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April 14, 2011

On platforms, professionalism, and the "it's just a hobby" excuse

Joan Didion. Not a hobbyist.

Recently, one inflammatory online post led to another, and I found myself reading a comment from a blogger-ish sort who defended his lack of professionalism by claiming that it wasn’t required of him. And he’s right. But then there’s bloggers and there’s bloggers, and if we’d like the enterprise to have any legitimacy (and yes I would, please. Here’s why), then we have to hold ourselves accountable to high standards. Or, more importantly, when we slip up, we should not use excuses like, “I’m not being paid for this. It’s just a hobby.”

Which is not to say that blogging should not be fun. Blogging should always be fun, basically because we’re not getting paid for this and it’s just a hobby. When blogging becomes obligatory, it’s time to stop. But fun does not negate your responsibility to provide material that is thoughtful, original, well-written, and interesting. I suppose that if your blog is very much your own personal project, then these things matter less, but the minute you attract enough attention to work with professionals,  then you owe it to them.

If, for example, you are interviewing a writer on your blog, you are responsible for having read her book. (That journalists very often don’t bother to read the books of those they interview does not make this okay.) If you have no interest in reading her book, then don’t have her on your blog. Because that writer (who probably doesn’t earn much more than a blogger to do what she does, and that pay must stretch even thinner to cover the amount of time she spends blathering on about her book on your tiresome blog) is appearing in a professional capacity, and your lack of professionalism will be a waste of her time. Sure, you are offering her a chance to promote her work, but your contact with her offers you legitimacy. Um, and your professional behaviour offers further legitimacy for bloggers everywhere.

Of course, if you’re a blogger and everybody wants a piece of you, and you’re not getting anything out of the arrangement except “legitimacy,” then we’ve got a problem. Because blogging is just a hobby and you’re not being paid for it, you should ensure that you’re getting something out of everything you do, particularly if someone else is making money off your efforts (however indirectly). Write about topics you’re engaged with, read books you’re interested in, write posts to learn and answer your own questions, and ask authors questions whose answers you’re really curious to know. (Also aim to make these questions that author may never have been asked before. Which is no easy feat.) Say no to what isn’t interesting, to any authors whose book you wouldn’t bother reading, to anything that start to feel like an obligation.

Ensure that a professional appearing on your blog represents an opportunity for both of you: for her, the chance to promote her work, and for you, a wonderful read and fascinating conversation.

2 thoughts on “On platforms, professionalism, and the "it's just a hobby" excuse”

  1. steph says:

    It’s funny I should read this right after reading Zsuzsi’s rant on her Crank page. 🙂

    I agree with you. I’m naive enough to be genuinely shocked that anyone would conduct an interview without having read the book.

    I especially love your next-to-last paragraph. Very sage advice.

  2. It’s my own view that bloggers should be as unprofessional as they wish. I’m a great fan of outrageous commentaries of all kinds — it helps leaven the strenuously professional tone of so much professional writing. But bloggers who say outrageous things (or who review books without having read them) shouldn’t complain, though, about getting trampled for it.

    [P.S. Catching up on your blog!]

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