7.10.10

How important are bloggers?

It's that time again, folks, when your good friend RedHead, reliable purveyor of moderately pretentious outfit posts and nonsensical ramblings about favourite people, goes a bit philosophical.
This one's been building for a while, and was, as with most of my existential wonderings, prompted by a post by Sister Wolf about a recent blogging conference.
As far as I can tell, this is when a group of bloggers descend upon some poor unsuspecting town and populate it with their high-end, Prada-wearing, shiny-haired and sweetly smiling selves. Rather like that one in Florence that I last posted about. The biggest, brightest blog stars sit on podiums and lecture their adoring wannabe blog fans on how to be super-awesome and successful just like them.
Sounds like fun, right? I wonder what I could learn from these kids, who wear the best and someone manage to massively endorse brands and products while still refusing to accept that they've sold out. Good ol' Jane shoots her mouth off with this one, insisting that she and her fellow disciples are so much better than they are given credit for, because they are engineering original content, uncensored and uncontrollable.
Aside from the obvious 'massive head' angle I could take on this, Jane's comment came back to me last night, when at an event, I was having quite an interesting discussion with an editor. I introduced the blogger vs. journalist topic of conversation, which led to the editor...not dismissing, but glossing over, the importance of bloggers based on the very thing that Jane marks them out for - lack of editing and censoring. They are written as labours of love, by amateurs. Jane thinks this is good. The editor, understandably, doesn't, taking the viewpoint that the editors and journalists who produce the content on her site are trained and seasoned professionals who understand the rules, regulations and systems involved in producing a great piece.
Whereas Jane has a massive international following and readership, the ear of Anna Wintour, more clothes than she could ever need and more open doors than a hall of mirrors. All based on her amateur efforts.
Unfortunately, I had to cut the conversation with the editor short, but I would have been intrigued to see her defence continue. I have no doubt that she could have beaten me easily, me only being an amateur who writes for free, but it's tricky to define what seperates a great blogger from a great journalist.
Of course, a journalist is commissioned. A journalist works to deadlines, on word limits, to strict legal controls and image constraints. A journalist has a target market, a target audience, and a specific voice in mind. And a journalist has a wage.
But to get to be a journalist, there are certain steps that you have to take. One of them, I have been told (told by friends on journalism courses, who have in turn been told by their lecturers) is to keep a blog. Because there's no better way to keep an online portfolio to hand, to keep your mind and writing skills sharp, and to show what you're really passionate about.
Unless, of course, you're Jane. People like Jane, Rumi and co have transcended their blogs, and now use them in the same way that a young adult uses a parent - acknowledges them for shaping their success, but doesn't feel the need to rely on them. So they occasionally post pictures of themselves to quench their fans' appetite. I admittedly only got into this whole thing recently, so when trawling the archives on Sea of Shoes I see that Jane did used to write interesting posts. But as I'm sure any blogger will agree, it's not as easy as it sounds to produce a coherent post every day.
Recently, I read a Q&A on a blog (its in my list over there) and in response to a question about career and work, the blogger replied 'I blog full time'. Because it's clearly a full-time occupation, posting pictures of your latest pair of shoes. But then, this is a successful blogger, and she's probably including answering emails, dealing with sponsors and attending parties in that. I'm naive enough to not understand how sponsorship works, but I'm pretty sure she can't live on what she makes from them. No doubt plenty of freebies, a student loan and the Bank of Mum and Dad comes heavily into play. So far, so journalism.
As has been said, the media is vastly dominated by the middle classes for this exact reason - it's not like there's money flying around. Gone are the days of the plucky local honest journalist, and now it's the eager young intern, pushy and ruthless, that gets the cream. Or, as was the case when I attended a student media event, often it's the blindingly lucky. I attended a talk with four journalists about how to 'make it' in features writing. Three of the four had won competitions. Clearly, it's no place for the average.
And that's what I think the editor meant when she called bloggers 'amateurs'. Anyone can write a blog. Anyone with a smidgen of style and a half-decent grasp of language can writie a good blog. Anyone with limitedless cash, time and blogroll can be a huge success. But it's generally a case of luck that turns you into a BryanBoy. I haven't plumbed his archives, but I wonder what the eager young BryanBoy was like, drooling at the feet of Marc Jacobs like the rest of us. What was his Cinderella moment, when the good fairy turned him from wannabe to huge hit?
