Friday, February 05, 2016

Blogging: Past and Future

Ten years ago I began blogging. It was a new platform for personal expression and I'm grateful for the experience. In the beginning, I was part of a group of fifty or so motivated and creative bloggers. We were a tight-knit bunch who coalesced around a nakedly self-promoting writer who used her Ivy League credentials quite productively. Even with the exposure and ample hits, she rarely made much in the way of revenue. Nor did any of us. We were writing for the love of it, and maybe to even win an modest audience for our troubles.

I've recently learned that blogging still isn't profitable in the conventional sense. Many of us have hoped otherwise, only to eventually abandon our hard work in frustration. A few companies, mostly small potatoes start ups, peddle content in the hopes to win advertising dollars. I was recently employed briefly by one of them, who simply stopped e-mailing me assignments without bothering to tell me why. A more professional entity would at least have had the courtesy to say thanks, but no thanks. Fly-by-night organizations like this one are about the best a person can hope for in today's climate.

Any number of public relations firms have contacted me with the promise of free work. For a time, I pursued these as a means of boosting my profile. The problem, among many, was that they were getting paid for my troubles and I wasn't. I can't count the number of bad self-published books I reviewed over a two year period. Interviewing the writers was sometimes very painful, and there were instances where awkward phone conversations could simply not be used.

Plum assignments were hard to come by, but I appreciate the ones I received. I was given the opportunity to interview former Illinois senator Adlai Stevenson III. In addition, I had the opportunity to examine the writings of a young Kurt Vonnegut. Naturally, none of these assignments even paid me a dime. Breaking through is not a one-step process. One quickly finds that many ceilings have to be broken through on a consistent basis, and the process never really stops.

The signs are not promising. Professionals who have been to journalism school and have specialized training are fighting for paid gigs. If a person can manage to find a single publication that will routinely feature his or her content, he or she considers it a coup. Any number of others are given highly sporadic work, but not a regular column. Be it known that I recognize the challenges and steady headwind that faces me. In an over-saturated environment, who you know is more important than talent.

We may think that the internet is the great leveler, the triumph of democracy. It is, and it isn't. It has eliminated jobs as frequently as it has created them. I've sought to keep alive the first generation of blogging, which takes time to craft an argument and requires full attention. With time, our arguments have been broken into smaller and smaller bits. As we know, Twitter limits a person to 150 characters or less. The trend is towards shorter and shorter attention spans. I try to keep my contributions to the discourse to the point, never laborious to read, and still informative.

I think there is a market still for a carefully constructed stand-alone piece. I wouldn't continue writing if I didn't think this was the case. But be it known that I don't expect much in the way of financial compensation. Most of us will be known by our name, never our face. We will pass unrecognized on the street. We will only be as good as our last column. Along the way, if we're lucky, we'll win a few followers and regular readers.

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