By BRUCE DENNILL
It’s a term that’s almost spat out, like a condition you might catch if you discuss it for too long. As media platforms go, blogs are often classed somewhere between penis enlargement flyers pasted onto suburban dustbins and first-time press releases written by a greenstick intern at a local public relations firm (for the record, the former is better written).
This may be because the worst of them are little more than plagiarised scrapbooks, cobbled-together cut-and-pasting that collects six or seven dozen followers invited via the creator’s Facebook page. Flush with notoriety, these bloggers then venture into “writing” – because they have their own website now, you know – supplementing the cribbed material with insightful paragraphs exclusively beginning with the phrase, “I was invited to …” and ensuring that the name of the event, the brand of booze on offer and the PR contact on whose list they’ve found themselves are all repeated, tagged and complimented at least four or five times each.
That formula ensures smiley face emoticon responses and triple exclamation marks in enthusiastic follow-up emails from whoever is paid to punt the clients that were mentioned in conjunction with whatever clichéd superlatives that particular blogger specialises in. Someone gets praised: they enjoy the feeling, so they invite the blogger to the next event they’re holding, beginning a cycle of sycophancy that sees the blogger becoming more popular as their readers perceive them to be more important, with advertisers responding by spending money on their platforms. In a cynical, short-sighted way, that makes sense: a product is guaranteed an endorsement, therefore the endorser is guaranteed a reward.
And so a bunch of people enjoy a happy beginning, and perhaps even a happy middle. There won’t be a happy ending because readers are fickle and because there’s only so far you can stretch a dearth of any sort of useful knowledge. The reproduced press releases will be available on the sites of the companies that issued them in the first place and a new crowd with lovely fresh clichés will be attending events and turning the heads of marketing executives seeking more glorious hashtags. And when that new crop of bloggers fade into obscurity, readers, advertisers, clients and publicists will, if they have any sense, seek something that is, if nothing else, more permanent and, ideally, of value.
In this latter context there exist bloggers who write well and with insight, either for passion or for a living, and who exist in that particular digital space as a result of a number of practical concerns. It’s likely that their chosen niche either doesn’t exist in print or broadcast form or that, if it is there, they are not able to get or keep a job in that sector due to the available remunerations. Or, particularly in the case of writers with considerable experience, it may be the case that, due to a profound dissatisfaction with the state of either the quality of coverage of the topics they’re interested in or the commitment to carrying content about those topics on the part of larger and perhaps more traditional platforms, the only way they see to get the stories they feel are important published at an acceptable standard is to do it themselves.
Now of course there is, when considering these more worthwhile blogs, a range of quality and of perspective on the part of the writer or – and here it’s possible to consider that the term might be accurate – journalist responsible for the content. And it’s almost guaranteed that the subject matter, if not the way it is written about or the opinions voiced, will be replicated in many cases.
But that is, and has always been, the case when considering why to get news on a topic of interest from a particular source of any type. Newspapers and magazines have and continue to sell their own version of what matters, differentiated by the insight evident in the editorial, the quality with which news is reported or the astuteness with which a point of view is expressed.
It is self-evident that this range – and the potential for quality – is available online now, and from solo operators rather than corporates. And that compact scale can and should work in favour of marketers and advertisers looking to benefit from an association with a skilled blogger, one who is interested in research, balance, ethics and excellence. In this relationship, the integrity – which should be an attractive quality in a reporter, critic or prospective business partner – of the blogger can be monitored easily. The value of what they do – commercial, abstract or otherwise – can be more accurately calculated than is the case with a larger entity that has more facets. And real partnerships, based on shared vision rather than superficial intersections of commercial interest, can be built up because a single journalist or critic or whatever label most accurately applies can be held accountable in terms of the role they play.
It shouldn’t be a swear-word, or a synonym for “spirited amateur”. Very often, that person has done a better job covering whatever field they occupy than the associated mainstream professionals, and the readers who know this have long stopped investing in the products those professionals work on. If that is the case, but the blogger’s online platforms is still being dismissed for not fitting an old-fashioned formula that is provably ineffective, the wisdom of those making a call on where to invest going forward is suspect. Standards are crucial, but those standards are increasingly being met outside of bustling newsrooms, broadcast studios and other conglomerates, where a single hard-working individual is able to create something of equal or superior quality to the efforts of large teams, governed by boards and committees.
If a blogger, in creating a quality product, has done their research, but you, in forming an opinion about such platforms, haven’t done yours, you have no place sneering at their efforts. Pay attention. It’ll pay dividends.