But slowly, the tide is turning on these success stories. Sister has been bringing to our attention the blogger Gala Darling, one of those frightfully pretentious bloggers who only get away with it because they come across as completely stupid, so get away with it out of pity (she annoys me intensely). Recently, Gala was outed as a fraud, a trust-fund brat giving the impression of a hard-grafting blogger lifestyle when in fact she was a hard-grafting Daddy's girl. Gala's got a taste for the extravagant and the weird. Never a good combination, and she's certainly caused a lot of complaints mainly about her appropriation of certain cultural aspects (she has a penchant for wearing Native American headdresses) and apparently being racist (see that link).
That was an interesting one, and brings me neatly back to Jane's point about how bloggers answer to no-one. Except, of course, their fans. Gala, though I doubt she had time amid all her dabbling in Wicca and styling her latest gifts, had a choice - she could continue in the vein in which she started or she could start pandering to the desires of her followers. Like Jane, she chose to reject them completely, disabling comments on her blog and continuing her reign of terror with the credit card and the cultural patchwork quilting. So she continues merrily on, documenting her life in much the same way as before, uncensored and answering to no-one, ignoring the vicious attacks against her on the net as she merrily curates.
And this is where I get stuck. Because people like Jane and Gala will never want to conform to what people tell them to do, so in the big bloggers vs journalists debate they're poor examples. So, how about Tavi and Susie Bubble? Love or hate them, they are arguably industry leaders when it comes to the business of fashion. And, no different from the best fashion editors, they sit front row at shows, contribute to magazines with their opinions and produce detailed, extensive dissections of the catwalk. No wishy-washy 'I love the natural movement, so, like, visual' dialogue for these ladies. They are who comes to mind when I think of bloggers with influence, as well as good old Scott Schulman.
And here, I think, is the ace in the argument. The Sartorialist. Very little writing on posts, very image heavy. You know what he does. But while the fashion editors are all telling us what to wear, Scott is showing them what we actually are wearing. The circle completes - what fashion is actually translating to the streets of the world. (On that note, what's happened to Grazia's Style Hunter?) Sure, he's a massively successful blogger, and probably makes enough from his sponsorships (and book deals) to live on. He's the King of Fashion Bloggers, and us lowly paupers who are getting by on nothing have no chance, and are right to be looked down upon by the hard-working, hard-hitting journalists. But they should remember that they were all like us once, and that for every one of us, there could well be another Scott.
Besides, blogs are free! Think of the outcry that occured when The Times paywall went up (something that, as a woman who appreciates a shrewd business strategy, I actually appreciate). No-one is willing to pay for the internet any more, and the blogs are the best examples of the opportunity. It has opened up the playing field to a level where we're even able to have this discussion about whether bloggers are actually a valid part of the dialogue, because as crap as Jane's grammar may be, she probably gets just as many hits as a news website and I imagine people all across the world namecheck her too.
I imagine that a lot of the editors who are dismissing the bloggers are the old guard, rather like Cal McCaffrey in State of Play, dismissing blogger Della Frye (hungry, cheap and churns out copy every hour) as 'upchucking online'.
Cal, old-school journalist that he is, relying on his connections with the men and women in the right places to get information and a story told, is possibly right, as Della's eagerness to produce copy often negates her need to fact-check. But while Cal keeps the front page held for days, Della is being read on the hour, every hour, and when given the opportunity to do some in-depth research, admittedly forced to come round to Cal's way of thinking in the interest of the investigation, she shows that all that Google-searching paid off, though she is regularly impatient to run with the information that they have, rather than throw it all into Cal's melting pot, hang the deadlines.
Which is where, ultimately, online will always beat newspapers, as there are no print deadlines to conform to. So that leaves us with the bloggers vs the online journalists, where there really is very little difference aside from the wage and the legal constraints (and the access to Getty, though I did manage to register for press information from the Oscars as a blogger - clearly they're with the times).
So I've reached stalemate with myself, I think. From the talented bloggers I've seen and know (the best example is my 'arch enemy' apparently i-Flicks, a film reviewer and freelancer - see him over there in my list) I really can't see the difference. Aside from the numerous proof-reads and checks from numerous editors. But I'm also a professional proof-reader...and it's not like I needed a degree for that.
Ok...so trying to sum up this massive mess. Back in the bar where I met the editor, as I watched her zoom away in a taxi, I regretted the abrupt end to our conversation, as I was very close to actually finding out what a real editor thought of real bloggers.
But as I write this, alongside working, I find a blog in the list of sites I have to contact to get them to review a client's show. And another.
Clearly someone notes the importance of the bloggers. Because somewhere, someplace, the next Sartorialist is teaching himself how to use Wordpress...

