Why journalism snobs should love amateur blogs

amateur blogsWhen I was first introduced to the online travel community more than a year ago, I was confused as to why everyone expected me to start an amateur blog . Who would read it besides my mom? What would I write about? And WHAT was the purpose?

I’d been working in magazines since college, so writing just for kicks, for my new friends who I’d never met across the world, seemed a bit ridiculous. And self-published, free eBooks? Give me a break. It’s not that I looked down on all of it… I just didn’t get it. I was in a period of my life, after losing my job, where I wanted to slow down – not add extra projects that appeared to take a lot of time for little or no monetary profit. And so I stayed far away.

Twelve months later, I have changed my mind. In fact, not only do I think the amateur blogging universe is extremely important to the future of professional writing, but I also think that even journalism snobs should have a lot more respect for it. Here’s why.

A grammar dork who writes and edits for a living, I’m often frustrated that other professionals don’t see the value of good writing, whether it’s in emails, memos for work, or god forbid, something  like… books. But as certain circles lament the decline in the average person’s writing ability, blogging is all about improving those skills. The blogs I’ve followed during my year have greatly impressed me; I can literally see the writing improving before my eyes. We all know why: practice, practice, practice. These bloggers write more often than non-bloggers; sometimes they write almost every single day.

Not only that, but many bloggers make efforts to work on improving those skills, actually educating themselves via online resources. As I Stumble, I come across so many sites dedicated to writing, posts that are read by many, many bloggers. I’m still sort of shocked at how many there are! So as the educational system struggles with sparking writing interest, those out in the blogging world are working to improve those very abilities – on their own time. I wish some of the teachers who’d taught these future bloggers could see where they landed! I for one would’ve never believed it if you told me when I was in school that in ten years a lot of my classmates, even some who would groan at every essay assignment, would become enthralled with learning how to write.

And… eBooks. At first, I thought they were absurd. Yeah, yeah, I supported the people I met who had one, but I didn’t really get it. But as I started to compare it to my own life, how frustrated I’ve been trying to (unsuccessfully) get a book published, I realized this was one way to fight against a system that is ridiculously publishing almost exclusively celebrity books, even if they’re painfully juvenile, and forgoing any sort of “gamble” on new authors. Between social media and apps and online everything, self-starters are finally getting the attention that used to be saved for only those with a good agent could offer.

So, at first, I thought all of this blogging was amateurs’ way of pretending to do something I’ve spent my life studying and working on. It was very frustrating. But now, I’m in love. And the fact that a lot of my favorite bloggers are monetizing and profiting in other ways from it? Even better. And on top of THAT, there are huge blogs out there that transcend all of this? It gives me hope for the next phase of journalism and writing.

Instead of the decline of writing, something I’ve been dedicated to literally since I was five years old, our generation’s eBooks and blogs are our way of keeping the appreciation alive. Writers everywhere are finding their voice online, even those who have never written before. And some of us journalism snobs who were late to the party? On our blogs, we get to write about whatever we want.

That makes me so, so happy.

If I didn’t have to go to work soon, I would go through everyone’s archives and find every single one of my favorite blog posts. But I don’t have the time. So here are some favorite online pieces of mine (I picked out all different kinds) that you may have missed, but please know I like about a million more:

A Year of Letting Go, CityGirlBlogs

The Time My Liver Hated Me, DTravelsRound

AssBob Grass Skirt, or How I am Failing My Daughter, Dadwagon

One Elphantastic Day, FreedoniaPost

It’s the Really, Really Little Things and Why You Should Hire Me BLAMMO, Southified Masshole

2011, The Year I Give Life the Middle Finger, CandiceDoesTheWorld

Garmin and Me, TravelBelles

2010, My Year of Packing Light, SkinnyDip

How to Have the Worst Day Ever in Phuket, Twenty-SomethingTravel

Castara, Tobago: an undiscovered gem wrapped in awesomeness, GoSeeWrite

How Not to Pitch a Travel Book, Fevered Mutterings

Why Having a Baby is Like Traveling, Travelogged

Beware of Writer, Terrible Minds

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I'm a life-long travel junkie journalist who works hard to find adventure in everyday life after two years of travel and expat living.

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  1. Awwww, thanks for including me in this great list of bloggers and posts!

