Blogging Does Not Equal Expertise
Bed Supperclub in Bangkok was on fire, full of people crammed into the bar area, some swapping business cards, flirtations or stories. The DJ had techno beats spinning and the bass pounded against the walls.
I was there to attend an awards ceremony but also cover this unique flagship restaurant, open for 11 years.
A few bloggers wanted to hike up a staircase to a loft situated above the bar and peep down at the crowd, so several of us did to photograph the hum; the action. It’s our job after all.
After snapping a few photos and resting on a railing, I soaked in the music and observed the beautiful people intermingling when the owner of a travel news daily came over.
We started talking about blogging. Well, more like he started talking about blogging.
“So, I’ve been turning it around and around, trying to figure out how to place travel bloggers,” he yelled, above the music and into my ear.
“Oh really, and what do you gather then?” I asked.
He thrummed his index and middle finger on the metal railing. ”Well, we can’t really call you travel journalists, because you don’t really work for a news outlet or a magazine…”
“Well, no, I guess you can’t call us journalists, no.”
“And I don’t think travel expert fits exactly. How about travel enthusiasts? You are excited and interested in travel, an audience comes to you and reads your thoughts, your recommendations.”
“Yeah, but we often visit a place independently and give our honest point of view, I don’t see that as enthusiastic, more like an unfiltered assessment, unlike journalists commissioned to write a travel piece.” My fingers now gripped the railing.
He smiled. ”Look, I think what bloggers do is valuable, but just trying to understand how to fit them into this concept of new media.”
I was stumped on how to respond. I was downgraded from a respected journalist (that’s a laugh), to an expert (what makes an expert anyway, a testimonial?) to finally, an enthusiast.
In his eyes, I was this muddle-headed person who springs from bed every morning, squealing with excitement about travel. I then dot my i’s with little hearts on every blog post to show you my absolute, unmatchable enthusiasm. Pom-poms out, tight cheerleader sweater on. Everything I write is fluff and my writing sucks ass because it’s not stamped and certified by the President of the World Wide Writing Association.
Speak with dignity, Jeannie. ”Look, communication in any new form is treated with suspicion. Imagine what kind of attention the first newspapers got or when television was first introduced, any new media, different ways of communicating needs to find its place. But if you want to analyze writing, you don’t need a writing degree to be a good writer. I agree that journalists are trained to convey information a particular way and they should follow a code of ethics, but it doesn’t mean bloggers don’t. Some of the most famous writers didn’t have a writing degree, like Vonnegut for example, he dropped out of university actually. Does that make his writing invalid?”
He opened his mouth to respond, when a friend down below gestured to me, a silent plea to come down and catch up on the alcohol consumption. We hastily broke the conversation and went down to join the activities.
It seemed strange, out of place to even be discussing this matter when a happy event – a party – was before us. So it was a relief to discontinue the exchange.
Yet, the conversation left a nasty aftertaste in my mouth. He made some valid points, how to measure this new media? Is it even significant? Either way, I chose to ignore it and continue forward.
Blogging is All You Are
The next interaction I had was on Twitter. I was complaining about the bottomless hell of writing a book. Err, I mean, the rewarding experience that writing a book can bring. A respondent on my Twitter feed gasped with surprise. You? You’re writing a book? Oh really?!
I may have been overreacting, but I felt defensive and proceeded to inform this person that heck yeah, I’m writing a book and FYI: I was a creative writer before blogging.
It was unfair of me, because this person has probably been following my tweets, what? For six months probably, how could they know what I was before blogging or who I am in blogging? They can’t. This person is someone who has snagged bylines in newspapers and can boast about such accomplishments while I cannot. Could that be why I was sensitive?
Though once again, blogging comes under scrutiny. Bloggers are the post-modern witches of Salem, a marginalized, misunderstood bunch that are continually prodded, poked and criticized by traditional media.
You aren’t anything unless your name has been splashed across the New York Times or even in the Albuquerque Herald. Even Paul Theroux, the legendary travel writer feels “blogs have no literary merit at all” .
I hate to break the news, but it must be done.
