I was absolutely thrilled yesterday to have won the Commentary section for this year’s Best Blog Awards run by the Sydney Writers’ Centre. I was especially thrilled given the quality of competition and the fact that the category was judged by Greg Jericho—aka Grog’s Gamut—a man whose work I’ve admired for some time. You can view all of the winners here.
I’d like to thank Greg, the Sydney Writers’ Centre and all of my bright, supportive friends who have helped my ideas, my writing, and my blog.
The Sydney Writers’ Centre put a series of questions to me about blogging and my answers follow. Apologies for the navel gazing.
When did you start blogging?
Feeding the Chooks is just 9 months old, but I kept another blog—a messy, impassioned, unruly thing—a few years back. I started in 2005, I think.
Why did you start blogging?
My blog started as a form of redress to the language that I’d been paid obscenely good money to butcher, maim and spit upon during my time as a political and government speechwriter. I hope it’s working.
Seriously though, I blog because I’m compelled to write. Always have been. And blogging confers the small gratification of publication alongside a modest audience. These are pretty good incentives to write even more often than you would without the blog.
How has your blog, and the blogging world changed since you started?
Well, my blog is still in its infancy. But I will say that over the past years I think there’s an increased respect for bloggers and blogging. Mainstream journos keep blogs, while bloggers become mainstream journos. There have been some happy stories of talented writers using their blogs as a springboard for mainstream media or writing roles. It would be crazy to still think that all blogs are somehow other—boutique or subversive or avant-garde.
There’s also an interesting tension between mainstream, press gallery journos and the more wonkish, independent bloggers/journos who offer a very different, and valuable, approach to covering Canberra. It would be stupid and imprecise to favour one “style” over another—they’re fragile and increasingly meaningless categories. A healthy media diet is a balanced one and there’s a lot of valuable political writing being done outside of the major ‘papers.
I’ll go further. Traditional media is in a lot of trouble. We all know that. Take a look at the latest newspaper circulation figures for Australia. But I don’t have this panglossian vision where blogs and “citizen journalists” heroically fill the breach. That sounds naively optimistic to me. I feel about this as David Simon does. Good reporters pound the pavement. Develop contacts. Knock on doors—figuratively and literally. They do—or should do—a lot of heavy lifting in terms of research and analysis and networking. And I know that a lot of bloggers aren’t doing this kind of thing, we’re pontificating in our Proust-filled studies.
However. There is some magnificent writing being done by independent types. Bright, curious, imaginative and elegant. You have Greg Jericho, aka Grog’s Gamut. You have the combative and brainy Bernard Keane. You have the indefatigable Ben Eltham. Now, it sounds like I’ve just described a hyper-wonky team of superheroes but I won’t always agree with these guys—my personal politics are more conservative, I think—but they’re hardworking and thoughtful people.
Journalists have to understand that while there’s a noble history to their profession, there’s a grubby one too. As much as there’s some great reporting being done, there’s also the pallid, lazy and rabid. We’re awash with churnalism.
Anyway, I digress. Point is, mainstream journalists shouldn’t wholesale dismiss bloggers as somehow facile or fringe or beneath the decent standards of journalism. That’s false. And evidently so to most people now, I think. But I’d like folks to appreciate the good work being done each day by “mainstream” journos too. That’s a fairly asinine statement, I know, but there seems to be a lot of enmity and suspicion between certain “sides”.
What are your goals/dreams for your blog?
To be honest, I’ve never really mapped out any ambitions for it. Of course I want people to read it. I’d love for my readership to increase. And I love that the blog also serves as a sort of living, breathing portfolio of my work. But principally I keep the blog because I have to write and I enjoy being my own micro-publisher. If there’s a few people reading it—and if other bloggers who I respect are enjoying it too—then I’ll be pretty happy.
What is the best thing about blogging?
Independence. I can write whatever, however, whenever I like. I can write a straight piece on welfare policy or a jagged screed about life in the public service. I’ve written about cancer, boxing, media laws and the awfulness of Green Day. And I’ve written in different tones, ranging from the sober to the half-mad.
The other thing about blogging is that it can be interactive—your readers can deepen the story by adding their thoughts or corrections. I’ve been really touched by some of my readers’ comments. That said, the interactivity is a volatile benefit and can backfire readily. So it goes.
What’s the most challenging thing about blogging?
I think if you’re finding blogging difficult, you’re doing it wrong. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I always suspected that blogging was the fruit of some passion—for writing and for what you’re writing about. That’s the way it is for me, anyway. Blogging is a natural, practical extension of my love of writing. But if there is a difficulty—and it’s a small and necessary one—it’s attracting the attention of the creepy and the antagonistic.
What is your advice to other bloggers?
Write well and write often. It’s that simple. I understand that it can be hard when you’re working full-time, you’re tired, your blog isn’t paying any bills, you’d rather be in the pub. But if you’re passionate enough, you’ll find the time. I also need to take my own advice and start posting here more often.
Another piece of advice that I heard a bit was to specialise in something. Develop a niche. It’s fine logic, but personally I could never limit my subject matter. I’m curious about too many things, as most of us are. I was never comfortable with just becoming the “speechwriter guy”, or the “political communications guy” because I’m vain enough to think that I have things to say about other stuff too. The awfulness of Coldplay, for instance.