Why do I blog?
It's not a question that I often give much thought to. After seven years, it becomes a little like asking "why do I breathe?". It's just something I do, as a matter of course, nearly daily; a creative outlet that engages my cooking, styling, photography and writing skills all in one satisfying activity. But events over the past week or two in the food blogosphere have prompted me once again to ask myself this question. Things were said in a couple of articles and blog posts that, frankly, filled me with dismay. Pretty strident viewponts were selected and reported as if these truly were the views of the overwhelming majority of SA bloggers and food journalists – views that in no shape manner or form represent MY viewpoint. And I seriously doubt that my views on blogging are so unusual and unusual as not to be shared by at least a few other food bloggers.
Accusations (once again) flew around that food bloggers as a rule cannot write and cannot take photographs. That all you need to be a food blogger is a free meal and computer. That there is only ONE food blogger in all of South Africa who checks facts before posting them (!!). That all you need for an audience is an internet connection. That all journalists hate all food bloggers because they accept freebies (!) and can't string two coherent sentences together. That all food bloggers are, as a rule, a backstabbing lot engaged in a dog-eat-dog fight to break controversial news stories and snag the best freebies. That the only measure of a "quality" food blog is how attractive it is to potential corporate advertisers. I will not even start on the questionable ethics of a respected national newspaper openly saying that they agreed not to include a single comment from a particular food blogger in their article, at the request of another interviewee. (Whatever you may think of said food blogger, that is plain ol' censorship by another name. And although I may not agree with what a person says, I will defend to the death their right to say it.) It all smacks of sensationalism and does neither the traditional media nor the food blogging world any credit at all. It made me feel utterly depressed about the state of food blogging in general.
A number of South African food bloggers got in touch with me over the past week or so, asking what I thought about all of the above. I am not the burning bush and I cannot supply definitive responses to all these wearisome accusations, but I have been blogging for quite a while; and I can tell you a little about why I blog and what it is that I think blogging is all about.
1. I started blogging because I love to write and I hoped that some other people might like to read what I write. When I started out, there were so few food blogs worldwide that we all knew each other, and there was absolutely no question of making money from your blog. There were no Google Ads, no Foodbuzz and most certainly no e-mails from PR people offering you anything – and that is how it stayed for at least four or five years. And yet, I blogged. To say that food bloggers all blog for the freebies is complete and utter nonsense and I am living proof of that fact. Yes, these days I have one advert on my blog (which makes me enough money for oooh, two large Starbucks coffees per month), and yes, I do the occasional product, event or restaurant review. I am not apologetic. I disclose these to my readers; I make it clear to the company that the review might or might not be positive; and I never accept cash for a review/post or for the inclusion of keywords. But the overwhelming majority of my posts are not sponsored/freebies in any way – and if all the PR freebies dried up tomorrow, I would still blog – just like I did in 2004. I am pretty certain that I am not the only food blogger who holds these views.
2. I have worked really hard over the years at honing my writing and my photography skills. I have invested countless hours of my leisure time, my money, and my effort to get to a point where I feel proud of the content of my blog. Sure, there are lazy bloggers out there who put up fuzzy yellow photos and scrape content from other sites. But I know many bloggers like me, who work tirelessly at improving their skills. To say that all bloggers can neither write nor take a decent photo is like saying all journalists hack into murder victims' mobile phones. Enough already with the rampant generalisations. Besides, if we are all so bad at writing, why are print journalists in such a froth about food bloggers?
3. An internet connection and a blog is not all you need for an audience. An audience is something that grows organically because of good content. If you cannot provide pretty riveting content in an increasingly competitive online world, you will not have an audience. Content is king. Period.
4. Not everybody blogs for the same reasons. Some want to use their blog to promote an existing business. Some want to use their blog as a personal platform to launch a career in writing, cooking or media. Some want to earn a living out of advertising and sponsorship on their blog. Some are blogging purely as a creative outlet. And you know what? ALL of those are good and valid reasons to blog. The fact that I blog a certain way or for a certain reason does not spoil everything for you and your different blogging goals. Telling people there is A Right Way/Reason and A Wrong Way/Reason to blog just discourages newbies and sounds pompous.
5. For me, as for many others, the single best and most nurturing aspect of food blogging has undoubtedly been the community of like-minded people from all over the world that I have met, both virtually and in person, many of whom I am now proud to call my friends. These are generally people that I would never have run into had I not been active online, and yet I feel as close to many of them as I do to old school friends I have known for many years. We have laughed together, we have cried together, we have fumed with rage together – and when the chips are down and there is a crisis (family, financial, romantic, health), we have come together to offer each other whatever help we can. Just like a "real" community should.
Maybe I have been left behind in the dust as people rush by me to grab freebies, writing contracts, book deals etc. But I deeply and honestly do believe that food bloggers form a community and that we need to remind ourselves that if we cannot support each other, or at the very least show some professional courtesy, we stand to lose this community of like-minded people which is so precious to many of us.
I, for one, will fight tooth and nail to prevent that from happening.