The Catch-22 of Blogging

November 9, 2012 § 4 Comments

So, my previous Patch editor and I have had several discussions about the fact that while bloggers are valued and becoming more spotlighted on Patch (due to site-design changes), they remain unpaid for publishing there.  Or on the Huffington Post.  Or on the Daily Kos.  Very few of the big sites pay their bloggers, as a matter of fact.  Of course, this makes me bristle, but I try to look at the good points:

  1. I have no obligation to these sites.
  2.  I have no deadlines, except those that are self-imposed.
  3.  I own my work and can publish/re-publish when and where I please.
  4.  My content appears written as I’d like it to – unedited.
  5.  I have gotten a lot of valuable guidance and experience from these sites.
  6.  I already have an audience built-in.  That one is big.

Here are the bad points:

  1. I put a lot of time into writing the main piece, and then reading/responding to comments, when they occur.
  2. I don’t feel much loyalty towards the publication, or motivation to stick with them.
  3. I’m almost ALWAYS tempted to get snarky when they make suggestions (“I think you’d do a great job with such-and-such topic…” and “Did you see that comment on xyz?  I think you could do a lot with that…”)  If you don’t PAY ME, you don’t get to make suggestions.

I have some friends who say this is my own fault – that bloggers like me devalue professional writers’ place in the market by writing for free.  They’re right. They have good reason to be annoyed about it.  They have many more credentials than I do in the field.  They’ve either been published, been building their careers for many years, have worked their asses off in ways I have not, and/or gotten in on the ground floor of the social media skyscraper.  They have a long resume of accomplishments and leverage they can point to in demanding pay for their work.  They are, in other words, established.  I am not, and I’m making it harder and harder for THEM to be compensated monetarily.

So the Catch-22 of the situation is that to test out my sea legs as a writer is by blogging.  Yet, the mechanism that makes it easier for me to get my writing out there also plays a huge role in cheapening my worth, and makes it harder for me to get paid for that same writing.  Furthermore, when I ask people at Patch questions that could help me determine my value, like how many page views my pieces get, I am told, “We don’t keep numbers on bloggers.”  When I point to things like how quickly or for how many days my pieces are listed in the top 5 most popular blog posts for the site, I am told, “Oh, don’t go by that.  That’s never accurate.”  Le Sigh.

Little by little, though, I am beginning to feel that my writing is worth paying for.  I published my first article on Kveller.com – a paying site.  I’m looking into other publications that pay for articles.  I’m researching and learning how to make a pitch to editors for individual articles, and looking into putting packages together for trying to get syndicated.  I’m scoping out writing conferences.  I’m trying, as much as time and kids will allow, to pay my dues and work my way up.  I’m well aware the odds are against me.

Then last night, my former editor sent me an article by Nate Silver (of the now famous Five Thirty Eight blog on the New York Times) that she came across.  It does a nice job using algorithms and math to support the assertion that bloggers don’t generate nearly as much money for sites like the Huffington Post as paid writers do.  Basically, a blogger’s piece might generate enough income to pay for a slice of pizza.  While she sent it to me with kind intentions (See?  We’re not slavedrivers building our fortunes on the backs of bloggers providing free content!) all I took away from the article is that my writing is not worth that much.

Here’s the thing, though.  When I publish something on my personal blog, I know (mostly) the people reading it will (mostly) agree with me.  When I publish something on Daily Kos, I know I’m (mostly) talking to a like-minded audience – friendly and receptive to my points of view.  When I publish something on my local Patch, however, I am much more likely to also be read by someone who holds opposing views.  That presents potential challenges that appeal to me.

My goal’s almost always been to start a real conversation, to foster understanding, to find common ground.  I thought that meshed with Patch’s goals nicely – maybe even worth enough to be paid.  Maybe not, as I know staying in the black is the real goal always.  But if I’m going to take the trouble to link my pieces up to Patch, deal with the different design of the site, check back to see if it’s been moved to the front page, send a friendly reminder to the editor if it hasn’t, etc., the least they can do is buy me a slice of pizza.

Time to Go.

May 17, 2012 § 4 Comments

To the Editor of Time Magazine,

Rather than play into the outrage you so transparently tried to provoke, I shrug my shoulders.

Rather than blog about the unfairness and insensitivity of your cover, I leave that to others who have done so with far more aplomb than I could.

Rather than read the firestorm of criticism and debate that exploded in the blogesphere, I chose  three from writers I really respect.  One was a direct response, and the other two used it as a jumping off point to discuss what is relevant to me at the moment – writing and parenting.

Rather than have talks with my kids about it, I just left it on the counter for them to see.  Consider it ignored by them and the issue unread by me.

