I had this blog once. It was pretty good, but not many people read it… ah yes, it’s time to reflect (briefly) on the great project that was this blog.
The point of this blog was to explore answers to the question ‘what can I do about it?’ As in, what can I – a normal person with normal powers and influence – do about the issues affecting society and the people stuck in it. At the beginning it was partly a response to the Savile scandal, but not wholly about that.
While I might have had some aspirations at the start about influencing other people through this blog, what I came to realise was that the real (possibly only) impact was on me.
Sure, you can contribute to ongoing campaigns, and you can put things ‘out there’ which are counter-cultural, but mostly you’re just sending stuff into a social media bubble of people who already agree with you.
Every guide to increasing your blogs readership tells you to post regularly. But the world is already far too full with information and commentary on information and commentary on the commentary – why put more stuff out there (is that dilution or radiation?) There’s a lot to be said for just shutting up.
What sometimes happens is that a blogger’s work fuels a story in the mainstream media. This is generally on the MSM’s terms – the bloggers work fitted their agenda at that time. The MSM drops them as soon as they have stopped being useful and the blogger goes back to their social media bubble, albeit with a few more followers, but most of them will drift away over time.
I contacted the Yorkshire Evening Post after I’d published my first post about West Yorkshire Police’s treatment of sex workers. The journalist said it was an interesting post but I’d only have a story for the YEP if one of the sex worker support agencies I was setting up interviews with criticised the police. As it happened there was some very forthright criticism of WYP. But at the same time I also picked up on how much the YEP was in WYP’s pocket. They rely on them for their sensationalist, usually crime-focused headlines (and don’t forget the videos on their website). That’s the mainstream media – especially local media for you. The YEP had been very much part of the problem here – whilst failing to cast any sort of critical eye over WYP they’ve also demonised sex workers, perpetuated myths and spurred on unhelpful reactions from the community. As if they were going to pick up this story.
There’s probably an analogy between the ineffectiveness of consumer activism – the idea you can change things by joining a few other well-meaning but misguided people in saying (it is mostly words) you’re going to boycott Amazon and believing that it will make any difference, and the idea that the way to challenge a biased and hate-filled media is to throw a few words of love onto the lower-slopes of its odious mountain.
Citizen journalism, or more specifically doing the journalism that all journalists should be doing but only a small percentage do is a real challenge. You have no training, no credentials, some people (the BBC) refuse to acknowledge you exist, and you have lots of other things to do at the same time, like keep your paid job. But actually doing it teaches you a lot about yourself. You can blag it by phoning the press office (be courteous, don’t forget you probably know more about the story than the guy from the YEP); your persistence will take you through any barrier; you can get West Yorkshire Police to talk to you even though they don’t normally talk to anyone outside the circle; you can get your MP to give you a straight answer (sometimes); you can get the Police Crime Commissioner to respond to you (eventually); you can research well enough and be courteous and professional enough to get people to give you candid interviews that no one else has done. A pat on the back, well done. Now apply this to the other areas of your life! Don’t forget though that only a few hundred people read that stuff. And you have no idea of any impact it might or might not have had on anyone except you.
Going out into the world and doing actual stuff has to be more effective than blogging, and that’s what I’ve been doing a lot more of over the last couple of years.
Probably the greatest letter anyone has ever written was the one Kurt Vonnegut wrote to some high school students who’d written to ask if he would visit their school. Mr. Vonnegut urges them to practice their art – any art – not to become rich and famous, but to become and find out more about themselves as humans. I think blogging can be that, but if it ceases to be that then it is probably time to stop.
Thanks for reading.