Blogging: Helen And Sharon’s Excellent Adventure

Before we begin let it be plainly said: although female and probably fertile, I have not reproduced.  As such, I accept I am not qualified to talk about the bond between mother and child.  I am however, adequately qualified to talk about another close attachment: that between reader and writer.

This is what I want us to talk about, here. Not the distance between mothers and non-mothers.  Not the closeness of journalists to bloggers.  Just of the relationship between a storyteller and her audience; that unique link that precedes the Internet, the newspaper and the creation of the alphabet.

For this discussion, I’d like us, just for a jiffy, to quit using the horrid, Hallmark expression “Mummy Blogger”.  It’s silly and diminishing and a bit like calling a female physician a Lady Doctor or a Governor General a Granny Head of State.  One Represents the monarch, one does not Mummy Represent the monarch.

Nor, of course, does one “mummy blog”. I’m sure you get my non-mummy drift. Let’s disregard the term, despite its recent overuse in local news, and just call it “blogging”.

Of course, the thing we now refuse to call a mummy blog does have some characteristics that distinguish it from other kinds of blogs.   Very, very roughly, it is written work that has private and/or domestic life as its primary focus. This does not mean that the authors of these stories are ignorant of public life.  These bloggers are not uniformly fixated on getting whites whiter and tummies tighter.  Very often, they connect most absolutely with the civic realm and write about anything from food ethics to mental illness to the carbon tax.

The primary thing that we can say distinguishes these blogs, I guess, is their personal narrative style. Everything is processed through a filter of personal experience; a fairly time-honoured writing tradition. If it’s good enough for Hunter S Thompson, it’s good enough for Australian women.

Surely we should name this category, which often has more in common with New Journalism than it does with morning television, something better. Perhaps we should call these stories ”Intimate Non Fiction Blogs”.  That’s a bit pompous, isn’t it? Can we just, for the minute, call them Sharon?

Sharon has made the news an awful lot of late.  This is for a few reasons not the most of which is that she has begun to make money – or “monetise” - and not the least of which is: journalists are obsessed with writing.

Julietta Jameson, a lady whom I know a little and like a lot due to her membership with the St Kilda Football Club, was one of those fascinated journalists.  Perhaps it was Julietta’s piece, now unavailable online but analysed keenly on JustB by Rachel Oakes-Ash that sparked off  the debate that’s now living here and here and there.

Of course, I refuse to blame Julietta because she is a Saints woman and, ipso facto, actually incapable of evil.  That’s just science. What her article did do, though, was move the debate along and incite passion in many old media non-fiction writers; myself included.

Particularly in this recent work we see a very Us versus Them style of dispute developing; and as I’m referenced in the piece as a Them, I’d like it to stop, thanks.

The author, a little unhelpfully, calls those who have critiqued Sharon ”haters”.   A Greek chorus of comments underscore the dramatic action to say that “haters” are (a) jealous of Sharon’s burgeoning success and superior writing skills and (b) hypocrites and (c) sexist because, well, we’ll get to that in a minute.

I want first to address what seems to me to have become a fairly standard charge by some Sharons of jealousy.

It’s not jealousy.  But, it might, in some respects, be a distant cousin.

From my standpoint as an old media fart, there are a few factors that led to our recent interest in Sharon blogs.  First, as aforementioned, we’re just really, really interested in media because that’s all we’ve ever done. Second, as many expert practitioners of Sharon have pointed out, we are feeling pretty insecure about our profession right now and, given that our outlets are dying, migrating and/or ducking behind paywalls, we have a resolute eye on anything that looks like the future. In short, an active old media interest in new monetised media arose at the same instant thousands of job losses were announced.

That’s part of the story. But chiefly, we’re absorbed now, as we always have been, in the act of storytelling; of safeguarding that link between reader and writer.  To be blunt, there are certain of Sharon’s habits that aren’t good for that priceless relationship.

We’re speaking, of course, of sponsored posts. If you’ve read Sharon lately, you’ve probably seen quite a few of these.  Perhaps you have wondered whether it is compulsory for bloggers to tell you about their payments or free goodies.

It seems it is not currently unlawful in Australia for a blogger to withhold details of sponsorship from their audience. This may change, of course, as legislators begin to better understand the medium as thoroughly as they understand terrestrial media.  Radio broadcasters, for example, may not, under the terms of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, present sponsored announcements as editorial.  In fact, when radio broadcasters have been found to accept goods, service and money in exchange for favourable mention, shit tends to go down.

In addition to legislative change, it is possible that pressure to disclose may also come from host servers or goodness-knows where to avoid attracting any legal liability.  I really have no idea what I’m talking about and I base these latter musings on a squiffy chat I had with a solicitor mate on the night before Dry July. Let’s just look at this piece on the topic and remark that the issue of disclosure was described by one commentator as “grey”.