Rather than jump immediately into the fray, I waited a week and let my response develop naturally – and on the outskirts of my thinking.  Here it is, without even the courtesy of a link to the cover article that prompted this letter – I’m pretty sure you know the one to which I refer:

Thanks for helping me de-clutter my magazine rack and my mind.  Fareed Zakaria is brilliant, and Joel Stein is hilarious.  But really, I can get them online if I want them, and I officially dismiss you as extraneous.  Subscription cancelled.

With minimal regret,

Aliza Worthington

Rose-colored Glass, Part 4 – Rose-colored Again

February 24, 2012 § 4 Comments

As a kid/young teen, I had three pipe dreams.

1.  To be a catcher on the NY Mets.
2.  To be a professional ballet dancer.
3.  To be a glassblower.

I knew pretty early on (like, before I was 9) that due to a number of physiological issues, Number 1 was never going to happen.  I had slightly more (but not much more) hope for Number 2.  That dream of being a dancer lasted a little longer, but had pretty much evaporated before I hit the teen years.

The glassblowing dream, though, behaved in strange ways.  (You can read about its origins here and here.)  It sort of popped its little head in the doorway every once in a while well into my young adult years.  It took years-long sabbaticals, only to re-appear all refreshed and well-rested, tanned and toned (bastard) and tease me with thoughts like, “Man.  If I won the lottery, I’d open a glass studio.”  Or “I could have a glass studio on one side, and Rachel (my sis) could have a flower shop on the other…YEAH!  That’s it!  People can watch me making the vase their flowers were gonna go into!”

While glassblowing is expensive and unusual, I sensed if I could really study and practice, I just might have the ability to do this professionally.  However, unlike the first 2 dreams, I was only vaguely aware that this was a real aspiration of mine until I spent a week in an intensive glassblowing class in Pittsburgh when I was 42.  As you’ve probably read, though, it became clear to me over that week that this dream, too, was unlikely to pan out.

It probably goes without saying that putting a dream to bed at 42 is a lot harder than at 9 or 12 years old.   My parents weren’t there to buffer the blow, like they were with ballet.  I had to deal with this myself.  I dealt with it by staying as far away from the glass studio as possible.  Not thinking about it, not writing about it, nothing.

In the meantime, though, I did something else creative.  I continued blogging on Catonsville Patch.  I started my own blog.  I wrote about bullies, truck-drivers, gender, politics, you name it.  I started having breakfast with a friend whose writing I LOVED and we started talking about ways to get our writing out there more.  In fact, it was she who pointed me towards an essay contest in the Bethesda Literary Festival.  Here was the topic:  “Who or what has influenced, motivated or inspired you and how has it shaped your outlook on life?”

Oh, this was too easy.  Mr. Andros, of course.  My childhood ballet teacher – I had written what was essentially a love letter in the form of a blog post to him last August!  All about how he influenced and inspired me!  I really had fun capturing his attitudes and mannerisms in prose – it was perfect for the contest!  Except for the second half of the topic.  I hadn’t written or thought about how he shaped my outlook on life.  I had to do that (along with editing it down to 500 words…)

When I tackled that task in January, it came really easily, too.  While most teachers help you succeed, Mr. Andros taught me how to fail.  Rather, he taught me that limitations do not equal failure.  That I was valuable as a dance student, even though I wouldn’t be a professional dancer.  That it was possible to let go of that dream and keep my dignity and sense of self-worth.  That accepting my limitations didn’t have to mean rejecting the art form.  (Does anyone else see where I’m going with this?  Who needs help with the analogy?)

If that wasn’t enough to make me glance sideways at the glass studio again, there was this.  A tweet from my friend, Billy – and old buddy and music geek from camp.  That’s right.  Buck’s Rock camp, where all this glassblowing began.  He tweeted the following: “Your biggest fear should perhaps be ignoring your true voice’s true calling. The trick is: it might be different than you think it is.”  Now, he wasn’t writing to me – he was just having one of his many Oprah moments.  But boy, was he speaking to me.

Enough layers for ya?  Through writing, I discovered I could go back to glass.  Maybe my true calling is writing, not glassblowing.  Glassblowing can and should take its place with dreams which are now beloved past-times and activities in which I still engage with great joy.  I mean, crap – I already know how to write well…and getting better at it is a helluva lot less expensive than getting better at glassblowing.

Don’t worry, though.  I’m still getting better at glassblowing.  Here’s proof.  And if you didn’t feel like watching the video, here’s more proof.

3 of the 5 pieces I made on 2/20/12. The one on the left is the one from the second half of the video. 🙂

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