Saturday, May 21, 2016

Tim Challies publishes "A call for plodding bloggers", Josi Denise writes a fusilade about the influencer marketing idiom known as the mommy blog

http://www.challies.com/articles/a-call-for-plodding-bloggers
May 20, 2016

I believe that blogs have been a blessing to the church in the twenty-first century.

That's a pretty emphatic opening. I think I can basically agree.

... Over my years of reading and writing blogs, I have seen thousands of blogs and bloggers come and go. There are many reasons people have stopped writing: Some have had life’s responsibilities overwhelm the time they would otherwise dedicate to writing, some have had to refocus on family or local church, some grew weary of critics and criticism, some have simply run out of things to say. But I think the most common reason people have given up is that they grew tired of the plodding. Over time they grew discouraged by the distance between the effort and the reward, between the investment and the result.

I'd say it's the other way around. The most common reasons people stop blogging is they think of other things they'd rather do and then they go do those things.  Not everyone sits back and thinks, "You know what?  I realized my idea of a fun evening/day is writing at least 6,000 words whether or not I think anyone else on earth actually cares about topic X."  Do I know whether or not anyone cared to go through a moderately detailed analysis of the first movement of Wenzel Matiegka's Grand Sonata I?  Do I care?  No, so I blogged about it.  I don't even know how many other English language bloggers have even started discussing the music of Ferdinand Rebay and that's one of my other to-get-to topics.  Suffice to say that while Challies wants to give some kind of shout out to Christian bloggers I can't help but wonder if he's thinking specifically about a certain kind of "Christian" blogging that doesn't involve looking into the mechanics of sonata form in solo guitar literature over the centuries to see patterns of thematic interest.  But that "is" something I plan to get back to blogging about later this year, I hope. 

Regular readers who have been following this blog (and it seems impossible to think many of you would have started ten years ago reading this thing) may remember that this didn't start out with plans to be any kind of "watchblog".  That's a point I bring up because of something Challies mentioned

...

Today I want to put out a call for plodding bloggers. I’m taking my cue from Scott Slayton who recently put out a similar call to plodding church planters. In that article he pointed out that many church planters delude themselves into thinking that they will move to a new town, start a new church, and see immediate, overwhelming results. But in reality, most move to that new town, start the new church, and see only very ordinary results. Unless they are plodders they will be tempted to give up.

And in much the same way, many bloggers set out with grandiose dreams of writing a few articles and witnessing an explosion of readers, of receiving mountains of grateful feedback, maybe even of seeing publishers waving book contracts. But the reality is far different. They publish a few articles, see little response, and find themselves tempted to give up. Or perhaps, even worse, they publish an article, see it explode in popularity, and then never again come close to matching that one. And soon the daily blogging becomes weekly blogging becomes occasional blogging becomes abandoned blogging.

Grandiose dreams and "blog" seem impossible to connect.  How can a blogger accomplish anything grandiose at all?  If anything blogging has a creaky reputation because a good deal of it amounts to word-of-mouth bottom-level advertising. 

All of them?  Is it "wrong" to stop blogging when you don't feel like blogging?  Is blogging some kind of divine vocation you can't or shouldn't give up?  Don't get me wrong, I've pretty obviously slogged a long slog as a blogger discussing some things a whole bunch of people would have really rather I never blogged about.  I don't have to guess too much to suppose that some people never wanted that memo in which Mark Driscoll's pay was discussed and a 650k rate was proposed.  And yet about 12,000 views suggests that a number of people wanted to know what the number was.

Sutton Turner memo recommended raise for Driscoll for FY2013 to 650k salary, retain 200k housing allowance for CY2013

...

I believe we are living in a golden age of writing, where any Christian with a heart for the Lord and the Lord’s people can have a voice of edification and encouragement. This is a tremendous blessing! We have thousands and tens of thousands of Christians eagerly using this new medium to tell others about what Jesus has done in them and for them. We are all the grateful beneficiaries.

So my message for my fellow bloggers is this: Plod on! Be content to be a plodding blogger and trust that God is glorifying himself and blessing his people through your faithfulness.