Grey it may be, but our better-known bloggers themselves have clear protocols and do disclose.  It’s awesome that these people are so plain about their revenue streams and so vigilant against the predatory nature of commerce.  But, we can’t expect everyone to follow this prominent example of not-being-a-dick. As I understand it, there are some Sharons acutely aware of human frailty who would welcome a legislative change so that this ethical serving suggestion becomes law for all.

I have heard it said that the same laws should apply to old media. This isn’t, actually, a terrible idea. The argument goes, “You are hypocrites in old media. You’ve been getting free shit for years.”.  Sometimes this is true.  Often it isn’t. In some cases, as with the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, laws do apply. And with many organisations, such as Fairfax and the ABC, editorial policies are in place; violate them and you’re gone.

I’m not for a minute saying some shonky shit doesn’t go on in traditional media. Baby, I could tell you stories. And I would, were it not for the facts that (a) I don’t really feature in them myself and (b) I’ve probably pissed enough people off already these past 1000 words.

So let’s agree that shonky business is sometimes done; particularly in ”lifestyle” “journalism” aimed at women.  Even so, it is difficult to compare Sharon to a women’s glossy.

As the more erudite Sharon knows well, she is immeasurably more engaged with her audience than some vile Better Orgasm or Great Weekends Away story.  Her reach may still be modest but her ability to touch is amplified significantly.

Sharon could, very well, become the new New Journalist; she could be the focus for an independently created non-fiction movement. She has so much potential to take this personal narrative in a new and thrilling direction just as writers like Thompson, Joan Didion and Tom Wolfe before her. Now, I have been called several times, including just today by a reproducing friend, a “sexist” for singling out Sharon while ignoring the tech, food, fashion or business bloggers who also produce sponsored posts.

Why single out Sharon?  Because she’s effing special, that’s why. She offers a personal narrative and, whether she chooses to acknowledge it or not, forms part of the great arc of written history. I’d like to see her take it in the direction of the truth.

Of course, as we know, not all Sharons are special. Some are business-motivated cynics who write cold, mediocre work in exchange for clothing store vouchers. Some are absolute pants and keyboards should take out protection orders against them and their incessant “HELLS YEAH WINE HUBBY” crap.  Oh. And the WHINERS.  And the NEEDY. But some of them have the potential to forge a new writing.

A NEW WRITING. This could be your future, Sharon. This is worth so much more to all of us than free goods.

I love writing. I want you to produce writing that I love. I don’t want to see you sell it off piece by piece. Every time you do that, Sharon, you distance the reader from the writer just a little more.

You do this even if it’s to an ethical product of which you are genuinely enamoured. Sell some rights to the formation of your story and you are messing with the oldest campfire traditions.  Let commerce directly into the space where you intersect with the reader – and this is very, very different from advertising – and somebody’s going to get burnt.

Ever since I delivered my first words, I have worried about all the other little words and their welfare.  I am now worried about the welfare of your words, Sharon.

Just as many mothers are smitten with their issue, I am smitten with mine. I feel proud and, often, exasperated with my own writing and of writing rather generally, I am, perhaps, unusually protective. In this way, the ”mummy bloggers” (EEK) and I have much in common.

Now. Let’s stop the old media/new media bollocks and get on with building sustainable Sharons. We need to find new ways to support these voices. Saying that it’s okay to accept an intervention by commerce directly inside personal writing is not support.  Support is an ardent reminder to protect the future of storytelling.

Helen Razer is an occasional broadcaster, frequent writer and incessant yabber-pants. Follow her on twitter at @HelenRazer or read her blog Bad Hostess

Images:
Keep Calm And Type On Poster via Etsy
I Love You Blogs And Coffee Poster via Etsy
Haters Poster via Etsy
Brilliant Blog Brainstorm Journal via Etsy
We Go Together Like Blogs And Comments card via Etsy

  • Bianca Wordley

    You know Helen. I like you. Very much. And hey, I’ve written, and will continue to write, sponsored posts. But I love what you bring to the debate. Very much.

    • http://www.justbaustralia.com.au/ Pip @ JustB

      I love what Helen brings too. She twists my mind into places I did not know were there. And that’s a very good thing. I need that kind of twisting.

  • http://www.redcliffestyle.com/ Rachel from Redcliffe Style

    Awesome post!!

  • justwanderin

    Just a query – is this a undisclosed sponsored post? When you click on the images in the post it takes you to another website… #justsayin

    • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

      The writer of this post was not sponsored. She was paid a small fee by the parent company of this website. It is not a sponsored post.

