When people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them I’m a journalist. Which is true, to a point. I write freelance stories about a variety of topics for several media outlets, and I’m paid for my work.
But why, you might wonder, would I not say blogger? Yes, I own a blog that I update daily. Yes, this is what I’m hanging my hat on as a career. Yes, my business cards say EcoCult on them and have an @ecocult.com email address. Yes, all my social media properties are for EcoCult, too.
But saying I’m a blogger is embarrassing. I think people would make assumptions about me that just aren’t true. Despite what you may think about bloggers, this is the truth about what I do:
1. I can write. I know grammatical rules and break them rarely and carefully. I know how to structure sentences. I love a good novel; I love a good non-fiction read even better. I am in love with the written word, and not just as a vehicle to get people to look at me.
But people seem to think that, since I’m a blogger, I TOTALLY write like this all the time which is UNTRUE because tho I occasionally use cute phrases like totes, and abbreve my words, it is done for emphasis and doesn’t make up the meat of my writing. K babez? (There is really some horrendous writing out there, especially on fashion blogs. )
2. And I think I should be paid for my writing. I provide value when I freelance write for media outlets. Because I’m a good writer and turn in clean copy, depending on what I’m writing about, I get paid $150 to $1,500 for my work. ($125 for super-simple stories about things I’m passionate about, $1,500 for extensively researched features.)
But I’m often offered writing gigs in exchange for exposure to my site, because I’m a blogger. That math doesn’t add up. In a month where I’ve had 35,000 visitors to my site, I make about $220 in affiliate links and advertising. Are you going to send me 30,000 visitors? Unless you are the New York Times, probably not. Hell, I would do a story for you if you could send me 1,000 visitors, but even that is rare.
3. I dislike free stuff. I get offered free stuff constantly. I have swag bags stuffed into my hands, and today alone I had five offers from PR people to try out, test, look at and use the products they are representing. But here’s the dirty secret: Free stuff isn’t that great. If it was, it wouldn’t be free! Most of the swag bags I get have items that aren’t sustainable or attractive enough to make we want to haul them up my walkup and add it to my pile of stuff, then haul it back out again to try to donate it or recycle it. It’s honestly more trouble than it’s worth. Free does have its place. If I’m into something, but I want to see what it’s like in person, test it out, and take original photography, I’ll request the free sample because I can’t afford to buy everything I want to try. But no one has ever offered me free rent.
There are a lot of bloggers out there that live for free stuff. You should see them at a blogger conference, descending on the promotional booths like seagulls on a full box of french fries, looking for swag. Don’t care what it is, because it’s free! Or they’ll email every luxury brand ever like, “Can I have free?” It makes PR people respect me less, because they think I’m trying to exploit them instead of just do my job, which is report on products so that you can make a better decision.
4. I respect and honor my education in journalism. I have a degree in journalism. I’ve debated the finer points of when anonymous sources are appropriate, and been drilled in fact-checking the shit out of everything. Do I make mistakes on this blog? Yes. I have no fact checkers or grammar Nazis working for me. But I do my very best to read over posts–out loud–a couple times before it goes live for clarity, spelling and grammar. I also am clear with my readers about conflicts of interest.
There are a lot of bloggers out there who have never bothered to learn anything about journalism or ethics. They don’t take their role as an information provider seriously. Instead, they see themselves as a fun friend with opinions that they can disseminate on the internet.
5. I’m not into sparkles. Or curling my hair. Or logos. Or layering on a sunrise of eye shadow. I really dislike wearing heels because running around an event and taking pictures with a heavy camera while wearing heels is the worst. I just don’t have time for that much makeup and hair … because I’m working.
But I find the species of Overdone Blogger fascinating. Look, there she is having lunch at the ‘Wichcraft outside of the Lincoln Center. How much time did she spend on that makeup face mask? How does she get her hair that big? Do those heels hurt? Spending so much time on your appearance makes me think your priority isn’t helping your reader, but drawing attention to yourself with each and every post.
6. I’m kind. I don’t compete with other bloggers. In fact, I try to support them wherever I can–which is why I co-founded Ethical Writers Co., so we could share resources and events and advice with each other. It’s why when someone emails me to ask for my advice because she’s starting a blog, I hop on a call and tell her everything I can. It makes me so happy when I meet people who are a fan of my blog, and I try to treat them the way I would an old friend.
A blogger friend recently told me about attending a rewardStyle event. It had been a long day, so she wore flats and a simple outfit. But when she arrived, she felt so looked down upon by an army of high-heeled, done-up fashion bloggers, that she left. That sort of judgmental, shallow attitude is completely unnecessary, but apparently some bloggers think in order to make it, you have to act like Regina George.
7. I want to contribute something to the world. When I’m feeling down about being “just” a blogger, I always remind myself why I am doing this. I’m doing it because I think a blog is an excellent way to promote the sustainable lifestyle to a large group of people. Success to me is getting someone to sign up for a CSA, getting someone to switch from conventional to non-toxic beauty products, supporting an emerging sustainable designer, and showing a visitor my side of NYC, the side that is eco-friendly and authentic.
But many bloggers don’t have a purpose to their blog, beyond just being sparkly. The “why” behind their site is just “fashion” or “beauty” or “me.” Their net contribution to the world is negative, because they are encouraging wasteful consumption of unethically made items. I wonder if they ever question their purpose, or if the double taps on their Instagram feed are enough to assure them that they are a valuable member of society.
The Real Deal
Look, blogs do have merit. They can be beautiful, inspirational, instructive and world-changing. That’s why I started mine, because I thought the blog world was missing a beautiful, inspirational site that showcases sustainability at its best.
But because the barrier of entry is so low, blogs can also be horrendous, run by inexperienced, self-involved women and men with few skills and ill-defined goals.
This is an existential question I struggle with often, a thin line I tightrope walk a between being serious and being entertaining. It’s the kind of thing I worry about at night before I go to sleep.
But don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. I believe in what I do. And these thoughts only spur me on to further separate myself from the “typical” blogger by improving upon the quality of my work consistently. I can learn from those other blogs in terms of photography, sponsorship, and engaging the community. But I can also choose not to be like them in what I cover, who I partner with, and the quality of my writing.
I can choose to be “a blogger,” or I can choose my own blogger path that speak to me. I have that choice.
But I still might call myself a journalist.
Tell me: What do you like about bloggers and want to see more of, and what do you dislike and wish would go away?