Well, perhaps blogging can do a lot of positive things but every once in a while Wenatchee The Hatchet has a kind of ... buzzkill moment.  Maybe blogging isn't all that awesome even if it's one of those things I do regularly, sort of.  What is blogging, anyway?  Is it a form of citizen journalism?  It can be and certainly that's what I've tried to do here and did here between about 2010 to 2015 during the peak and precipitous decline of what was once called Mars Hill. 

But what do blogs too often seem to be in the end?  Blogs seem to be a ... let's just call them a literary form native to the internet in which the two modes are either promotional or anti-promotional content.  I guess when I stop to think about it I realize I started blogging around the time I concluded that grad school studies in music history were never going to be an option for me and I realized that since so much of what I wanted to write about was public domain or accessible to suggest to others on the internet I could just write what I wanted to write about regardless of affiliation or lack thereof with an academic institution.  The only way to find out who else was into the music of Atanas Ourkouzounov, Ferdinand Rebay or Wenzel Matiegka was to just start blogging about them here and there. 

Oh, yes, and there was this church I used to go to called Mars Hill and after I was disappointed by reading a Confessions of a Reformission Rev ten years ago (a book that seemed less like a real history of Mars Hill than Mark Driscoll bragging book-length on how he pulled it off) I got this idea that maybe it'd be fun to eventually get around to writing a history of Mars Hill that wasn't just promotional copy.  So in a way that's just saying that blogs seem to fit into promotional copy or anti-promotional copy.  You're either selling something or you're second guessing a sales pitch at a blog.  Or that's how it seems lately.

Seems like a week earlier another blogger had a more explicitly discouraging message about blogging. The message reminds me of how over the last ten years the one thing I have been dead set against doing is monetizing the blog.  What I've seen celebrity Christians resort to time and again has been the claim that bloggers just go for clicks and higher traffic and want ad revenue.  Why would that be?  Well ...  (language alert for those who need that)

http://josidenise.com/dear-mommy-blogger/

...

Let me preface with a few important things. I am was a mommy blogger. I have three kids, and I’m popping out another one this fall. I have a background in marketing and had “real jobs” in the “real world” working with PR teams on the daily. I started this blog in 2013, thinking I could combine my writing talents with professional experience and rock this new industry of influencer marketing (before it was called that). [emphasis added] And I did, I guess.

The American Mama reached tens of thousands of readers monthly, and under that name I worked with hundreds of big name brands on sponsored campaigns. I am a member of virtually every ‘blog network’ and agency that “connects brands with bloggers”. I’ve attended all their conferences and been invited on free trips to swim with dolphins and sip bougie cocktails in exchange for instagram snaps. I even founded and briefly promoted my own company, American Mama Media, working as the middle man between the hundreds of pitches I was receiving each week and the tribe of bloggers I’d collected information and stats from.

I hosted dozens of giveaways sponsored by brands wanting me to promote their products. I gained hundreds and then thousands of email subscribers, and social media followers, by requiring a follow in exchange for a giveaway entry. I used social media management services to connect with similar bloggers on twitter and instagram, and then unfollow those who didn’t return the follow. I paid a virtual assistant to post my links in round ups all over the internet, for back links and extra traffic. I joined blog directory sites, where asking readers for clicks sends you to the top of the list, and some PR intern googling “mom blogs” then finds you when they want someone to review their product. I sent out my media kit with embellished stats and highlights about my ‘targeted audience of mothers who make purchasing decisions for their household’ and negotiated my rates for free products and paid reviews. ...

"influencer marketing"?  That's ... fascinating. This could unlock a heretofore mysterious element of why someone like Mark Driscoll could have spent so many years damning bloggers as people without credibility by way of his own blog. Driscoll even took to his blog to have a blog post for the Brits a few years ago in which he set up a pre-emptive hit on the character and doctrine of a journalist who pissed him off.  But the phrase "influencer marketing" helps to explain how some famous pastors who loathe bloggers nonetheless blog away.  If Mark Driscoll understood that blogging has become an essential part of "influencer marketing" this would explain why he and Grace Driscoll keep the blog going in spite of Driscoll's years of ripping on bloggers.  Whatever "influencer marketing" is by way of the blog Mark Driscoll apparently feels he cannot afford to lose that.

