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Posts from the ‘Blogging’ Category

On blogging

Just a quick note to say my article about blogging from the most recent issue of Australian Author is now online. It’s basically a personal piece, exploring the way working online has affected the way I think about both my writing and my life as a writer, but it covers some of the same ground Alison Croggon explores in her recent piece for The Drum, ‘The Return of the Amateur Critic’, which is also well worth reading.

As I say in the piece:

Blogging has made me feel as if I’m part of something. To call it a movement is probably going a bit far, but it wouldn’t be entirely incorrect. Because like Twitter, blogging is only one facet of a much more profound transformation of the way we think about reading and writing that is being driven by technology, a process of transformation that isn’t just allowing a host of exciting new writers to emerge, but is actually giving birth to a host of new literary forms, and changing many existing ones, driving a blurring of the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction, genre and the literary, even the printed word and more visual forms such as the graphic novel . . . Read more

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Australian Literary Review and Walkley Conference

I’ve somewhat belatedly realised today is Australian Literary Review day. As usual selected highlights are available online, including the Pascal Award-winning Mark Mordue on Bret Easton Ellis’ Imperial Bedroom (which I’ve been meaning to try and compose some thoughts on myself) and a number of pieces linked to the election, of which the most significant is probably Christine Jackman’s piece on Annabel Crabb, David Marr and Nicholas Stuart’s books about Kevin RuddALR Editor Stephen Romei’s Editorial is also online.

Reading Stephen’s Editorial has also reminded me that next week is the Walkley Foundation’s Annual Conference, which this year is focussed on narrative. Given it’s smack in the middle of the penultimate week of the election campaign it’s possible it’s not the most perfectly timed media conference in history, but it’s still got a pretty fantastic line-up. Featured international speakers include author and academic, Jay Rosen (the man behind PressThink), political blogger, John Nichols, South African activist and academic Harry Dugmore and NBC News Correspondent Bob Dotson. There’s also a host of Australian speakers, including Charlotte Wood, Malcolm Knox, Kerry O’Brien, Laurie Oakes, Annabel Crabb and Lawrie Zion.

I’m appearing on two panels on Wednesday 11 August, ‘Writing in the Internet Age’ at 11:40am with Jay Rosen, Crikey! Editor Sophie Black and Meanjin Editor and author, Sophie Cunningham, and ‘The Critics Speak’ at 3:30pm with Jenny Tabakoff, Stephen Romei and Sydney Morning Herald Literary Editor, Susan Wyndham. It looks like a fantastic program, so with luck I’ll see at least some of you there.

More information is available on the Walkley Conference website.

New Voices Festival

Just a quick note to let those of you in Melbourne know I’ll be speaking this weekend at the New Voices Festival in Eltham. I’m giving the keynote at 10:00am, and will be speaking about blogging and the way new media is transforming the way we write and read. That session will be followed by a panel discussion with Damon Young, Penni Russon and Karen Andrews. Other guests include Jon Bauer and Catherine Cole. I think it should be a great day and I’m looking forward to it very much.

You can book by phone on 03 9439 8700 or by email. And a copy of the program can be downloaded here.

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Goodbye New Matilda

Given the turmoil of the last 36 hours, I’m guessing more than a few of you will have missed the fact that today marks the passing of one of Australia’s pioneering new media ventures, New Matilda.

Six years ago, when it began, I was pretty dismissive of New Matilda. It wasn’t that I didn’t think there was a place for a left-of-centre online magazine, but the early issues always seemed depressingly worthy to me. Whether I’d make the same judgement now I don’t know; what I do know is that over the last couple of years the magazine has really come into its own. Certainly if one wanted a demonstration of the way in which new media now consistently outclasses the old in terms of analysis and commentary, you couldn’t find a better example than Ben Eltham, a writer whose pieces have been distinguished by their clarity, intelligence and grasp of detail for some time. I’d say something similar about Jason Wilson, whose astringent commentary on media and politics has grown steadily sharper over the last couple of years.

That’s not to say I think the magazine was perfect. Charles Firth’s epitaph, ‘Why I Never Liked New Matilda’, overplays its hand, but he’s right to home in on how old-fashioned its model seems in 2010. It’s simply not possible for a website focussed on news and commentary to be as static as New Matilda. The continuing success of Crikey! demonstrates that it’s still possible to make the idea of discrete issues work, but Crikey! comes out daily, not weekly, and in the last couple of years their site has become a highly effective aggregator of other people’s content.