      • http://www.wheresmyglow.com Glowless

        Money has changed hands for your honest opinion on something. You were paid for your time, skill and ability to draw readers. How is that different, really? Call it sponsorship, call it a small fee from the parent company, call it an admin fee, call it Shazza’s Shoe Fund. But a spade is a spade, no?

        • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

          I answered once here, Glowless, but I’m not sure where it’s gone. Which is probably of no matter as I am not certain where to start in describing to you the principles of the fourth estate. Maybe look it up on Wikipedia?
          If there were no differences between editorial opinion and sponsored editorial opinion, then there would be no law to protect consumers against the latter. There are laws. Notably, radio broadcasters John Laws and Alan Jones were found to have breached them and the public was protected. There is a difference between Alan Jones having an opinion (that I generally happen to despise) as a broadcaster and having an opinion as a person who has directly been paid dollars. This is a tainted form of communication. This is not to say that any communication is perfect or that any broadcaster/writer/blogger is free from bias or influence but it is to say WTF being paid for your editorial view is wrong. You turn yourself into an effing billboard this way.
          If there is no difference between cash-for-comment in which an individual is approached and paid directly for favourable comment and actually having an opinion and writing about it for an organisation OR revenue model that does not ask to influence your opinion, then I guess the entire mechanism of journalism is just one big old lie.
          You are being either disingenuous or wilfully ignorant of something that we all learn in school about communications and ethics and their regulation.
          As for this crap in comments about “I need to stay at home and work, why can’t I earn money”. Well, guess the eff what. I need to stay at home and work, too. I quite like gardening. I could do it all day. I spent much of June planting my spring show. I often
          think “I could do this all day”. And the reason that I don’t is that I need to earn a bob and no one will pay me to garden because (a) I’m not really very good at it yet and (b) its chief function is to make me feel good about myself. But, if the Monsanto corporation offered me money to use their GM seeds so that I could demonstrate to other gardeners that they had SUCH A GREAT and disease-resistant benefit, I’d say no. And I would say no because I love gardening.

          • http://www.wheresmyglow.com Glowless

            I’m going to choose to ignore the fact that you appear to be comparing parenting to gardening and the fact that you’ve decided to swear at me and state that I have never been “paid directly for favourable comment” and that what I and the vast majority of my fellow Bloggers do is exactly what you say is fine, that being “having an opinion and
            writing about it for an organisation OR revenue model that does not ask
            to influence your opinion”.

            I write my opinion whether it is positive or negative and payment does not influence it. Ever.

            Your response to my comment just shows how little you know about Blogging monetisation and those who choose to go down that path. Perhaps you should research it a little before you put tirades online. Or will you delete your story and comments like you do your tweets?

          • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

            (1) There was no comparison of parenting to gardening. There was a comparison of gardening to blogging Paid to garden = Paid to blog in this analogy.
            (2) What swearing?
            (3) It is great that you are ethical. I wrote about all the people who are ethical. This does not mean that everybody is ethical.
            (4) I have worked in online since 1997 and kept a blog on and off in that time
            (5) This was not a tirade. It was an essay
            (6) Delete? What? I don’t even?
            (7) Let’s not escalate this. Hold my hand. We are both strangers in a new paradise. HUGGSIES.

    • http://www.justbaustralia.com.au/ Pip @ JustB

      As the Editor of JustB, I would like to disclose that I did not want to feature mummy blogger photos, they have had enough of that. It seemed a much better idea to feature products from Micro Businesses who might do with a leg up from the traffic this post receives : sharing the love, so to speak. No commercial arrangement whatsoever.

      • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

        You “Moderator” label looks like “MOO!”, Pip. Which I like.

        • http://www.justbaustralia.com.au/ Pip @ JustB

          Moooo.

      • MonkeyMagic

        Still the irony…

        • http://www.justbaustralia.com.au/ Pip @ JustB

          I can totally see your point. Definitely. Yep.

        • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

          What irony? Spell it out for me. I do not understand.

          • MonkeyMagic

            Just that the pics on your piece appear to be nothing more than pics then when you click on them with the purpose of enlarging the image or similar it goes to another business w/o the users knowledge – there’s not way of knowing it’s another businesses pic until you click on it – quite covert. I understand none of that is your doing but something to think about for future posts. I understand no commercial arrangements were in place but I would imagine the ed has some sort of r’ship with the business, didn’t just pluck them out of the sky – but if you want ‘to feature products from Micro Businesses who might do with a leg up from the traffic this post receives’ it’s prob worth disclosing the origin of the images no?