So ... the punch line from Josi Denise:
...

Your mommy blog fucking sucks. [emphasis original]

 

//nobody is reading your shit [ditto]

I mean no one. Even the people you think are reading your shit? They aren’t really reading it. The other mommy bloggers sure as hell aren’t reading it. They are scanning it for keywords that they can use in the comments. “So cute! Yum! I have to try this!” They’ve been told, like you, that in order to grow your brand, you must read and comment on other similar-sized and similar-themed blogs. [emphasis added] The people clicking on it from Pinterest aren’t reading it. They are looking for your recipe, or helpful tip promised in the clickbait, or before and after photo, then they might re-pin the image, then they are done. The people sharing it on Facebook? They aren’t reading it either. They just want to say whatever it is your headline says, but can’t find the words themselves. Your family? Nope. They are checking to make sure they don’t have double chins in the photos you post of them, and zoning in on paragraphs where their names are mentioned.

Why? Because your shit is boring. Nobody cares about your shampoo you bought at Walmart and how you’re so thankful the company decided to work with you. Nobody cares about anything you are saying because you aren’t telling an engaging story. You are not giving your readers anything they haven’t already heard. You are not being helpful, and you are not being interesting. If you are constantly writing about your pregnancy, your baby’s milestones, your religious devotion, your marriage bliss, or your love of wine and coffee…. are you saying anything new? Anything at all? Tell me something I haven’t heard before, that someone hasn’t said before. From a different perspective, or making a new point at the end at least if I have to suffer through a cliche story about your faceless, nameless kid.

Growing the brand?  If blogs are ultimately regarded as marketing platforms and not as potential alternative outlets for journalism that isn't covered by the institutional press then, yeah, I could find blogs terribly lame.  And it seems as if this makes sense of guys like Driscoll who have blogged about bloggers as if other bloggers were lame while ... still blogging.  Remember that Baptist blogger from 2012?  Eh, whatever, let Mark Driscoll share that story about how "we even rented the city of Ephesus for a day."  Now that was impressive, but in the worst way possible.  If you could afford to rent the city of Ephesus for a day for rad video footage in 2012 sermon stuff but you were gutting your staff on the premise that you couldn't afford to keep them ... well ... put it that way and it's hardly any wonder if people inside Mars Hill began to leak rivers of content to the likes of Warren Throckmorton or Wenatchee The Hatchet.  When the disconnect between the marketed persona and the internal reality gets too traumatic people can begin to revolt. 

What are your goals? At all the conferences I’ve attended and in all the Facebook groups, I hear women with the same answers. “To gain traffic. To grow my blog.” But why? What are you going to do with that traffic? What’s the point of any of it?

Growth in itself can't be taken as a good that is intrinsic. Cancer cells grow and you don't want them.
Traffic isn't a prima facie good.  It can sometimes indicate genuine interest.  I don't doubt it if 12,000 people really wanted to know what Mark Driscoll's financial compensation was for being pastor at Mars Hill. It's easily the single most viewed blog post in the history of Wenatchee The Hatchet.  That gets to what Josi Denise wrote about whether or not you're giving readers information they wanted to know that they didn't know before.  Apparently a whole lot of people wanted to know hwo much money Driscoll was getting paid to yell at people for at least an hour about how they sucked and needed to be better people for Jesus' fame.

The stuff about conferences devoted to transforming blogs into ... something ... those sound creepy.  This conference thing ... we may have to deal with the conference thing at some point because it seems that whether it's mommy blogs or Christian book promotions conferences are this thing.  I know there's these academic/scholarly conferences and guitar societies have conferences sometimes and everyone should have a chance to sell their wares.  But ... bloggers having conferences?  Photos?  This has not been a very image heavy blog flashing with pictures that have witty captions.  Those are generally pretty lame and only amusing to the blogger.  If the idea of a blog is to write then even if a picture "is" worth a thousand words you should be fluent enough a writer to get those thousand words to do the trick. 