  2. Awwww, thanks for including me in this great list of bloggers and posts!

  3. When I first started backpacking about three years ago, I started a small Blogspot blog where my main goal was sharing stories of my travels with family and friends. In the process I (gasp) realized I actually loved writing and by golly — I realized I was pretty d*mn good at it.

    You’re right – travel blogs are an unprecedented tool that give a voice to aspiring writers and more importantly, even those that may not realize the talents they do possess.

  4. One of my absolute favorite things that happened at TBEX last year was when the big shot editor types were all, “WHOA, bloggers DO care about writing!”

    I loves me some big shot editor types, honest, I’m not dissing them, they just didn’t know.

    But I think what the old school journalists are frustrated by, more than crappy writing, is crappy wages. I spent some time with a couple of what I’ll refer to affectionately as “old guy journalists” at an event last year, and they were all really surprised to learn that I won’t do free. I suspect they’re confident enough in their writing abilities to not worry about competing against amateurs for quality, but it’s hard to compete with masses who are giving it away. Different issue, I know, but I think this is closer to the root of why journalists don’t like bloggers than the issue of quality writing.

    Thanks for this post. It’s thinky. Oh, and Michael sent me here.

  5. @Mike Of COURSE!!

    @Matt I couldn’t have said it better myself! You literally just wrote exactly what I was thinking, from the other point of view. I’m sooo happy that more people are discovering writing!

  6. @Pam Yes, that was a great part of TBEX ha. The bottom line is that journalism and blogging are NOT the same thing, no matter what anyone says. I think this is why the old-school types didn’t dive in right away. I’ve never hired a single person off Twitter or blogging (although I hope that will change!), but I have met up with several pre-blogging, journalism pals (Liz from Travelogged, Matt from Dad Wagon/Frugal Traveler, Kristin Luna) online. With blogging, there are different ways of being paid, from cash to links on huge sites that up your subscriber list that can get you a book deal or more money. For me, it’s enough to have a platform to write what I love, since I have so many other writing projects, including a full-time job. Nothing will change the fact that some people will make their living off writing, some will use it as supplementary income, and others won’t ever make a dime. I hope in this new world of renewed love for writing, there’s room for all of us.
    Good to meet you!!

  7. Great read Abby,

    What I like about blogs are the titles of the pieces bloggers write about. Very intriguing – e.g. “The time my liver hated me”, now we can all relate to that (at least I know you and I can).

    Pura Vida!

  8. It’s interesting to see a blogger’s writing change and become stronger. After a year blogging I definitely think I’m a better writer.

  9. I had you in mind, girl! You’re definitely the ones I’ve loved watching since the beginning, as you go from great to amazing!

  10. I’m in agreement that journalism and blogging are NOT the same thing. There was actually a huge debate about that in my comment section yesterday. But you made a very good point that blogging is indirectly forcing those who voluntarily participate to fine tune their skills, skills that no doubt will serve them in ANY profession, and I think that’s something incredibly valuable to take away from a mere hobby. It’s funny, isn’t it, how our society is often portrayed as “dumber” since we seem to read LESS (at least less quality literature) with the evolution of the Internet and the invention of the 140-character story, yet at the same time as a whole we’re all writing MORE.

  11. @Kristin Really? How did I miss that — I love this debate! I’ll go check it out. I love that — we’re reading less, but writing more. Or maybe our attention spans are just shorter, and we’re reading less books, but more online. Me, I’ll never give up my books!! You and I talked a tiny bit about this in San Fran. It’s actually what got me thinking!

  12. I agree – the calibre of writing in blogs is greatly increasing. The days of “I woke up this morning and the cat threw up LOL” blogs are gradually waning. People are becoming more serious about writing and photographing well because we realize that other people are actually reading our work.

    I, too, find it funny because I spent a lot of time teaching writing to high schoolers, college students, and law school students and my students used to push back, complaining that writing was boring or too much work. The other day I saw a post on a popular blogging site about how bloggers need to use active voice rather than passive voice and “show rather than tell,” and I smiled broadly. The change is a good thing.

  13. This is such a wonderful, empowering post, Abby. I agree 100%! Working as a technical writer for two years, I was constantly baffled by the shittiest, sloppiest tech guides and user manuals slapped together. I read one book which violated every grammatical code in existence. But good writers still remain at the bottom of the career chain.

    But anyway, thanks for the shout-out. 🙂 So nice to read a post like this.

