Journalism Tips: Overcoming The Holiday Slowdown Without Going Insane

Hello, everyone! I know many of you have the good fortune of not needing to attend school or show up to work this week, but that is not the case for everyone. The Haulix team, for instance, plans to work straight through the new year. We will take time off for Santa Claus, of course, but otherwise we will be working our days away. That may sound harsh to some, but truth be told it really doesn’t feel like work when you love what you’re doing. 

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We are currently only a few short days away from the arrival of Christmas, and as a music news writer you have no doubt noticed a major drop in the number of press releases being hitting your inbox. Many PR firms, as well as many record labels, take the last week of the year off, if not longer. It is a long-standing corporate tradition that is both a gift and a curse to blog owners. On the one hand, you have less emails to keep up with and far more time to relax. That said, the lack of breaking news almost always means a dip in traffic for site owners.

While you are fighting the urge to scream about your drop in traffic, try reminding yourself that these dips impact virtually everyone in music journalism. Culturally speaking, there is very little emphasis placed on entertainment news and the tour plans of emerging musicians around this time. Americans are conditioned to view the time immediately before Christmas through the beginning of the new year as something intended for family gatherings, get togethers with old friends, and generally strengthening the bonds within their individual communities. People are not reading your review the new album from of D’Angelo because they do not care, but rather because they have been trained through years of advertising, lessons from parents, and countless other avenues to focus more attention on themselves and their immediate surroundings. You are likely the exact same way. The only difference is that you understand what it is like to rely on the number of unique clicks given to any one site or page in order to make it through the day without hating yourself.

I wish I could say that the holiday dip gets easier to handle with each passing year, but sometimes I believe the opposite may be true. When you first start out, the importance of day to day traffic is not as big as, say, how you perform over an entire month. You are happy that anyone is reading your work at all, or at least you should be. The frustration comes after you have established a voice and developed a healthy, perhaps even somewhat reliable monthly traffic welcoming tens or even hundreds of thusands of uniques. It is at that point that traffic becomes a true addiction for most bloggers, outpacing alcohol and prescription pills in the rate at which they can make or break a person’s day. When that happens, and it hits almost everyone who finds the smallest bit of success, it is hard to not feel like the world is telling you they no longer care. You are a hobby, or maybe even something less, and the vast majority of people would be perfectly fine living life whether or not your site ever existed.

This is all big and lofty stuff that holds little real weight, but in the mind of a creative person trying to use their voice to share their vision or perspective of the world around them it can feel like a 10-ton boulder weighing on their shoulders all day long. The dip inn traffic sets off an internal struggle between the belief one is doing what they were put on this planet to do and the horrifying notion they may have chased a fruitless hobby to the point of no return. This is admittedly a selfish thought, but that is the way the mind of many writers works. They feel every change in traffic or the frequency of comments directly correlates to something that was first birthed in the deepest canals of their brain. Every success is because of them and every failure too, which can often add to their sometimes fragile sense of self worth. They believe they are good, but it is a lot easier to believe with data. When data says differently, that initial blind faith is hard to maintain.

My battles with the holiday traffic dip have been epic since day one. Like many young writers, I believed the easiest way to create more traffic was to have more posts. More content would equate to more unique readers, at least in my inexperienced mind, so I would spend long hours writing about artists – many of whom I did not even care for – who had for new or even recent updates that we had previously not run. I was a news madman, but for all my effort the results were typically about the same. A day with twenty articles and a day with forty articles would only be separated by about 500 uniques, which made the value of those extra twenty posts incredibly small. Ever worse, I knew how much time with family and those I love had been sacrificed in order for them to be created. I was losing on all fronts and feeling even worse about myself than I had just knowing the dip existed.

Last year, things started to change, but certainly not as fast as I might have hoped. Instead of driving myself insane by sacrificing large amounts of time for content that very few people would enjoy, regardless of that content’s quality, I decided to use the holiday slowdown as an opportunity to plan the year ahead. Admittedly I did not plan as well as I might have liked, but for the first time in over half a decade of blogging I had found an outlet for my frustrations that allowed me to constructively combat my own demons, as well as the drop in uniques, all while focusing on the one hobby/job/passion/interest I have carried the last decade of my life. It was not perfect by any means, but it was more productive and beneficial than any of my previous late December breakdowns, and I am hoping to improve upon those efforts in the weeks ahead while I set to planning what this blog will do in the new year.

When we started the month of December I had no plans to write this article, but as I noticed students post about final exams winding down and I noticed close friends leaving the city with their sights set on wherever it is they call home I watched my analytics slowly begin to trend downward. The initial rush of self doubt hit me like it always has, but for the first time in my memory I was able to recognize it for what it was and not what my pessimistic sensibilities wanted to believe. I could see that the industry was slowing down, not interest in my work, and that I had not misstepped in any way. Still, I could not fight the urge to entertain the notion that if I did something different this year that maybe traffic would be different as well. I brainstormed a number of ideas, and even went as far as pitching a couple listicles to various publications, but before anyone got back to me I backed out of every opportunity and wrote this instead. To do anything else would be to repeat the same cycle yet again, only this time under the foolish guise of not accepting what I knew to be true.

Believe me, young writers, when I tell you that the world has not forgotten about you. The audience you have built remains dedicated, your work remains consistent, and the support you have from the rest of the blogging community is as strong as it has ever been. Instead of letting the holiday slowdown throw you and your emotions for a loop, accept that traffic dips and focus your efforts on creating a more productive new year. Don’t waste time with stories no one will read or social media efforts that will find only minimal traction and look to the future. Build a content calendar, draft requests for 2015 album releases, apply to SXSW, and/or something else altogether. Whatever you do – stay positive. The world is not ending and your talent is not going unnoticed. People simply have other priorities right now, and in less than two weeks things will return more or less to normal. Just breathe.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.