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
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