  14. Agree 100%, in fact my evolution into blogging was just like yours, and I love that my belief system was turned upside down. Blogging is now a central part of my life and it has definitely made me a better writer!

  15. Great post, Abby! the shout out means a whole lot coming from you. Interestingly the other posts that I am already familiar with (or “with which I am already familiar” – haha) are ones that struck a chord with me too… I’ve always loved reading what inspired and talented individuals write when given freedom to explore in their own space. Once most writers get a taste of that, there’s no stopping them. Now I look forward to reading the posts from this list I haven’t read yet 🙂

  16. @Akila I literally just laughed out loud reading that! Grammar lessons in a blog are somehow so much more appealing. Who knew?

    @Candice Writers are still pretty low, huh.. Sigh. But we’re so important!

    @Andi You and I are two peas in a pod. 🙂

    @Margo You and I talk about this all the time. I hope you like the other posts! I wish I could’ve surfed around for even more good ones!

  17. Love this. 🙂 You make some great points, all of which I can agree with. And, thank you for including me in your list. My liver thanks you, too.

  18. Pfff journalisn snobs,

    Blogging offers you the creative freedom to express your own opinion & companies are buying into the idea more and more.
    Offered the opportunity to pay for an advert with a mainstream media company that people trust less and less, or to post an article with a blogger-> Significantly cheaper, honest and a well received review. Which would you choose?

    Blogging is the future of online advertising. It’s not the writing that matters it’s the trust in our online opinions. 😉

    We’re all fed up of the hype!

  19. Such a wonderful post. As one who’s really been writing more to entertain myself than anyone else, it feels incredibly rewarding to know that others appreciate what I’ve written.

    With writing aspirations beyond the blog sooner or later, I’ve found it a wonderful way to dust off skills I neglected for a couple of decades.

    The other advantage I’ve found with blogging is immediate feedback, which is hard to come by with other uses of the written word. Whether it’s comments on a post or just watching traffic numbers rise and fall, you know when you’ve done something the audience likes. Historically, beginning writers got it only from friends and family. Established writers get input from editors, but rarely from their end readers.

  20. Have been lurking and following you for awhile, but just have to say, love love love this post. I can’t bring myself to commercialize my blog at all, simply for the sake that it’s ABOUT the writing, not about the money. How wonderful! Writing for the sake of writing…

  21. Awesome post, Abby! I, too, have evolved in my view of blogging and bloggers and have put my “but I have an English degree and worked as a professional journo” smugness aside. There are some really good writers out there sharing some really great insights.

  22. I used to despise writing before I had my blog. I was a film, major, not an English major. I knew my writing was terrible and could use a fair bit of work. Little did I know that irony would prevail and I found passion in my travel blog.

    I wince looking back at my first few posts.

  23. I’m certainly not a journalist, but more a creative writer. The type that writes soliloquies in a bare room lit by a single light bulb. Tragic and morose shit. 🙂

    Surprisingly, blogging has made my writing more accessible and concise, which is how I picture journalism (correct me if I’m wrong). To me, blogging is a great tool to write from the heart and meet people I might otherwise miss in my life!

    Some great recommendations here!

  24. If someone in school had told me one day I’d be writing a blog and loving it, I’d have laughed in their face. I hated essays and any forms of writing full stop.

    Fast forward to now and I can’t work out why I hated it. Perhaps because now I get to write about what I want as opposed to the stuff I was forced too? Either way I know it’s a long road to becoming a good writer but I now feel up to the challenge.

  25. Great post! I agree that blogging improves writing skills, especially if you also take the time to read well-written blogs (like yours). I also find that travel bloggers seem to be the most helpful, insightful and friendly bloggers around. There doesn’t seem to be this competition to get the most views or comments. We link to one another, tweet with one another and share so many experiences. I love it!

  26. I think blogging definitely improves writing skills, which as Kristin pointed out, can be used in any profession! While there is a lot of sloppy writing out there (I get hung up on misspelled words when I read), there’s also so much to dive into that inspires me about travel, design, and all sorts of great blog topics. Great post Abby!

  27. @Andrew Blogging has TOTALLY changed how the world does online marketing. The ones who are getting into the nitty gritty of the marketing side of things are way ahead of the curve. I’m trying to learn!

    @Joel, the feedback comment is interesting. I never thought of that. You can instantly see what’s popular and what’s not. Wow.