Some of what Jose Denise has written reminds me why I've never regretted writing in a way that willfully and deliberately punishes lazy readers.  For a while I used to get questions from commenters, commenters who I could at times fairly suspect I knew from real life, as to what my "mission" was.  There is no mission, at least not in the sense that a Mars Hill loyalist could have understood mission.  This isn't a missional blog.  By extension, those for whom things could only be understood in terms of loyalty to or against Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill, there may not be a clear reason why I'm still writing about what happened a couple of years after Mars Hill announced it was dissolving.  Because second-guessing yourself as to how you ended up in what some would call one of the higher profile cults of personality in evangelicalism of the last twenty years SHOULD Be an occasion for the kind of self-reflection in which the lessons you learn don't make you look better for it. 

It's why I can't take anyone seriously who has written anything about "lessons learned" from Mars Hill or Mark Driscoll that ends up being promotional copy for something an author wants to sell.  If someone writes about how he or she is startled and dismayed by the years of loyalty in which there were red flags that got ignored .. I take those people seriously.  So to risk naming names, I took it seriously when Jeff Bettger and James Harleman shared what they shared on record about the doubts they had because these were guys who were willing to second-guess themselves rather than just point accusatory fingers at all of "them" for being stupid sheeple.  Do I agree with them on everything?  No.  I'm not really an anarchist and I'm not that into Nicholas Cage movies. And at the risk of formulating this in a personal way I prefer to avoid, these were guys who didn't stop considering me a friend even after I left Mars Hill and they knew perfectly well who was blogging at Wenatchee The Hatchet.

See what's been interesting about Denise's comments about the mommy blog and reactions to what she wrote is that she's noticed that the scathing rebukes she got were saying that it was nasty to say that anyone who did mommy blogging had other things to do.  The reason that's interesting is because when I've gotten scathing remarks from people over the years (generally they seem to be comments from people who like Mark Driscoll) the comment has been basically "Get a life!" So that colloquial axiom that those who blog must only be blogging because they don't actually have some other life is just part of what you'll run into if you blog.  But the common sentiment seems to be the same--don't blog.  If the Josi Denise rebuke to mommy bloggers is that they could be spending more time actually being moms in the time they were blogging in the oft-na├»ve quest to supplement income the historic Mark Driscoll attacks on bloggers is that they're middle-aged losers with no jobs blogging from mom's basement.  That's not a subtle distinction there, because Denise' case is against the mommy blog with respect to the moral and social obligations or capital of motherhood while the Driscoll case against the bloggers is a case that seemed to hinge almost completely on the presumption of a lack of legitimate credibility or social status for bloggers. 

The question of what, if any, legitimacy and credibility blogs and bloggers have and what that may be seesm pretty open ended.  A few years ago Michael Spencer and Frank Turk had a debate about Mark Driscoll and along the way discussed whether blogs were effective or pertinent tools for discussing public figures in formal ministry.  A few years have passed and it remains to be seen whether Frank Turk would say a blog has a platform for calling Mark Driscoll to account if he has some reservations (if any) about a blog like, say The Wartburg Watch discussing C. J. Mahaney.

The credibility of blogs among conservative evangelical males is starting to seem like it converges in some kind of Venn diagram with questions about the extent to which women can be taken seriously as bloggers if blogging were construed as some supplement to institutional journalistic coverage or what has sometimes been called an "online discernment ministry". 

These are things I've been thinking about a lot because it seems that guys like Mark Driscoll may be symptomatic of men in ministry regardless of doctrinal or political affiliation on the matter of women who blog about hot topics.  Whether it's a Mark Driscoll or a Tony Jones it can seem that one of the sticky issues is whether or not they want women blogging about them. 

Now as a moderately conservative type Presbyterian who isn't really much of a complementarian or an egalitarian because I think the institutional corruptions of American Christendom make the aspirational debate somewhat moot ... I'd say that women who blog should be taken seriously and that a survey of scripture and of historic cases for the prophethood of believers proposed by the magisterial Reformers makes a case for the legitimacy of what we now call watchblogging. 

