people would be interested in, please post them on the EA Forum discussion.

See Also

And previously on my blog:

9 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Peter Wildeford (Peter_Hurford) · 2021-07-20T13:25:34.901Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is cool, and I think it is underrated as a path. In either case, I wish more people tried out just writing, especially on the EA Forum.

What do you see as the difference, if any, between being an internet blogger and being an independent EA researcher (besides sounding less pretentious)? What would you see as the difference, if any, between being an internet blogger and a journalist?

Replies from: AppliedDivinityStudies
comment by AppliedDivinityStudies · 2021-07-20T17:24:52.206Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks! That's one perk I neglected to mention. You can try blogging in your spare time without much commitment. Though I do think it's a bit risky to do it half-heartedly, get disappointed in the response, and never find out what you would be capable of if you went full time.

There are lots of bloggers who definitely don't do independent research, but within the broader EA space it's a really blurry line. One wacky example is Nadia Eghbal who's writing products include tweets, notes, a newsletter, blog posts, a 100 page report, and a book.

The journalism piece is interesting. Previously I would have said there are mainstream journalists, and then small-scale citizen journalists who focus on hyperlocal reporting or something. Now so many high profile journalists have gone to Substack to do something that is often opinion-writing, but sometimes goes beyond that.

In the past, I also would have said that journalists have more of a responsibility to be impartial, be the view from nowhere, etc. That seems less true today, but it's possible I'm conflating op-eds with "real reporting", and an actual journalist would tell you that there are still clear boundaries.

comment by So-Low Growth · 2021-07-20T14:31:14.835Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for this - one of my favourite blogs!

Few questions (not all directly related to the job, so feel free to skip all/any of them):

  1. How do you think blogging compares to other careers available to you in terms of impact?
  2. Why not set up a Patreon (I'm aware you've got some grants)?
  3. Why remain pseudonymous?
  4. Why the name ADS?
Replies from: AppliedDivinityStudies
comment by AppliedDivinityStudies · 2021-07-20T16:51:38.128Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
  1. It depends on your skillset. My impression is that EA is not really talent constrained, with regards to the talents I currently have. So I would have a bit to offer on the margins, but that's all. I also just don't think I'm nearly as productive when working on a specific set of goals, so there's some tradeoff there. I'm interested in doing RSP one day, and might apply in the future. In theory I think the Vox Future Perfect role could be super high impact.

  2. I probably should.

  3. The short answer is that it's an irreversible decision, so I'm being overly cautious. But mostly it's aesthetic: I like Ender's Game, Death Note, etc.

  4. X-risk = Applied Eschatology. Progress Studies = Applied Theodicy.

comment by awhitney · 2021-07-20T02:41:05.081Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Congratulations on writing an impressive number of posts on your blog! You mentioned no longer having a 'day job.' How do you generate money as a blogger? Is money is a stress for you? 

Replies from: AppliedDivinityStudies
comment by AppliedDivinityStudies · 2021-07-20T03:03:04.687Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks!

Prior to blogging, I had a day job for a while and lived pretty frugally. I told myself I was investing the money to donate eventually, and did eventually donate some, but kept the bulk of it. So when I first started blogging I already had enough to live on for a while. Then I got the EV grant, and a bit of additional private funding. So long story short, it's not stressful, but it is something I think about. I'm not 100% sure what the long term strategy will be, but based on the feedback I've gotten so far, I think it's likely I'll be able to continue getting grants/donations.

Replies from: newptcai
comment by newptcai · 2021-07-20T05:37:19.247Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

If you keep writing on a topic, maybe one day you can publish a collection of your blog posts as a book?

Replies from: AppliedDivinityStudies
comment by AppliedDivinityStudies · 2021-07-20T16:36:14.754Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I've wanted to do this for a while, but haven't yet amassed enough material on a topic to consider it a very coherent work. But someday...