The problem is money. As Margaret Simons pointed out in a sobering piece on Crikey!, when it comes to converting eyes into dollars and cents new media suffers from precisely the same problems as old media. New media’s advocates tend to sneer derisively about the business model of the newspapers being broke, but the fact is we don’t have one to replace it.

That’s not to say there aren’t models out there. In the US several independent news outlets have developed viable businesses, some through mixtures of subscription and advertising, others by employing more innovative schemes (you’ll find a good precis of the situation in the US in Michael Massing’s pieces ‘The News About the Internet’ and ‘A New Horizon for the News’, both of which appeared in The New York Review of Books last year). And locally Crikey! seems to go from strength to strength. But the brutal reality is that we still don’t know how to make online media pay well enough to underwrite either quality or quantity.

It’s a problem that’s exacerbated by Australia’s relatively small population. Independent media outfits in the US have access to a market of close to 300 million people, to say nothing of the many in other countries who take interest in American affairs. Independent media in Australia has access to less than 10% of that number. That means that while costs are likely to be similar, potential revenue from advertising and other sources is only ever going to be a fraction of that available to similar operations overseas.

One solution might be to give away the notion that writers and commentators should be paid. Obviously I have a vested interest in this question, but I think there are good reasons not to give away the notion that writers should be paid for their work. That’s not to say the traditional nexus between word count and fee needs to be maintained. Indeed I’d suggest that by its nature a lot of what goes on in new media is better suited to payment on retainer.

The question then is one of revenue, or more accurately, funding. Like literary magazines, independent media, both online and in print, is usually at least partly underwritten by institutional and private benefactors. But that sort of money only goes so far, and beyond that the same old questions begin to intrude.

New Matilda’s editor, Marni Cordell, is making brave noises about rebuilding the magazine’s financial model from the ground up. I hope she succeeds. In the meantime I’d just like to salute her and her team for their work over the past few years, and say they’ll be missed.

On the internet nobody knows you’re a dog

The other day I linked to Geordie Williamson’s piece in The Weekend Australian about Karen Andrews’ Miscellaneous Voices #1: Australian Blog Writing, a piece that’s excited considerable debate and a number of responses around the traps.

I have to confess to being a bit surprised by just how much the piece seems to have irritated people, not least because I thought it was genuinely trying to grapple with some issues about the way we think about blogging and its relationship to the literary. But as so often is the case, I also think the discussion that’s flowed out of the piece has been both interesting and illuminating (Lani at Cerebral Mum’s piece is particularly worth reading, as is the comments string from my original post).

That discussion has now spawned a terrific post by Jessica Au at Spike, which tries to approach some of the questions raised by Geordie’s piece, and developed in the arguments that followed, from slightly different directions. I think the piece is worth reading in its own right – if nothing else I think Jess’ reading of Geordie’s piece is probably closer to its actual intent than some others have been – but I’d also strongly recommend reading the comments string, which seems to me to be asking some interesting questions about the blogosphere’s often antagonistic relationship with the mainstream media (the links provided by Genevieve from Reeling and Writhing are definitely worth a look as well).

You might also want to check out Nigel Featherstone’s Canberra Times piece about blogging, ‘Bloggers unplugged’ which is now available over at Nigel’s Under the counter or a flutter in the dovecot, and features comments from Kerryn Goldsworthy, Charlotte Wood, Alec Patric, Sophie Cunningham and myself. I suspect there’s something to be made of the degree of consensus amongst the interviewees’ when it comes to questions about community, and the rather more divergent responses about why and how we approach it. Alec Patric at least has also posted the full text of his answers to Nigel’s questions on his blog; I may well do the same in the next few days, but given my schedule over the next couple of weeks I’m not going to make any wild promises.

And finally, I should mention Solid Gold Creativity’s thought bubble about why so many of the writers in Miscellaneous Voices have abandoned their online monikers for their real names. I’m not going to try and grapple with it here, but I suspect it’s a question with legs, especially in the light of the decision by several major news sites to disallow anonymous comments.

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