          • http://www.justbaustralia.com.au/ Pip @ JustB

            The image sources are all listed at the bottom of the page (text under images can disjoint the piece) BUT I am totally going to take that on board. I do not have any relationship with any of these businesses, FYI. So there you go. They were chosen because they make products which refer to writing or blogging, which I thought was relevant. Thanks for the feedback. I do appreciate it. Truly.

          • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

            You make a good case, MM

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=746293162 Reannon Hope Bowen

    So here is your lady-wad Helen. It’s a bloody big load!

    It’s a lot to get your head around. As a reader, not a blogger, my first instinct is to click away from a sponsored post on a ” Sharon”, rarely do they ring true & I can feel the writers voice change. There a few that do it well, so well that you barely notice. These are the ones that do disclose.

    Some blogs I read are focused on food or fashion so I kinda expect them to spruik procucts. I’m there to read their stories & find new things. I’m ok with that. What I’m not ok with is the fact that a sponsored post does not have to be disclosed. I didnt even realise this was allowed until out FB chat the other night. I don’t want to be duped. Be honest with me, tell me so & so has paid you to write about their product. Give me the heads up so I have the choice to click away, the same way I choose not to listen to commercial radio or the way I have a choice to turn away from TV ads. That’s all I’m asking.

    I do think that bloggers need to be careful. If their place becomes one of too many ads & sponsored post people will stop visiting. They need to remember why readers sought them out to begin with. It’s the connection, the real ness that draws you in, not the chance to win or read about the latest gadgets.

  • http://twitter.com/ruthbruten GourmetGirlfriend

    brilliant.
    intelligent discussion is necessary.
    the defensive tendency to stop all debate is not healthy.
    I agree with Bianca & Pip- making us think of things we haven’t or to ask questions we haven’t is a VERY good thing.
    I think this discussion has only just begun…..
    thanks helen for this thoughtful piece.

  • Cat Beloverly

    I have always liked your take on things Helen. I like Sharon and she brings me comfort – both my own & other people’s Sharon’s. I still don’t know what I think about sponsored posts for myself and I write them intermittently whilst always disclosing that they are sponsored. Thanks for your considered opinion. It’s good that someone has been able to identify the good things being written with such clarity.

    • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

      Thank you Cat! x

  • http://twitter.com/SleeplessNights Veronica Foale

    I have to say, I agree with you very much. And I know we’ve come at this from two very different directions, but I think you’ll find we agree on just about everything.

    A few months ago I was banging on about “trust capital” which is basically what you trade on when you sell a sponsored post. The more sponsored posts, the less trust capital. Lose that, and your readership will follow pretty fast.

    Thank you for this piece – it’s a bit of an easier conversation than the one we had on twitter.

  • http://liamsolomonsmummy.blogspot.com.au/ Carmel

    How do I get Etsy to sponsor my posts? What do they pay?

    Seriously though, I think I do see your point. Blogging for free, is also unsustainable. I hardly ever buy magazines these days because I resent paying so much for a magazine where the first fifteen pages are ads and then the bulk of the rest is either advertorials or the same article re-hashed from a year ago. Especially when I am on such a tight budget. I can read blogs for free. Yes, I am subjected to ads, but I think I still have enough control over my mind to be able to control myself and not rush out to buy what-ever it is they are trying to sell me. (That, and my budget just wouldn’t allow it!)

    If you are going to accept ads on your blog, ask a fair price, make sure it is relevant and be honest about sponsored posts. Also, make sure quality content over-rides the advertising.

    • http://www.justbaustralia.com.au/ Pip @ JustB

      I don’t think Etsy sponsor posts at all. I don’t think so. I might be wrong, though.

  • Cate

    I sometimes wonder if the term ‘mummy blogger’ was coined by men. Surely any categorisation which reduces and defines women by their reproductive capacities serves to marginalise all other notions of self which play an equally valid role?
    I don’t have kids (and it will never be an option), but I do write articles for our not for profit’s website/blog. Some feature products which we’ve been sent for review. It’s pretty obvious that this is the case as we have to use the product to review it and we give an honest opinion.

    Personally I’d rather an extended discourse about the other ways I see blogs and social media going. We often get invited to workshops and such for helping the hapless build their social media and blog traffic. I occasionally trail along as my husband presents a workshop. Want to pay people to like your twitter or facebook page? Want to pay people to write your posts and generate traffic? Both of these can be done by freelances anywhere in the world for the cost of a few coffees.

    I also notice that advertising on blogs doesn’t have much scrutiny. I’d like to know what kind of relationship is there with some of the blogs I read.

  • http://goodgoogs.com Zoey @ Good Googs

    As I said on twitter I like this take on things very much. And I wholeheartedly support a ditching of the us vs them and any opinion being split between supportive and ‘haters’. But I can’t help but feel a satire blog like The Sponsored Lady, while tongue in cheek, is just another divisive element because the only person it is making fun of is Sharon.

    • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

      If you look at a few of the posts, I think you’ll find it’s a critique of freebie- culture all ’round, Zoey. Thanks for commenting in the Sharon spirit!

  • Carli

    I’m not sure if the Jameson article sparked the debate but it sure contained some incorrect information that hurt a few people. Regardless of that, I’m sure she’s a nice enough person. And that’s despite the whole St Kilda membership thing.

    I think it might have been easy to look at the whole sponsored lady thing and take it as an attack on sharon bloggers but I’m quite chuffed to see somebody satirising a few of these large, and often greedy, companies that have no qualms with pushing the boundaries of ethics. Plus the writing is brilliant.

    • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

      Thanks Carli. I *may* know the editors of The Sponsored Lady if you would care to review!

      • Carli

        Well I have already experimented extensively with ibuprofen on my children but I’m sure you can come up with something equally as frightening!

    • http://twitter.com/SleeplessNights Veronica Foale

      I can state that my post wasn’t sparked by the Julietta Jameson piece – mine was sparked by a conversation with Helen on twitter where she called mummy bloggers unethical (it was a good conversation too, pity it was deleted). I then decided to write my piece after seeing The Sponsored Lady and the response to that.

      • Carli

        I think I may have seen some of that, didn’t realise that things were deleted.

        • http://twitter.com/SleeplessNights Veronica Foale

          My responses are still there, but sadly, without their context.

  • http://twitter.com/Toushkalee Toushka Lee

    I like this piece very much. I’m not going to stop writing sponsored posts though, because I like being able to afford to stay at home with my kids.
    But It is important for every Sharon to realise that the words and the relationship with the reader is a top priority.

    I never minded the “mummy blogger” label, but I really love the Sharon label.

    • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

      I understand the lure of and the need for working from home, TL. I do it, too. Although, without the sponsored posts. I *almost* canvassed the argument that I hear a bit which is, more or less, “If you object to sponsored posts you object to a woman’s right to earn a living”. I don’t. I object to sponsorship living directly inside creative non-fiction writing. I can’t find a better example today than this.
      http://blog.nuffnang.com.au/2012/06/29/thanks-to-nurofen-for-kids-you-can-win-a-100-nat-geo-voucher/

      • http://goodgoogs.com Zoey @ Good Googs

        That is an excellent example. I intensely dislike the sponsored post competition format. In effect you are writing a post for the possibility of maybe getting some payment, instead of being paid for your time.

        • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

          But you are not *really* being paid for your time in producing a sponsored post. You are being paid to function as a medium for advertising. You are being purchased in the same way that space is purchased.

          • http://goodgoogs.com Zoey @ Good Googs

            I’m of two minds about sponsored posts. On the one hand I have just stopped doing them on my site because I don’t think it’s worth it. On the other hand doing them for the period of time that I did opened doors to opportunities that now allow me to make money from home (but off the blog). And although giveaways are just another word for sponsored posts really my final giveaway is hugely popular with readers.

          • Maxabella

            Agree, Helen. This is exactly what I think. x

        • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

          Actually, Z, the REALLY shocking thing to me about that nuffnang campaign is not a lack of guaranteed payment provided to bloggers. It’s the fact that some folk have no issue with selling NSAIDS to kids.

  • http://www.katesaysstuff.com katesaysstuff

    I really appreciate this article. I came across The Sponsored Lady earlier in the week and wasn’t entirely sure how to take it. I love a good piss take as much as the next Sharon but could not quite figure out if it was a satirical look at what happens in the blogosphere at the moment or if it was a bit nasty. I am admittedly exceptionally thin skinned.

    I write sponsored posts and I host sponsored posts on occasion. I disclose every time and it astounds me to read that people don’t always. My readers have the right to know up front and click away if they wish… I’ll be watching with (a fully disclosed vested) interest.

  • http://www.facebook.com/solwat Alexander Sol Watts

    Speaking from inside the advertising industry, working with Sharons who are honest about the ‘advertorial’ nature of the work we’re asking/’sponsoring’ them to do is something we look for before approaching and offering anything.

    There’s less value from our POV in writing that could be, maybe, sponsored and work that makes clear its intentions.

    Secondly, it’s not just Sharons – there are Daves, and Hannahs, and Tims and all kinds of people, who don’t fit within the ‘intimate non-fiction blog’ category, but certainly definitely accept their share of sponsorship. However, everything you’ve said applies to them, really. Writing is the best thing.

    And finally, although it’s a different issue, self-regulation within the advertising industry is important. There is a tendency overtap new markets like the Sharon, and ruin them as a result.

    • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

      Please visit the Sponsored Lady, ASW. :)

      • http://www.facebook.com/solwat Alexander Sol Watts

        Oh, I’m a big fan, don’t worry. We’re discussing a reasonable promo fee in the office.

  • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

    Not much more to say that wasn’t said on Facebook the other night. I think you’ll find that all “Sharons” in Australia (and apologies to all my friends called Sharon) do disclose a sponsored post or gifted item. We’re actually REALLY good at this – much better than mainstream journalists.

    Also, Justb is home to sponsored content – no different seeing it on this blog than on someone else’s blog. And – like an independent blog – sponsored content is the only way that a site like Justb will continue to be able to offer the varied content it does. Yes, Justb is part of News Ltd, but it’s a blog – written by otherwise independent voices such as yourself.

    The option is there to click away from labelled sponsored content – and that’s any reader’s prerogative.

    I’ll continue to write sponsored content on my blog – it’s been clearly labelled as such from day 1 – my readers are not being duped and I only work with brands that fit my readership and sit well with me.

    It’s the best damn job I’ve ever had and wins hands down over my former life as a journalist where all the energy put in was for someone else’s commercial gain.

    • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

      Actually, I think there is an enormous difference, Nikki, between a blog full with personal narratives that allows its content to be shaped by sponsors and a news-and-views, clearly commercial website such as JustB which can afford to pay writers, such as myself, who would not, in a pink fit, accept sponsorship on a matter of opinion or personal writing. There is an enormous difference which is disingenuous to overlook.
      Further, I don’t think you’ve read what I’ve written here. I must admit, I haven’t read your own blog but I take it that is clearly a business blog about beauty products. That is not what I was talking about. AT ALL. I stayed up all night trying to express why I think it is harmful to CREATIVE NON FICTION NARRATIVE writing to accept sponsorship IN PARTICULAR. And I am sorry if you didn’t get that from my piece. Clearly, I’ve failed as a writer.

      • Emily

        No no, Helen you have not failed. Your words touched me deeply and I think it’s the most accurate writing I have seen (but not able to verbalise myself) about what’s been bugging me so much about “mummy bloggers”.

        Styling You’s site is not at all what you’re referring to.

        • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

          Thanks, Em. I thought I had made this plain in the par about ”
          singling out Sharon while ignoring the tech, food, fashion or business bloggers who also produce sponsored posts.”

          • http://goodgoogs.com Zoey @ Good Googs

            I think the only issue with that is that food, fashion and food bloggers also often have a personal narrative within their blog. It’s not a clear line.

          • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

            I spent 1600 word saying it, but I’ll say i again if you like. If the central and/or exclusive focus of your blog is the act of creative, self-revelatory narrative non-fiction, then the sale of a piece of your writing goes against the best traditions of storytelling.

          • http://twitter.com/SleeplessNights Veronica Foale

            What about columnists for parenting magazines whose entire column is narrative non-fiction about their children? Should they not be paid? Or traditionally published authors of creative non-fiction narrative? Is the cut off point the fact that mums are writing online, rather than in print? I’m not sure how this works.

          • http://www.facebook.com/solwat Alexander Sol Watts

            Of course they can be paid, but their revenue stream can be non-sponsored – more obvious advertisement (banners etc) – or they can be clear about what is narrative and what is advertorial.

          • http://www.facebook.com/solwat Alexander Sol Watts

            IMO, of course.

          • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

            Word.

          • http://twitter.com/SleeplessNights Veronica Foale

            But also, bloggers are clear about what is sponsored and what is narrative. At least, the bloggers I interact with and read regularly are. Disclosure is a good thing.

          • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

            By which I mean the direct sale to an advertiser.

          • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

            Very true, Zoey. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter what your niche, if there’s no narrative, it’s not a blog, it’s just a website.

  • Mrs Woog

    Oh shit! Do you also offer career advice Helen? X

    • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

      ?? I don’t understand.