12 comments:

  1. What a beautifully written exposition of the issues. You are correct, I think in identifying that the main issue is that editorial journalism and blogging come from such different places.
    would that it be the blogger was a forum for what is, and journalism that will be . the issue remains commercialism, there is no dosh in merely reciting the already done, no matter how fantastic. Sadly, as I thin human interpretation of all trends is more interesting than an (possibly) imposed ideal by a magazine editor
    Well done

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  2. well put lady. a very interesting topic indeed.

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  3. Love this post. You echo a lot of my thoughts on the matter and i agree with what you're saying about bloggers like Jane and GD versus Tavi and Susie, for example. Personally i have no interest in the blogs of the first two. It's nice that some people do, but i've got kind of sick recently of so many blogs turning into one barely-rehashed press release or promotion after the other, all in the name of becoming a bit more like these blogging 'stars' which everyone supposedly looks up to and adores. I wrote a post about fashion blogging last year (i think) and in it i said how i think it has the potential to be so wide-ranging and inclusive, but just like journalism we're seeing the sad fact that it's those with the most money and the most connections who achieve the 'success'.

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  4. JK here, (from over at Sister's). I'm not truly a fashionista in any sense of the word so my judgement of your sentiments in that sense can't be assessed. But what I do enjoy is good, careful, observant writing - which this piece incidentally displays - in spades.

    Generally speaking, as far as writing/blogging goes, it is the amateur rather than the "journalist" (re: professional) whom I place my trust in. Journalists too often have an agenda.

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  5. It sounds to me, at least from the film blogging point of view that most of the people blogging (bearing in mind that many of the people blogging about film and not taking pictures of their shoes) are trying to get into film journalism. This being the case, the standard of writing out there has massively improved (this is after reading the feedback offered by a reviewer to a writing competition).

    You guys trying to get into journalism have got it tough. Good luck!

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  6. Another well thought out and written post, doll. Brava. You've brought up some very interesting ideas and arguments.

    My problem with blogging (the same thing that could make blogging an important part of "journalism") is that bloggers answer to no-one. In the "olden days", real journalists’ responsibilities were to the public: they are supposed to be part of the people's police force over the other "estates" of our society. Journalists are supposed to help the public monitor and bring to justice the politicians, clergy, and others in power when they betray the public’s trust. But they can only do that by providing us with unbiased facts. That's so rarely what we get these days. So-called journalists are only interested in giving convoluted "facts", tainted and twisted by their opinions and the opinions of their media outlets. This is also my issue with many blogs (that it's almost all opinion based). You’re right that completely fact-based blogging can be boring, especially when it’s fashion related. But how about acting more professionally? If bloggers want to be taken more seriously and become the true “journalists of the people” they need to improve their writing, learn some grammar, be ethical in their writing (disclosures, conflicts of interest, etc), and stop being colossal asses in hopes of scoring lucrative sponsorships (Gala, Jane, Gnarled Jen, etc). I know most bloggers need sponsorships but if you are never shown on your blog (the same blog that made these sponsorship opportunities possible) wearing a single item of clothing/ shoes/ etc that you’re hawking then you better fess up to your readers that you’re doing it for the money and not because you love the product *cough-Jane-cough-JCPENNEY-cough**cough-Jane-cough-UrbanOutfitter-cough* So…where was I…? Ah, yes: In conclusion, we need journalists who must answer to "the people", all the people, and more bloggers who do the same.

