engagement, community and the individual

A couple of days ago I posted on the conflict between writing what people are identified, through the crunching of online stats, as wanting in their newspapers, and writing what we – as grandly hierarchical authorial voices – believe people need to read.  I concluded in the following way:

Perhaps, in a sense, it is wrong of me to bemoan latterday newspapers’ statistical approach to writing stories.  Structures and restrictions have always faced our artists: the shock of the new, the art of the old, the genius of the wise, the resilience of the one-day-to-be-famous creators of future generations … all these issues and more may help us to understand better that whilst the moneymen and women do substantially affect our ability to do good, equally the Utopia we would desire is inevitably beyond our reach.

It may or may not be democracy to only write what people want.

But similarly, mightn’t it be a kind of fascism to only write what we think they need?

Last night, meanwhile, I finally let go – in the face of a resounding lack of interest – of a hyperlocal journalism project which has had grand virtue but zero engagement in the community where I live.

In response to this piece, a very nice man I met a few weeks ago in person very kindly tweeted this:

This post you are reading now is my short and concise reply.

Engagement is the buzz-concept of the second decade of this 21st century.  Without take-up, without a wider acceptance, utility for any virtual and/or community project does not exist.  And there is little point – in the case of the hyperlocal experiences under discussion today, for example – in my continuing another seven months, bravely plugging away as an individual who is peculiarly, maybe fruitlessly, in the outfield of irrelevant process – with what’s evidently been, at a personal level anyway, a limited capacity to engage that wider community.

In any case, from the beginning, the project was about sustainability: about re-engineering existing business models in tandem with the new hyperlocal, for the benefit of all and sundry.  And it’s here, perhaps, where my sticking-point has lain all along.  I’ve been a blogger since 2003 (maybe earlier; can’t remember for sure): part of that army of virtual ants which has clambered altruistically, collaboratively, ultimately (I’m afraid to say) grossly too, over its tiring companions and colleagues, as the years have passed by in generally unpaid and uncompensated labour.

If I am clear about anything, it’s that I don’t want such volunteer weariness to repeat itself for hyperlocal – for yet another possibly foolish and certainly unknowing generation of hopefuls.

We don’t want to make of significant journalism a permanent internship of promises, never fulfilled.

If I give up on being a one-man band, this is mainly, primarily, why.

For starters, out of a kind of déjà vu.  Out of seeing how excited individuals are exploited systemically through their own laudable belief in their communities and the future.

Also, then, because I do seriously wonder the following: in democracy, what right does any individual (like myself, I mean) have to hierarchically define what an unwilling community rejects – whether outright and explicitly or with an (un)fairly cloaked sense of ownership?

And so it is, by way of final observation, I express – in the strongest terms –  my desire to create models and dynamics of collaboration which attribute and remunerate justly.

As in our emotional lives, so in our business relationships.

Isn’t that right?  Isn’t that how – always – it should be?

is it time to be proud of not being a writer?

Yes.  I know.  Wordsmiths.  Authors.  Writers.  They’re all the same.

But the only how which I know how to really do with words is blog.  (Oh.  There’s proofreading too, but as I’m neither the worst nor the best at this, we’ll just go and leave it to one side …)

Anyways.

I don’t know about you, but I feel slightly ashamed – at least in polite company, and at least in that part of the world we term “outside” – when I admit to the fact that I blog.

Yes.

I admit it.

I am an inveterate blogger.

Inveterate at that.

I admit it with all its consequences.  Without the platforms I’ve used, without the environment they create, without the hyperlinks, the freely accessible content (freely accessible doesn’t always mean free, by the way) and the thoughts and murmurings and musings of so many, I wouldn’t have written the three or four thousand articles that the last twelve years have issued forth.

And why do I say I am a blogger and not a writer?  A writer writes from within, quite often; maybe more often than not.  A blogger, meanwhile, writes only in reaction to another’s assertion, lifetime or observation.

At least in my case.  At least here where you read me now.

At least in practically all the places I’ve ever written.

The only place I think I used to write purely from within was a static-HTML website of a blog I developed deliberately not to entangle with anyone else.

The content for this site is now lost to the ether.

But the attempt to be a writer – not a blogger! – was noble enough.

To revindicate the condition of being a blogger – to come out of a closet received opinion has slowly been putting us inside … maybe yes, maybe it’s time we admitted we’re not writers.  Not writers with a fictional relationship but bloggers with a factual basis.

Maybe angry too, that is true – but never more than rhetoric-bespattered; never literally violent.

I can’t usually write if I don’t read something which someone else writes first.  It may just be a tweet; it may be a full-blown post.

Occasionally, I write about stuff that happens to me – but as very little of real interest is to be found in my world, and what there is more and more deserves to be private, I have to occupy vicariously the world of others and their thoughts.

That is what the sort of writer I am ends up doing, you see.

A blogger, and proud.

What about you?

we used to flog books; now we flog bloggers

In the culture I grew up alongside (I’m only half-English, so only half-inside; in fact, probably even less than half: my wife and children are Spanish, so there’s a third culture to love), there was always a surfeit of content to be bought and read.

We called them books when I grew up: books, magazines (remember magazines?  In particular, the specialist ones; the hobbyist ones; the clever ones; the crazy and wild …); and then there were newspapers too – especially the Sunday newspapers.

What a luxury, spread out like a picnic blanket in a meadow of grand grace – but in this case the meadow happened to be one’s living-room, and you’d find yourself sitting on as much of the sofa as you could grab.

All the different sections that overcame one’s resolve to finish before lunch.

Many a roast burnt due to the Observer, incompletely read.

Many a lunch late because the next section, the one kept lovingly to the last, just had to be read before the potatoes could be rescued.

Clive James.  Katherine Whitehorn.  Am I right in remembering these names?

Not any more, of course; now, it’s all “content”.  Streamed, licensed, electronic, virtual … always at one’s fingertips, never in one’s hands; no longer piling up forgotten, though not unloved, on a dusty bottom shelf or in those shabby but never discarded cardboard boxes we’d nick from the local super.

Then I moved to Spain, and goodness me – how I loved the quioscos: the often sizeable brown huts of aluminium construction; dotted around the city streets with their splaying-out doors; laden with editorial product as far as the eye could see.

And the eye could see.

That was the real grandness of it all.

Last time I was in Spain, so many of them shut down, for sale, no longer displaying their wares; no longer pushing those eternal book collections.

So sad it was, for me anyway.  A passing of an age.

Two countries, that was, where I lived and came to love the whole idea and industry of flogging books.

Nowadays, some societies prefer – instead – to flog bloggers.

I’m not sure that this instinct in certain mediated ways – the instinct to instil fear into communicators at all levels and of all skills, I mean – won’t become more common.

Thankfully, the British state doesn’t sanction the use of corporal punishment against its subjects.  I sincerely hope it won’t in the future either.

But what I can say – without fear of equivocating a reality that’s getting more and more complex to triangulate as time goes by – runs … well … as follows: I much preferred the time when what made the news was publishers flogging books.

And those are the times – together – we must get back to.