Is Blogging "Giving It Away For Free"?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hi all, today's post is about blogging, media, and the freelance market. Since it was pretty long in typewritten format, I decided to record it; listen up, and then leave me a comment about what you think!
(The transcript is available after the jump, and it includes links to some things I mention)

Check out some more of my writing and stories, including one I read aloud: Pressing the Record Button.
You may also be interested in some of my other opinion pieces, including What Blogging has Taught Me, Single Sex Education for Women and Girls, and Discrimination and Mixed Metaphors.

Is Blogging "Giving It Away For Free"?
This question came up during a workshop at Write-o-Rama this Saturday: is blogging devaluing the freelance market by "giving [content] away for free"? When a writing workshop geared towards creative exploration escalates into a heated debate, it's pretty impossible to sit on the sidelines. Indeed, I continued to think about this question long after the discussion had ended.

I believe that I can see both the "yes, it is" or "no, it isn't" sides of the argument, but I have a strong attachment to which "camp" I fall into. First, let me lay out the two sides:

Yes, blogging is devaluing the freelance market.
The main logic on this side is that bloggers are giving their time, craft, and content away for free, so publishers will either lower the amount they pay freelance writers or they will not hire them at all because they can access and link to the information online. Those that argue this point look to the traditional model of publishing - sending it through an agent, getting accepted by a publisher or editor, and getting paid for the job - as the way that media should be presented. They also argue that blogging makes "experts" out of us all: if anyone can blog about it, then even their amateur or unresearched opinion can be construed as fact. They can outshine the real experts in a field simply by becoming more popular.

No, blogging is changing the freelance market.
Those who argue this side claim that the traditional market of publishing has already dissolved. They say that with blogging comes the opportunity to put your name out there and transform the little-known writer into a published one. They acknowledge that this bit does not come overnight; it takes a lot of effort to create a blog, get advertisers and sponsors, find your way into a niche, and ultimately market yourself as a brand worth buying into. But they argue that this effort is not in vain, and that even if there are some amateurs that rise to the top, ultimately the experts will still be regarded with greater esteem if the quality of their writing measures up.

My opinion?
I’m a blogger. I respect that field and believe firmly that media is changing. I think that saying blogging cheapens the freelance market oversimplifies the hard work that goes into writing and marketing your own pieces. I also know that to get most of my media, I get it from or through links on blogs. It is impossible to deny the fact that blogging and the internet have come to town, and that they change the way people connect to one another.

But what this shows is something else entirely: this debate is between exclusivity and inclusivity of information, and the fear that people have when once exclusive circles must become inclusive.

Take the example of women writers that are published in traditional magazines, that VIDA Lit explored in 2010. Because publishers hold the power to accept or reject as they see fit, they are allowed to choose who they exclude and who they include every year. This is an exclusive market model, where only a few writers get chosen and of those few - depending on the magazine editor - even fewer are representative of marginalized groups. A.k.a. women, minorities, queer people, etc.

Blogging and the internet opens up that market to include these voices. While not all writing on the internet is brilliant, it still allows for more voices to be heard and more pieces to be put out there. This is an inclusive model that allows for people of all walks of life to find their niche.

I believe that those who hold on to the traditional market model are afraid of opening up the once-controlled environment of publishing because that means there’s both more competition and more room for hegemonic opinions to be knocked down by someone who disagrees. They then rely on the argument that the voices on the internet are "amateur" and will drown out "experts" as code for challengers that threaten established opinions in writing and publishing.

As a woman of color, I enjoy having a forum where I can hear and be heard. The world of blogging comes with both unique opportunities and unique challenges to the lone writer, but I think the change is for the better. At the very least, the change is inevitable - as we have seen from the decline of newspapers in recent years.

So, now I turn it over to you. Which side of the debate do you fall on? Do you think there are good points on both sides? What do you most jive with in terms of writing and publishing your work? Leave a comment!