    (I hope that I made sense!)

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  7. As a former journalist, I could go on forever about my feelings on traditional journalism vs personal blogging. I don't like every journalist, and I don't like every blogger. I believe blogs run by individuals generally can't achieve what larger media organizations with real resources can achieve when it comes to investigative journalism. That said, I think there's plenty of room for old media and new media together. New media is great for breaking news; old media is great for deep-dive journalism.

    But really, what I want to throw in here is that my friend Jennine of Independent Fashion Bloggers busts her ass to create conferences that offer a mix of content and speakers and she doesn't deserve this bit of snark: " this is when a group of bloggers descend upon some poor unsuspecting town and populate it with their high-end, Prada-wearing, shiny-haired and sweetly smiling selves." When I moderated a panel for the Independent Fashion Bloggers Evolving Influence conference in February (that's another panel from the same day shown in the picture used by Sister Wolf), it was about ethics. I had Clark Hoyt, then public editor of the New York Times, on my panel, sitting right next to Jessica of What I Wore. The Evolving Influence conference last month had people like Phil Oh of StreetPeeper giving solid advice on how to monetize a blog without being a brand brown-noser. There's a mix that's worth checking out. Don't assume that Gala or Jane represent the entire event.

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  8. Duly noted Wendy, I have responded to you personally at your blog.
    Thanks for your responses, everyone. As to whether certain bloggers mentioned here are actually using their blogs as a platform for journalism, I couldn't answer. I do agree with the belittling comments made by certain writers that a lot of bloggers just post pictures of themselves and link eachother, but for a small minority they actually are, as Jane says, 'trusted experts' (whether we include her in that definition is up to us) and should be taken more notice of. I don't think a great blogger necessarily makes a great journalist because their styles, approaches and above all missions are very different, but I am still trying to decide whether one can necessarily lead to the other. If not, I may just pack in here and start doing something valuable with my time.

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  9. Very interesting discussion. I like all the points and the comments. I'm currently writing a chapter on this for an academic book - it is hard going and this debate is part of the core of my work.

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  10. Interesting post. I've never considered bloggers to be journalists so much as tastemakers, or writers who freely offer up their opinions, so I don't hold them to the same standards as a professional journalist. But I'm probably kind of old-school in that respect!

    And I attended the recent IFB conference, not the one pictured, and found it fascinating. For $60 it was a bargain for the entertainment aspect, but also for the speakers who gave professional presentations and shared useful information. I think that as bloggers it's beneficial to have someone organizing an industry event that brings people together and seeks to assist us in our work. No, I wasn't very interested in what some speakers had to say, but isn't that the case at any conference?!

    I hope soon you'll run into another editor and be able to finish your fascinating discussion!

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  11. Hi there, found you via your comment at WendyBs. Interesting post, lots of thoughts here. It sometimes seems that bloggers get more scrutiny than they deserve - after all, most of us are not paid, whereas the amount of dodgy dealing that goes on with journalists is legendary, and often hard to detect. We all know that magazines include certain content to please their big advertisers, so it seems unfair to level similar accusations at bloggers. There is also often a level of 'who you know' in order to break into journalism, in particular fashion journalism. When you hear about some of the celebrity kids working for big magazines, the rich kids interning, inherent nepotism... it makes me wonder how editors can then justify their snobbery towards bloggers, who are working because they love it, not for any prestige or financial reward.

    Anyway, there are lots of sides to the issue and I'll be interested to read that chapter of Kate's when her book is done! Thanks for the post.

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