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“I should’ve picked a better hashtag”: Lauren Appelwick on the OUPblog

On the tenth anniversary of OUPblog, we’ve asked past editors to reflect on their experiences and favorite memories. Today we speak to Lauren Appelwick who served as OUPblog Editor-In-Chief and Social Media Producer from 2010-2011.

I was late turning in this reflection. Do you know how embarrassing that is? The former Editor missing a deadline to the current Editor? Apparently blogging muscles atrophy after you adapt to writing mostly in 140-character sprints.

While we collectively celebrate OUPblog’s 10th birthday, I am celebrating the five-year anniversary of becoming its proud Editor. Five years. It’s difficult to believe it’s been so long. It used to be that I felt, somehow, I knew you all. Hundreds of thousands of you. Perhaps now you are millions, and we are only just now saying hello.

It feels strange to be writing here once again, conjuring memories of words I once helped string together. Essays. Quizzes. Podcasts. Tweets. But in many ways, that’s what blogging is about. Before we moved all our news (and truly, our lives) online, we started small. With weblogs. Blogs. These simplistic, digital pages of text which preserved our thoughts and memories.

Here are some of mine.

The #OxfordFortuneCookie game. How did that start?

It started because I was running out of ideas. I was a young publicist, and one of my books was the Little Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs. As you might imagine, it’s a wonderful volume, a fun resource, and a nice gift — but not a book that came packaged with any newsworthy pitch angle.

As I was flipping through the book, I couldn’t help but think many of the more obscure proverbs read like fortune cookie slips. “A believer is a songless bird in a cage.” “After the game, the king and the pawn go into the same box.” “When an elephant is in trouble, even a frog can kick him.”

And so the game was born. I asked my followers to tweet a question tagged #OxfordFortuneCookie, and to pick a number between 1-390. Then I would reply with the proverb they’d landed on. Question: “Will they bring back KHAAAAAAN!!! for the next Star Trek movie?” Answer: “Faith will move mountains.” It was silly, and it often made no sense, but it was fun. Soon it felt like hundreds of people were tweeting at me for fortunes, and I was thrilled to get the book and its editor, Elizabeth Knowles, some positive attention.

Remember that this was January 2010, and many people hadn’t even entertained the thought of joining Twitter. I had a mere 155 followers, and most of those people were also in publishing, so I didn’t expect this idea to have legs it did.

After I stepped into the role of Blog Editor later that year, I gave the game to the blog and continued to play it on Fridays through that Twitter account. You can’t imagine how flattered I was to notice the Editors after me have continued to play it with @OUPAcademic‘s followers. If I had had any sense of the potential longevity, I would have picked a much more concise hashtag–that is my one regret. Perhaps I should have looked up my own fortune…

The Oxford Comment podcast has also lived on. What’s the origin story there?

Michelle Rafferty deserves credit for the idea, as she had taken a real interest in that area and was already doing audio interviews with her authors as a part of her publicity strategy. She clearly loved the process: going out into the world to create content, whether that was in a beer hall or backstage at a play. Podcasts weren’t new in 2010, but they were certainly popular and I was eager to work on more multimedia projects for the blog. So after talking about it for a while, we wrote out a plan and committed to a proper, regular podcast.

It was far more work than we anticipated.

Michelle and I would be holed up in the studio (read: an empty office) late into the evening and on weekends, replaying short clips to catch a p-pop, moving these little dots a pixel up or down in the ProTools suite to balance the audio. You’d be amazed how much work can go into cleaning up mere seconds of the final cut.

But we stuck with it because we had the sense that we were doing something worthwhile. And it paid off when the podcast was featured on the iTunes “New and Noteworthy” page after a few episodes, giving our listenership a thrilling boost. I can’t express how exciting it was to see those play counts rise. I’m pretty sure I sent a screenshot to my mother. But without Michelle’s talent for crafting stories and setting the scene, and her enthusiasm for recording on-site in different venues, we certainly wouldn’t have found that sort of success. It was my honor to co-produce with her.

If there is one thing I’ll take credit for, though, it’s the title, “The Oxford Comment.” I thought it was so clever, and likely pitched it with a wink and an “Eh? Ehh?” elbow-nudge.

What else comes to mind when you think about OUPblog now?

I mostly remember that it felt like so much more than a job to me, and I truly was honored to be trusted with it. Rebecca had taken this twinkle of an idea — at a time when very few companies had even considered blogging — and nurtured it into the most-trafficked university press blog in the world. It was respectable. It was authoritative. It was entertaining. And I certainly didn’t take that lightly.

But most of all, it was fun. I loved every day OUPblog was under my care. I loved crafting the essays and sourcing new material. I loved the enthusiasm of Oxford authors and colleagues, who pitched many excellent ideas. I loved watching our readers react and share. I especially loved Word of the Year day. There’s not a single other project of which I’m so proud. My time as Editor for OUPblog was incredibly gratifying, and I am beyond grateful for it.

Personally, I would like to thank Rebecca Ford, Purdy, Cassie Ammerman, Michelle Rafferty, Kirsty Doole, Nicola Burton, Sarah Russo, Betsy DeJesu, and Caite Panzer. Your contributions and guidance were undeniably valuable. To the regular contributors I had the pleasure of working with — Anatoly Liberman, Edward Zelinsky, Elvin Lim, Dennis Baron, Mark Peters — I cannot express enough how thankful I was for your words, and the time and care you put into each post. And to our other valued contributors too many to name, sincerely: thank you for your ideas and enthusiasm.

And to you: I can say with certainty that those of us who have worked so hard on this blog are beyond thankful for your readership. Here, we have had the opportunity to explore and discuss current events, challenge theory, and excite curiosity in many areas of interest. As much as you may have learned from our authors and contributors, we have also learned from you, and are grateful for this positive, supportive community of thinkers.

Featured image: Microphone. CC0 via Pixabay.

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