    @Emma! So good to meet you! You and I are one in the same. I like learning about the other stuff, mostly because I’ll need it in the future, but my little blog is really just for me. 🙂

    @Lauren and @Erica Nothing to say but, “Yay!”

    @Jeannie I love your writing, as you darn well know. And I’d never get to read anything like it if it wasn’t for all of this new blogging stuff. Perfect example!

  28. Blogging is one good way of improving writing skills, as long as you pay attention to what you do and what others are writing too. As Aussie Nomad points out, I would have never thought about writing about my travels eventhough I had been told to do so many years ago, and go figure, I now have my own blog up and running too.

  29. I’ve found the internal pulls of blogging to be interesting and challenging. Journalism vs. creative writing, narrative vs. service, writing posts I love but won’t get traffic vs. the opposite. You’re right in that the sheer variety of independent writers is mindblowing. I only wish I could keep up with all of the blogs producing such interesting pieces.

    I’m excited to be a part of this, and to see where it ultimately leads.

  30. What a great little debate over here! I wish I started reading your blog sooner (and love City Girl, that post rocked!). I agree with you on your points and think amateur blogging (as I do myself) is important, just by sheer nature of the community that is created and built, even more so than its importance to journalism overall (though I agree that it is important for that too).

  31. Interesting post, Abby.
    While sometimes I think blogging is just an echo chamber, I do think that we travel bloggers are adding some value out there. Thanks for the insightful post.

  32. @Chris and @Federico It literally warms my heart to hear about non-writers falling in love with it!

    @Keith I feel the same way but didn’t know how to word it. I’m often asked about blogging, and social media in general actually, and I’m like you have to write, and be clever, and come up with ideas people will like, and market yourself, and make a lot of contacts/friends, oh, I don’t know what it is!

    @Jolene and Jason Good to meet you!!

  33. Oh wow! Thanks for the mention! I am honored.

    I totally feel what you’re saying about ‘writing what you want’. Now that I am dabbling in freelancing & writing for other people, I appreciate my blog even more. Its my own space that is entirely mine and the people I have met through it are fantastic & make my heart want to burst. A few months ago I realized that I actually wanted to cut down on the freelancing to focus on my blog which pretty much the exact opposite of what I thought would happen if you had spoken to me a year ago but, it is a choice that makes me really happy.

    I’m really glad that the blogosphere introduced us 🙂

  34. Love this post and love how you have changed your mind about blogging and ebooks. I think it is definitely the future. I look at the younger generation and they are glued to their computers like we used to be to our TV’s. The online world is evolving and getting better each day. Writing, video editing, photography… the quality of work found online is outstanding.

  35. I agree with a lot of this! I have seen a lot of bloggers improve their writing skills over time. But I am a journalist first, so it really makes me wince when I see blogs that often have misspellings, punctuation errors (some people can never remember to put the punctuation inside the parentheses), and grammar issues. I think you’re right in that a lot of people who aren’t professional writers are doing a great job of reading more about writing and improving their skills, but I think a lot of bloggers also need to brush up on the basics of punctuation, grammar, and spelling to be taken more seriously. Writing a great narrative is fantastic, but I have trouble getting through a blog post when it’s riddled in typos (especially things like confusing their/there). Does that make me a snob? Probably so. Sorry 🙁 My day job requires me to edit these type of issues all day long, so I’m sure I’m unusually anal. On the flip side, I have found so many amazing blogs that are written by people who I can tell aren’t writers first, though they have amazing travel stories to tell and do so in a very effective way. I try to look past typos and ignore it. There definitely is a revolution happening, and it’s cool how much power bloggers are gaining.

  36. Like Ayngelina, and yourself write, bloggers keep getting better.
    So just imagine where this new media of combined travel bloggers could take us in the future.
    I know I’m getting ready to tackle some big issues.

  37. @ Emily. I can imagine how you feel, your being an editor.
    As a custom shoe designer/maker, I cringe at the footwear a few people wear who are otherwise very well dressed. Like you I notice those things.

  38. Love love LOVE the new look. XO miss you chica!

  39. i love blogs not because of their great writing but coz each blog even thought its about tips, it shows the authors personality

  40. This is so so good Abby. I agree with everything and some great commentary. I find it funny seeing that some of the publications that have so easily folded or that aren’t doing so well are the ones that have often been the slowest to get in on blogging, social media, web 2.0, whatever buzzword you want to use. It’s been great lately seeing publications like Budget Travel Magazine, for example, which are finding innovative ways to connect and grow their readership.

