Confession time: I’ve been having an identity crisis ever since I decided to go freelance in the beginning of 2017. Most people, when asked the question ‘so what do you do?’ can give a pretty succint answer: I’m a teacher, I’m an accountant, I’m an actor. Short and sweet. But when it comes to me, I find myself stuttering: ‘well, it’s kind of complicated…’
I really haven’t nailed my spiel yet. I try to condense it but it tends to come out in some messy form along these lines: ‘well I trained as a dancer but I actually work with poets, oh and I’m also I writer. But for my own website’. I know it’s awkward to read, imagine how awkward it is to say. I feel like I always have to meet the easiest of questions with long rambling answers, and it’s incredibly frustrating.
Recently this has intensified because I’ve also been trying to understand where I sit in terms of the larger world of writing. Basically, I’ve been trying to figure out whether bloggers can be journalists or not.
Look, I know I’m a blogger. That’s where this all started and I’m literally writing this for my blog right now, so that much is clear. But the longer I go on the more I wonder what that means? I don’t know if I’m the only one that feels this way, but I often feel like there’s an invisible negative connotation around saying you’re a blogger, like your work is less valid. I often find myself saying things like ‘I’m a blogger, but I don’t write about vapid things!’, and then immediately feeling absolutely awful. Seriously, all power to the people out there who make their money from their blogs, because making consistent content and growing an audience is really hard. On the one hand it seems like blogging is a more democratic form. Publishing (like just about every other industry) is lacking in the diversity sector, and blogging allows anyone to take control of the medium as well as the message and get their work out there. That being said, I don’t doubt that inherent bias still pushes the white, western, thin and able bodied to the top much more easily, so it’s probably not a fairer system thanks to, you know, society. But I guess it’s this image of the democratic nature of the internet that can make bloggers seem less legitimate. If there’s no barrier to entry, no cultural gatekeeper that needs to let us pass, then how can people trust that we’re actually worthy of being taken seriously? Or that our writing is any good?
I imagine that some of these defensive feelings come from being female. That if I, as a woman, say I’m a blogger it will imply that I’m some sort of airhead that only cares about image and doesn’t think about real world problems, just my next outfit. That probably says a lot more about our patriarchal society, and how I’ve been conditioned to think with that, than it does about the actual work that goes into being a blogger and how ‘legitimate’ it is. I do find myself wondering if male-identifying bloggers deal with these same insecurities, but it’s hard to know as the sustainable sphere is almost fully dominated by women writers (my demographics are also 86% female, but that’s a conversation for another day). Perhaps he would deal with the same worries of not being taken seriously, or perhaps he would automatically be associated with more ‘respectable’ types of blogging which carry inherently more value and popularity? These are questions I might never be able to answer. One thing I do know, however, is that being a full time blogger is not an easy job.
I guess the root of what I’m trying to say is that anyone can start a blog, but not everyone can sustain one. And I think that means something.
The dictionary definition of blogger is defined simply as a person who regularly writes material for a blog, whilst journalist is a person who writes for newspapers, magazines, or news websites or prepares news to be broadcast. Both pretty vague descriptions, so how do we tell them apart? How do I know what to call myself?
At first I thought I couldn’t ever be a journalist because I wasn’t reporting on news as and when it was happening. But then I remembered the opinion section of the Guardian, where a variety of writers (and people who often haven’t received a journalistic education) give their opinions on a variety of current events, as opposed to time based reporting, and I could see some of the similarities with things myself or my friends had written.
I then thought it couldn’t count if I was only writing for my own website, but then other people started asking me to write articles for them. Not as frequently as people like Holly or Alden, but when I was writing for others I was required to provide factual, thoroughly researched pieces of writing. While I was still studying I worked as a researcher for a few months at the same time as writing a masters degree dissertation, so I knew I had research abilities I could believe in and stand on.
I then came across the legal ruling in America from 2012 that defined how we could determine if someone was a journalist:
- Education in journalism.
- Credentials or proof of affiliation with a recognised news entity
- Proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as editing, fact-checking, or disclosures of conflicts of interest
- Keeping notes of conversations and interviews conducted
- Mutual understanding or agreement of confidentiality between the defendant and his/her sources
- Creation of an independent product rather than assembling writings and postings of others
- Contacting “the other side” to get both sides of a story
Well if we’re going just from this, there’s my answer. I’m not educated in journalism, and I don’t technically have credentials or affiliation with a news entity. It’s that second one that really hits the nail on the head when it comes to gatekeepers: a recognised news entity. But how do we define this? And who is doing the recognising? If the rules are already skewed against bloggers, does that affect what becomes recognised? I’m part of Ethical Writers & Creatives, which has some pretty clear rules to apply for membership, yet I don’t know where that sits in terms of affiliation in this context.
Depending on what I’m writing, I also try to apply rules 3-7 as and when I can, and even when most of these rules don’t apply, I work really hard on number 3. It’s basically part and parcel of being properly transparent as a blogger, something that’s even more important if you’re an ethical blogger, and I think it’s key to remaining humble and assuring people that you’re only ever posing your opinions and research (both of which can develop with time and information), instead of using a blog as a domain where your thoughts get to be 100% right 100% of the time. In relation to this ruling I read a piece on Forbes where the writer argues that all seven points rarely apply to the work he does, and a New York Times piece on the role of blogging in mainstream media which argues that ‘instead of focusing on who is doing the publishing, it is more important than ever to look at how they are doing it’.
So where does that leave me now?
Well firstly, I’m making more of an effort to not feel embarrassed or insecure about being a blogger. It takes a lot of time and effort to consistently create and maintain a blog. It’s not just about having good content, its about a type of consistency and self discipline that I think is admirable, and I ultimately should be proud of.
Asides from that, I guess the main thing that’s held me back from thinking of myself as a real writer is ideas of permission. I didn’t train to be a journalist and I’m not employed by someone else, so I don’t have an employer giving me any sort of external validation in that role. Or maybe I can’t give myself permission because I see myself mixing ‘high art’ and ‘low art’, one day talking about a brand, another talking about a large societal issue, and I don’t know if other people would take that seriously. But then, isn’t that exactly the style of publications like Teen Vogue? And I looked up to their reporting as some of the best (RIP Teen Vogue).
So basically, I still don’t know what I am & I’m still trying to figure out what to call myself (although I’m leaning towards writer/performer). I really don’t know when people start to be considered journalists these days, but I’m going to continue working to uphold the same set of standards, because I think that’s important.
What I would love to know how you all see me? Who am I to you? Feel free to let me know, because I think it’d be truly fascinating.
(but when I say let me know, probably do it on Instagram because I still haven’t figured out how to enable comments on my blog ok? I am sorry, please don’t email me about my lack of comments section ha)
Photos by Gianna Scavo.
Wearing Mama Bee t-shirt by The Orenda tribe + secondhand jeans,