The vast blogging world, consisting of 70 million blogs and countless readers according to Eric Holter (“Blogging: The Bedrock of Advertising 2.0”) has felt like a small town in the last week. I am referring to the curious case of Get Off My Internets’ near demise, and its dramatic rebirth.
I feel the events have a lot to say about the way blogs have changed, what writers should think about when they blog, what readers should expect from bloggers and what the whole movement of bloggers as brands means to all of us.
In the Beginning…
Blogs were once the domain of “tell-all” self-deprecating writers who presented a warts-and-all portrait of being single, getting married and then having children or even struggles with infertility. Some of these Gen X trailblazers gained traction that remains to this day. I would cite Ayelet Waldman’s short-lived blog which detailed her ambivalence about being a mother, or Heather Armstrong’s stark depiction of her stay in a mental hospital while suffering from PPD (which I couldn’t find, alas) as examples of this style. A lot of writers used snarky humor and sarcasm and many referenced the beloved pop culture of their childhood: think Funyons, Rubik’s Cubes and “Saved by the Bell.” Usually the stated goal of Gen X bloggers was to get a book deal and some of them did.
But as these writers have aged, the next generation has taken their noted earnestness and emphasis on being unique and really has rocked the habitat. Now, many bloggers showcase their beautifully photographed lives with lovable babies and exotic travel and domestic homeyness and hipster fashion and healthy food. Good examples: Bleubird Vintage and Oh, She Glows. There is great appeal in this style of documentation for two reasons. One, these blogs (whether about parenting or design or lifestyle) are rarely controversial and often gloss over the writer’s difficulties. (Or don’t even mention them.) Consumer brands love the most popular of these writers because they reach a coveted demographic of women looking to emulate their lives, from what shoes they are wearing to the moccasins on the tiny and precious feet of their infants. Two, the economy has been in the crapper and the realities are more difficult than ever, so the pleasure of seeing a pretty lady arranging flowers in a mason jar is a pleasant escape.
I knew something had profoundly changed when a woman at a holiday dinner mentioned to me that she is obsessed with a certain lifestyle blogger. She told me sometimes when she is having a bad day, those few moments when she sees what the woman is wearing or making in her kitchen lift her out of her funk.
Oddly enough, both styles of blogging have their perils.
What Are Our Responsibilities As Blog Readers?
This article brilliantly highlights the dangers of bloggers becoming a brand. You should read the post, but in a nutshell: when you sell yourself as a product, people are going to begin to think of you as a reviewable product. They may start to dislike your aesthetic or your recipes or your own branded products if you’re bigtime. You would need a tough skin for this.
But even worse could be the fate of the earlier trailblazers, writers whose words are judged. What they wrote was and is poignant, honest, true, often times coming from a place of vulnerability, reaching for the great circle of support that their readers can provide. Writers who perhaps never dreamed they would become known as a “persona”, who didn’t want to become a brand based on their personality, are nevertheless known as brands.
This is a pretty illuminating (and long) article about mom bloggers of both types, and how they have fared and why they write. It also mentions GOMI.
GOMI is a very controversial yet popular site. It has both fans and detractors. Some claim that the site encourages constructive criticism and even investigative journalism, discovering inconsistencies in blogger’s stories, (James Frey-esque) and clearing the air on the bad advice and expertise of so-called “experts.” Others say it’s bullying and shaming and mean girls running amok. There are claims that it has lost writers’ business and clients. I’m inclined to think that ALL of this goes on there to varying degrees, but YMMV.
The C-ville article mentions an interesting motivation as to why some bloggers have so many critics.
Many or most lifestyle blogs, Mom Blogs included, are more about presenting a certain well-edited version of life rather than reality. Matchar wrote: ‘This is fine, but it can make readers feel really bad. They assume the blogger is just a regular mom and forget about how she’s also a writer who wants to present a certain image.'”
Bingo. I have been guilty of putting certain bloggers on a pedestal and becoming disappointed when they didn’t live up to my own views of how they should think and write and act. I think it’s human nature to look up to people: so often life seems so random and awful, and there are some select few who seem to have answers the rest of us don’t. We look to them and even emulate their choices sometimes. But no one is perfect and in the end we don’t KNOW these bloggers at all, just what they have presented. We need to remember this.
Now the warts-and-all writers. They are also criticized, and this I must admit, I do not understand this. This is where something stranger takes place. These writers are brave and honest, often baring their souls. I tend to really like this type of writing. I do believe that by discussing horrible things in the open, like miscarriage and loss, they lose their taboo and power to a certain extent.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say this: it appears that the criticism of the brave, vulnerable writers may come from a place of fear. These bloggers quite possibly are too close for comfort for some readers: they may share their weaknesses and are afraid of the bloggers’ realities so the bloggers are turned on and written about really nastily. I wonder if judgement comes from fear.
What Do Writers Owe Their Readers?
I am a blogger, but I come from the place of only receiving constructive criticism. I have never had a troll experience. I am off-the-radar and for that I am thankful. But I thought this comment, from the Six Year Itch post, by one of my favorites The Bloggess was pretty brilliant advice for the many of you I know who HAVE dealt with this kind of thing:
My editor told me that the secret to success was having someone else read your criticism and letting them tell you if there’s something that’s legit that you need to be concerned about so that they can weed out the crazies without emotion. It’s a good idea to let a good friend read that stuff for you and let you know if there are recurring issues you might want to address or fix. That way you can fix the problem or miscommunication if there is one, but you aren’t subjected to the one or two crazies out there who are just insane but will get into your mind and make you doubt everything.
My point is that it’s easy to focus on GOMI because they’re mainly girl-based and focused on other girls, but even if they were gone you’ll still have tremendous criticisms (some critical and helpful and some completely off base) that exist, so I think rather than focus of stopping the criticism (which will never happen) we need to focus on how we deal with that criticism. When do we listen? When do we ignore? How do we (individually) find the best way to deal with criticism in a way that makes us better people/writers? I think that’s a discussion that needs to happen as more people start to have to deal with more focused criticism, unsolicited feedback and (occasionally) mean-spirited and wrong bullshit. It’s the hard part of being a writer, but in my opinion it’s just part of the job.
What do you think? What do we owe bloggers as readers? What do we owe readers as bloggers?