Monday, April 11, 2011

What is the future of social justice blogging?

Paul Ranson Blogging,  Dressed as a Prophet, after Paul Sérusierphoto © 2010 Mike Licht | more info (via: Wylio)

I was reading the Bilerico the other day, when I came across a post he wrote talking about the difficulties of blogging.  It is called The End of the LGBT Blogosphere As We Know It?  Since then, I have gone back to read it several times, because it bothered me so much. 
When I give speeches about blogging, I always use this line: "Blogging is an ego sport. If you didn't think the world needed to hear what you have to say, you wouldn't be publishing your thoughts online for all to see."

It's obviously not about the pay. 99.99% of all bloggers make a little extra cash from ad revenue, but not enough to keep the lights on. Unless you start to get quite a bit of traffic, ad sales aren't going to pay your bills; you do it for the love of it. Most of us work other jobs too. 


Pam Spaulding of the award winning Pam's House Blend recently told her readers that she was considering folding up shop too. The constant demands on her time leaves her no room to manage her illness, her home life, and her finances.

No matter how many awards you win, it doesn't put cash in your pocket. Since we're not independently wealthy, you gotta pay the rent. The only independent bloggers making a living off of their blogs that I can think of are Andy Towle and John Aravosis. 

Bilerico has been nominated for a ton of awards and Pam's House Blend has too. While they help to increase the status of a site, they don't translate into a mortgage payment. Sure, they help give a blogger some validation and they can help to give a bump to the site's credibility which can lead to higher ad prices, but in the end a trophy sits on your shelf while the money continues to flow out of your pocket.
In our situation, most of the advertisers who place ads on gay blogs consider us a "political blog" and skip us. Political advertisers, however, think of us as a "gay blog," so they skip us too. Most of our advertisers end up either DVDs, books, or Gay Inc groups. Look at that blog ads section to the right. Nothing.
Bill wrote this piece from an LGBT perspective, because he is an LGBT blogger, but really, it could easily apply to any niche within the social justice umbrella.  This is a conversation that many progressive bloggers have been having for a very longtime.

There are certainly those who could successfully argue that The Bilerico, Pam's House Blend and even Womanist Musings are problematic spaces.  I don't think that there is a site on the internet that has avoided failure or marginalization in anyway.  Those familiar with Womanist Musings, are well aware that challenging my cis privilege has been difficult for me, and that I have had several failures over the last three years despite my best intentions.  What I do know without doubt, is that even with all of the failures and the blog blow outs, that these spaces are absolutely vital.  No corporate entity is going to work with the same sort of passion or dedication that independently run blogs do.

Like most bloggers, I try to keep abreast of potential income generating options; however, the nature of the blog forestalls many options.  Last year when I switched to a partial feed on my RSS to encourage people to click through, so that it would increase my hit count, and therefore increase advertising revenue, the list of complaints I received was extremely long.  It seems that many were far more worried about their inconvenience, than the fact that I was trying to find a way to support this site.  No one who is sensible, goes into blogging to make a living, and this is particularly true for the social justice blogger; however, it is becoming clear to me, that this model cannot be sustained. This blog does not make enough to pay me for my time, never mind the excellent contributors who deserve payment for their work.  Bloggers across the social justice blogosphere can all tell the same story.

For the last few nights, I have lain in bed wondering what these spaces are worth?  Do we actually add any value, or is it simply our ego that causes us to believe that real work is being done with online advocacy?  It has been suggested to me, that I should create a separate newsletter of sorts with completely different content for pay. I am going to be honest, the last thing that I need is more work to do.  Everyday, I have to write new pieces, moderate comments, promote the days blog posts via social media and answer the never ending email that comes with this space.  There isn't a day that goes by that someone does not contact me looking for help about an issue.  I cannot turn these requests away and to answer them, I will usually spend a few hours a day looking up resources.  I will also follow up, and check back with people from time to time to make sure that they are still safe and doing well. I can absolutely guarantee you, that no corporate run space is going to give a damn.

I am not arrogant enough to believe that I am indispensable, but I do believe the progressive blogosphere is.  Try and imagine what the internet would look like without these problematic but progressive spaces.  It is very easy to start a blog; thousands of people do it every day, and yet few have the staying power to last six months -- never mind the multiple years that many of the larger independent progressive blogs have dedicated to encouraging conversation, growing and learning together.  How much less safe would the internet be today, if these spaces were to suddenly disappear?  What are the chances that you would see issues that are important to you gain this much attention? Make no mistake about it, these spaces are under threat, simply because of finances.

I have been told that if I were to produce better content, that this blog would earn money, but the truth is -- dominant bodies are rarely interested in learning about the issues that the marginalized face, much less supporting it with money.  Why would they?  These spaces are dedicated to challenging the privilege that dominant bodies live with every day? This is true of Womanist Musings and many other social justice blogs. Content is without doubt the issue, but if we were to take our blogs in a new direction, then they would no longer be social justice blogs.

I know that there are those of you who are tired of seeing me write about this issue, but I simply cannot stop, because I recognize the importance of it.  If a sustainable model is not created soon -- many of the social justice spaces that we have become accustomed to frequenting, will simply cease to exist.  It is also worth noting, that they cannot be easily replaced.  I don't know where this leaves us, except to start support the blogs that we consider valuable.

I am absolutely open to any ideas that you have on this issue.