    On the contrary, I think for writers/bloggers, there is going to be a growing trend towards multiple revenue streams, whether it’s blogging, freelancing, mobile apps, ebooks, photography, videos, and so on. As I’ve observed things, it’s almost impossible to make a “good” living from blogging alone. I’m not talking about enough to backpack around Asia or making some money while you live off money you won from gambling or selling your biz or whatever. Blogging is opening up a lot of opportunities for those who are really serious about it. You’re seeing more bloggers get things such as book deals, writing gigs, and other things as a result of their blog. I’m excited to see how things evolve this year.

  41. I totally agree with improvement in writing. I’ve never written before and just started blogging. I’m Indonesian but I write in English just to keep it going on. My co-writer usually does the editing for me and she’s always in a pain doing it. I can’t write, my grammar sucks to the core, but I’m practicing! The mistakes I made encourages me to learn and learn. Long live the internet!

  42. Just love it!!!!

  43. So does this mean you’re going to publish your book online!??? 🙂

  44. What a great post!

    You are absolutely correct when you say that blogging can inspire even those who would never put pen to paper in school. I am a teacher and I have used blogging in the classroom to great effect. Ask a student to write a book review, for example, and there will inevitably be a handful of students who will barely write a word. Yet when I created a class blog and booked lessons in the computer room, there they all were avidly writing away. Not only that but seeing their work published alongside other students’ work makes them more aware of editing and correcting their own mistakes. It’s a great process and I hope that I have inspired some future bloggers along the way!

  45. This was months ago and I never commented. I *never commented*. What the HELL, Mike?

    First up, then: you picked one of my less-trafficked posts that’s a fave of mine. For that, I love you big time (ten buck).

    Secondly, as TBU showed us…blogging is starting to attract a lot of attention and garner a lot of respect. Because as you say, it’s where people are learning to write – and some of them are, frankly, brilliant at it. It’s not a desert of raw talent, it’s a sea. And it’s fuelled by amateurism, in its non-sniffy, non-negative sense. People who aren’t doing it to make money (not primarily, anyway) – they do it because they care. Enthusiasts.

    And that is changing the world. Enthusing the world. A generation of people who love their lives, love their jobs, and don’t feel trapped by either. And a generation of writers who are there for the *writing*.

    I love that enough time has passed, and that the internet has been allowed to do its thang enough, for the really clever, enthusiastic, rule-bending people to have started making a living from their “hobbies”. This is now a business model. And it works. And it’s meritocratic. And it doesn’t pretend that you can get away with not working hard. And it doesn’t involve an hourly rate – it’s all about your achievements, what you do with your time, not just filling a chair from 9am until 5pm. You have to get out there and make a difference in a way that connects with people, or your business model is dead. That alone is one of the healthiest things about the blogging industry – the ones who are most successful are the ones who achieve the most, say the best things, rally the most people – connect the deepest.

    No, Charlie Sheen, I’m not talking about you. Cool your tiger blood.

    The fact that I can look through this comment thread and see so many of the people I admire for doing all of the above (not the Charlie Sheen thing, the *other* stuff)…well, that says a lot about your place in the pantheon, Abby. 🙂

  46. I know I’m a year late here, but just saw your recent link from Facebook. Nice piece!

    I think it’s natural for professional writers to continue to see a difference between journalism and blogging, much in the same way that professional photographers will see a difference between what they do and someone with a camera who has managed to create a popular photo site.

    That’s not going to change – the professionals have spent enormous amounts of time learning a discipline, and the output quality generally shows, in my opinion. What has changed, however, are the barriers to entry. I like the fact that cheaper technology has allowed me to buy an affordable SLR camera and practice something I enjoy, even as a hobby. It’s even better if someone likes something I do, but I’m not going to pretend to be in the same ranks as someone who is so well trained to handle every situation consistently well. The same is true of bloggers who came from non-writing backgrounds – they now have a platform to work on something they hopefully enjoy.

    I don’t write – or at least practice at it – my wife handles that part. But it is amazing to see how some of these bloggers have progressed over a couple of years. The good news is that I get to choose what to read. Sometimes I like the low-brow, snarky post, and sometimes I gravitate to the “snobbier” journalistic pieces.

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