5 Reasons in Defence of Blogging
1. Blogging is Here to Stay
Newsprint readership is shrinking. Publication budgets are crawling on their last legs. Every single major (and minor) newspaper has a blog. Any business with half a sense has a blog as part of their marketing strategy. Whether you sell travel tours or legal services, blogging can enhance your brand’s image. Darren Rowse of Problogger will tell you bluntly, blogging is not going away. His website has 321,000 readers and growing. Just like newspapers once were, television, and now with the limitless promise of the Internet, blogging is a new medium that will integrate into society within the next 10 years, not a flighty notion that will suffer a much deserved death to the delight of traditional media. Blogging conveys information across borders and I think this power can unite thousands, something that hasn’t happened in the history of the world, ever.
2. Blogging is Reality, and Reality is a Good Thing
Recently, Conde Nast Traveler was lampooned by Skift for publishing a glossy spread that was sorely out of touch with reality and their readers. The spread, dubbed Silver Mining Playbook, showed vapid models in designer duds like Prada and Dries Van Noten, you know, the really affordable stuff and posed them perspicaciously at an expensive resort called Dunton Hot Springs in Colorado, you know, a really accessible vacation option. I do feel for these publications because in order to generate profits, they must pander to their advertisers and this means selling about $30 million in ads for Conde Nast to survive. This leaves a black hole for the consumer, hungry for information. Blogging is the antidote. Blogging is reality. Certainly a large number of bloggers cultivate their own brands, but quite often those personas spring from a genuine personality. Bloggers do tell it like it is, despite the controversy about sponsored trips in exchange for favorable reviews. I admit to producing a fair number of favorable reviews, but most of my trips were self-created and there’s only been one that was troubling, which were my issues with the Sky Bar in Bangkok. In the end, blogging is relatable because it’s real people telling their stories and that can trump fantasy any day.
3. Blogging Gives Voice to the Voiceless
Expression use to be reserved for artists, but no more. The critics say blogging can be awkward, whiny and pointless. Who wants to read the inner thoughts of a 15 year old nerd or a depressed housewife? Someone always does. I think an audience will inevitably gravitate to someone they relate to or want to cheer for. Stories make up the fabric of our lives, as well as information — blogging fills that void. Blogging can appear to be navel-gazing, but I firmly believe it’s been a tool for millions to form communities, to feel less alone, maybe be less angry. It’s no different when centuries ago, the elders and children sat by an oil lamp or a fire and shared tales, everyone has a story and blogging gives those voices a place.
4. Blogging is Possibility
Before I discovered blogging, I felt trapped by my cubicle and the constraints of life. I only saw myself toiling at a job that was anathema to me for the rest of my days, tucking away a few dollars in RRRSP’s, maybe buying a condo or something. There’s nothing wrong with this vision, but my soul craved more. Blogging and connecting with others showed me potential, what I had inside and what I could create outside of a narrow idea. I’ve read about alternative lifestyles, digital nomads setting their own pace, been excited that bloggers landed book deals and seen entrepreneurs growing their businesses, people of varying stratums inventing and sharing through blogging. This hated medium can unseal who you are and the talents you have to give. These possibilities translate to blogging and much more.
5. Blogging Will Evolve
It already is. Take Nellie Huang and Alberto Molero of Wildjunket, two people who created what some might label an easily digestible, popular travel blog. They re-imagined this concept into an iPad/iPhone magazine with eye-catching photography and solid travel writing. To me, the evolution is well underway. Think of Medium , Wattpad or Ghost. Is Wattpad blogging or something else? I’m still trying to figure this out myself, but what I do know is it’s become an essential portal for expression, which is the very essence of blogging. Digital communication will continue to move forward, and this includes blogging, as consumers digest information on up-to-date technology like e-readers and mobile devices. For the very first time, dialogue is not just for the propagandists or muckrakers, but for everyone. Sounds damn democratic to me.
To those people who want to call me an enthusiast or try to trap me in a box of blogger only, nothing more, I’ll continue to stand strong and help along this blazing, new media. Blogging has given me so much, that it’s my mission to give back to it.