      • Mrs Woog

        I am one of those bloggers who earns their living off their blogs. I don’t want to go back to being a fluorescent lit cubicle jockey! What should I do? X

        • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

          Woogie. I am sure you have read Spa-Goosie’s piece on the market sustainability of sponsored blogging?
          http://blog.annaspargoryan.com/2012/07/this-is-about-bloggers-not-mummy-bloggers-just-bloggers/ I am also certain it has occurred to a savvy lass like you that this current model has a short-term future. Please note, this is not a “judgement” (apparently anathema on the Internet!) but a statement of fact; every few years, online upchucks another new revenue solution as it divests itself of the old.
          Even if you don’t, from your more directly informed standpoint, agree that the end of sponsored blog posts is financially inevitable, I’m sure you will agree that it is possible.
          I guess my concern is a little more guided by idealism, though. As I think I have plainly stated, I feel that there is something genuinely troubling in placing a product *directly inside* one’s writing; thereby placing a product *between*, and not next to, the relationship between reader and writer.
          I admit that I am idealistic and blessed, unlike many others, with a real tolerance for poverty.
          So, in short, I can’t say where you should be going. As your work is so funny and sharp, I know you will go somewhere. Talented people almost always go somewhere. My mates Marieke Hardy and Ben Pobjie never monetised their blogs which preceded their fame and they’re both doing really effing well.
          But, anyhoo, I concede saying “give up your income because it is filthy!” is a bit much but I also urge truly good writers like you to find a different model.

        • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

          THE INTERNETS ATE MY REPLY. Which is a great shame as it was both righteous and boring. Ugh. Tomorrow, Woogie. x

          • Mrs Woog

            The internets can be ass-holic like that. X

  • http://www.singularinsanity.com/ Dorothy @ Singular Insanity

    You sell your writing. Why shouldn’t we?

    • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

      Did you read the piece? Please have another look.

      • http://www.singularinsanity.com/ Dorothy @ Singular Insanity

        Have you read your responses to your comments? Have another look.

        • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

          Now. Let’s stop the old media/new media bollocks and get on with building sustainable Sharons. We need to find new ways to support these voices. Saying that it’s okay to accept an intervention by commerce directly inside personal writing is not support. Support is an ardent reminder to protect the future of storytelling.

  • oldhat

    And how much ‘editorial’ in newspapers by sheer coincidence have an ad or giveaway for that said product in the same section? Being going on forever in print media – nothin new –

    • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

      Did you read the piece? I address this. Please have another look.

  • http://www.scarletwords.com Elizabeth

    I’m somebody who has been blogging a long time but has never embraced sponsorship or advertising on my site. I have a dedicated “Advertising” page which mainly exists to discourage the majority of marketers who want me to work for their brand. I suppose I’m pretty fortunate that I can afford to be selective.

    I make rare exceptions, especially if it’s for a cause I care about. The rest of the time if I decide to write about a product, service, another blogger or an amazing band it’s because I loved them so much I needed to share it with other people. It’s almost always unsolicited and money is never exchanged.

    So I guess I’ve watched the rise of monetised blogs from a bit of a distance, and both cringed and applauded over time as the style of sponsored posts has evolved. I’m happy to say that Sharon blogs are starting to get it right. They are, perhaps, motivated by retaining the trust of their readership rather than respect for the relevant legislation, but as long as bloggers are behaving ethically it probably doesn’t matter why.

    Best of all, I have the power to unsubscribe from any blog who abuses my time by tipping the sponsored vs storytelling balance in the wrong direction.

    I’ve noticed in the comments (and Twitter and other blogs) that some bloggers are feeling really provoked by your article. I think many of us are tired of being told that we’re not journalists (we know!) and being criticised for building something that brands find valuable.

    I wonder if this same article would have been better received if it had come from within the Nuffnang membership? In my experience the Aussie blogging community is competitive, but it’s also extremely self-aware and supportive. Some of our most successful bloggers (Phoebe Montague, Darren Rowse, Pip Lincolne etc) are also the most generous with advice and resources. We respond well to inspiring advice that lifts the standard of the community as a whole.

    I mention this because I think your article was spot-on, but some of your replies are sounding antagonistic. I’m worried that the best messages in your article will get lost, and with a bit of care I think it’s avoidable.

    Mainly, I wanted to say thanks for writing this. I think things are about to get interesting for Aussie bloggers who write for profit.

    • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

      Thanks, E. I am happy that you enjoyed the piece but distressed that you read it as yet another reminder of the distance between blogging and journalism. Actually, I was at real pains to question this distinction. See the long-ish comparison I make between the first-person, experience based journalism of Didion, Thompson et al with bloggers. That was pretty explicit, I think.

      • http://www.scarletwords.com Elizabeth

        No, I understood the distinction you were making. I probably didn’t explain my point as well as I could have!
        I referred to ‘the distance between blogging and journalism’ only to explain why some of us react defensively to criticism about reviewing for profit/goods (and how we do it). From the sidelines, I’ve noticed that sponsored bloggers can be incredibly sensitive to criticism of their credibility, especially when compared to older forms of media.
        In my opinion, conversations like this are good for everybody. Anything that fosters discussion is valuable, and not all criticism is destructive.
        I think bloggers who react defensively to this article do so because they are very protective of their craft and their image. For many years we’ve been treated with derision by the wider media industry. I think sometimes this clouds discussions like this one.

        • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

          The phrase I purposely used was ”
          the closeness of journalists to bloggers”. I spent about one quarter of the article describing what the two forms have in common. I genuinely believe that storytelling is storytelling whether by WordPress or by Carrier Pigeon.

          • http://www.scarletwords.com Elizabeth

            I agree that storytelling is storytelling. However, Masterchef would tell a very different story without its product placement.

          • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

            As MasterChef gainsays its own “fresh, seasonal, home–made” mantra with Coles and pre-made stock endorsements, its quality has fallen and with it, the numbers.

  • http://twitter.com/Funken_Wagnel Sharon Alger

    First off, excellent name choice;)

    I refer to myself as an ex-mummyblogger who has turned personal blogger. I used to write primarily about parenting, then started a new blog about life in general, with a smattering of family life.

    When I had the parenting blog in the early days (two and a half years ago) I did write sponsored posts. Like other mothers have mentioned, I had an interest in working from home in a writing capacity. I’m not a journalist (yet! But plans are underway to study it).

    In the early days, I lacked the confidence and know-how to attain freelance gigs. I was always good at English in school, but in my family, any career in the arts was frowned upon, so I never allowed myself to consider writing as an option, which I regret now.

    When I was starting out, there weren’t as many freelance jobs for bloggers, now there are more. I’ve not yet had the guts to write for print, but it is a goal! Even with the freelance work available to bloggers, it’s a small percentage of bloggers who get them.

    Sponsored posts were a positive for me in the early days, because it taught me that someone would pay me for my writing ability. A confidence boost, if you will. It was just enough of a kick in the pants to have a go at freelance work, and when those opportunities came my way, I grabbed them confidently and much preferred that to sponsored posts.

    In time, I learned that my readers hate sponsored posts. I always forced myself to face the reality that I was in fact, exploiting my kids in these posts. It was easy to justify because my children, receiving loads of cool booty were more than happy with these sponsored posts as well.

    The thing that made me turn my back on sponsored posts was that I became angry with how the main company I wrote sponsored posts for treated me. It became clear to me that the dollars from their client was more important than how us bloggers were treated.

    It’s been very freeing for me to let go of sponsored posts. My readers are happier and I’m happier.

    I still write reviews, disclosing whether I received free product, bought the product myself or if it was a gift.

    I will still featured ad placements on my new blog in time (hasn’t happened yet because thus far, no company has been the right fit for my readership).

    I will still run giveaways, because my readers enjoy them.

    Helen, I do agree with your points on here 100%. I think with most bloggers, Sharons, mums or other niches, that sponsored posts are possibly viewed at the moment as an option that some might feel limited to. This could be either a lack of opportunity, confidence or a combination of both.

    One thing I would like to see in the mum blogger world is the obsession with working with brands. I have no problem with any blogger of any genre working with brands at all. I’m also not suggesting all mum bloggers are obsessed. But it does feel as though there’s an attitude among some mum bloggers that working with brands is the be all and end of all.

    It shouldn’t be the focal point, sponsored post or otherwise. There are so many ways that a blogger can work with a brand for reasons other than making money. In fact, I did an interview a few months ago for a brand, simply because I wanted practise at conducting an interview! That’s something that has become an interest to me, and so dealing with that brand allowed me to experience that. I was lucky that the subject matter tied in reasonably well with the type of things I typically experience and sometimes write about.

    I did appreciate that you didn’t discount a mother’s need to narrate, as so often is raised when mum blogging is so much as mentioned. That irritates me no end when it happens. I think that’s why so many mums who blog can get their backs up before even reading an article mentioning mum blog topics.

    • http://twitter.com/Funken_Wagnel Sharon Alger

      Just wanted to correct something: I wrote, “I always forced myself to face the reality that I was in fact, exploiting my kids in these posts.” Now, I have vomitty flu today, and what I meant to say was that I always tried to talk myself out of the fact that that’s what I was doing, then in the end forced myself to face it. Apologies.

    • http://twitter.com/HelenRazer Helen Razer

      You should have written this piece! What wonderful thoughts; expressed in a manner that would indicate that print publication is a cinch for you.
      YES. Why is “working with brands” some sort of godhead of which we are all expected to be uncritical?

      • http://twitter.com/Funken_Wagnel Sharon Alger

        Oh thank you:) I will have to take the leap one of these days then!

        I think people involved with brands, particularly sponsored posts MIGHT be afraid of the criticism for a few reasons. One, the opportunities might stop coming. Two: sometimes criticism is moderated/deleted/silenced. Not saying it’s a huge problem, but does happen in certain places on the web where working with brands is discussed.

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