April 6 2008

Dying To Blog

New York Times LogoThe New York Times ran a piece this weekend entitled “In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop“, and considering the play it is getting in the blogosphere, it seems to have hit a chord.

Basically the article talks about how bloggers are working in unsustainable circumstances, especially in the technology field, and it is leading to health problems: sleeping disorders, weight issues, possibly two deaths and a heart attack. They also point to the fact that most bloggers are paid by the piece, leading to a drive to produce as much as possible, no matter what the consequences. The article also points to other problems, such as Michael Arrington of TechCrunch gaining 30 pounds since he started his site in 2005.

Essentially the entire article seems to imply we are all big quivering messes of nerves, ready to turn into pools of jelly at any given moment.

I am sure someone at the paper is patting themselves on the backs for the amount of attention this piece is attracting. As Mathew Ingram aptly points out:

Obviously, the Times has learned the first rule of getting attention from blogs: talk about blogs. The Times also seems to have learned the second lesson, which is related to blog “trolling,” namely: associate blogs or blogging with some kind of apocalyptic or otherwise incendiary statement, viz. “Blogging kills.”

I’ve gone back and forth on my feelings about this piece, but I think I am coming to a similar conclusion as Mr. Ingram: We got gamed, and we got gamed hard. The deaths of Russell Shaw, 60, and Marc Orchant, 50, while tragic, certainly do not point to some form of trend in the industry. Even the article aptly states that they can’t be sure if blogging played any factor in their passing, but it certainly did not stop them from casting a shadow over the industry as a whole.

If anything positive came out of this mess of a “news” story, it is that the payment structure of some blogs are taking advantage of their writers. While I still think a union for bloggers is a bad idea, I do think that these low paying blogs will eventually be weeded out as their employees discover there are sites that pay a fair wage, and don’t drive you to insanity. When I started doing this professionally last year, I did run into some crazy pay situations, and I accepted them because I knew I had to build up my body of work. You will, however, notice that I am down to only one paying job now, Mashable, and I am quite happy there.

Blogging SweatshopsThe New York Times, as well as others, are now enjoying making analogies that blogging has turned into “the digital-era sweatshop”, or that what we do should be called “flogging“, a thinly veiled analogy to the days of slavery. I think both analogies, especially the sweatshop one, are horribly off base. Blogging is bigger than ever with a wealth of opportunities out there for writers, and more appearing each day. Unlike a normal job, you can switch blogs extremely easily, sometimes working for one only a matter of weeks, as I did a few times. This is not some form of indentured servitude.

As for the other accusations the article levels at us (driving ourselves to exhaustion, poor health, etc), I say this life is what you make of it. Yes, I am tired, but anyone who has known me for any length of time can you tell you that I’ve been tired since the day I was born. If anything, blogging has made me get more sleep because I know I have a tighter schedule to keep. I make sure to exercise at least every other day because I am aware I am sitting more, and I also force myself to eat better because of the schedule I keep. If anything, I think blogging has made me more health conscience. And, I’m sorry, but it’s not a bad life: during a slow moment during my shift today, I laid on the floor of my family room, in my pajamas, and let myself get ravaged by three cocker spaniels all trying to lick my face. If that’s what sweatshops are like, I think I want to work in one for the rest of my life.

I think they may have had their heart in the right place, but they went about it all wrong. We are not slaves, we don’t have whips at our backs, and this career is what you make of it. If you are working in poor conditions, more than likely you can change it if you really want to. Perhaps I have a different perspective due to my age (I am the oldest employee at Mashable), but I honestly think we’re working in a pretty exciting industry, and I hope to be doing it for quite some time to come.

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