But if blogging is known in the mommy blogging scene as "influencer marketing" then the credibility of blogging itself can be in question if it is perceived as essentially a form of door to door marketing for brands by those brand makers whose new approach to door to door is no longer a literal door to door thing but a blog to blog peer influencing network. 

So to bring things back to Challies' encouragement to plodding bloggers.  I'd take it as an encouragement if I had a clearer sense of what he thinks the purpose of blogging is.  If it's as a supplement to or a temporary replacement for the failures of the mainstream or independent Christian press to adequately document and address significant issues in Christian media and institutions by using blogging as a form of citizen journalism then, yay.  I totally agree!  Admittedly I basically embrace what would be called the social responsibility theory of the press.

But if blogging is mainly an avenue for promoting books that can be promoted by other more traditional marketing approaches then ... no ... don't keep plodding along with the blog.  This goes double if you're a Christian blogger with any kind of Reformed heritage.  When I've done the watchblog side of things it was inspired by Deuteronomy 5:1, more or less. But watchblogging is a sometime thing.  One of Denise' complaints about mommy bloggers is that once they commit to promoting X or Y or Z brands they become imprisoned by the felt necessity of continuing on that path.  Yoda might warn that once you start down the dark path, forever will it effect your destiny.  Yup ... and in the sense that the brands you decide to back become the thing you get known for this suggests a lot about the Reformed blogosphere as a potential mirror image of the mommy blogs. 

It explains so much if blogging as done by celebrity Christians is basically the same as blogging done by mommy bloggers, the promotion of brands and the formation of mediated personae.  And it would make sense of the strange ethos in Christian celebrity blogging where guys think that bloggers are totally stupid and lame and lacking in credibility as they use their own blogs to promote books they like or to tease of forthcoming product.

POSTSCRIPT 05-22-2016  3.00pm ish

it's a long postscript, I admit
What you can see at the bottom of a Challies blog post can be this:

I am a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband to Aileen and a father to three young children. I worship and serve as a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, Ontario, and am a co-founder of Cruciform Press

also available to read at the following:

http://www.challies.com/brief-biography

...
Affiliate Notice
Challies.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Certainly it's one of the opportunities we have in the United States to start or co-found a publishing press.  That we can do so is fantastic.  it's just that I'll admit to being ambivalent about the pursuit of blogging in a way that is monetized. I regard blogging as an informal supplement to scholarship or journalism which has the advantage of not being tethered to a revenue stream.  My journalism professor once warned in a lecture on where censorship actually comes from in the real world that neither hostile sources nor hostile editors are the real threat to spiking a story, it's going to come from the threats of sponsors and advertisers.  In an age in which one of the Farrow kids can say that the Hollywood press doesn't press certain issues because they don't want to lose access to coverage of what a filmmaker does this could have a corresponding application in the Christian media world. 

It's not that I don't believe you can or should promote the stuff you like and believe in. I've shamelessly plugged for the music of Ferdinand Rebay, Nikita Koshkin, and Atanas Ourkouzounov here.  I've gushed about Leonard B. Meyer and Martin Shields, too. When Nikita Koshkin's preludes and fugues for solo guitar get published I plan to snap those up as soon as I can.

So Christian bloggers have every right to blog about stuff they love and stuff they care about.  I guess I'm saying that I think the Josi Denise condemnation of the mommy blog as a category has informed my concerns a bit lately--if your blog is in some sense "just" a marketing platform to promote stuff you like has it shifted from being a voice to an ad?  There are some blogs I've read over the years where I feel like I'm reading someone work through their thoughts and feelings and there are some blogs I read where I feel like I'm reading advertising copy for books I may or may not want to buy.  Both kinds of blogs have their uses and I appreciate that a blog can work in both ways.  Jim West manages to do both in ways I find interesting, for instance.

I guess my concern is that when I do still visit neo-Calvinist webpages (and the few times I have bothered to visit Rachel Held Evans' page) I get this sense that this is a cyberspace variant of the little book sale table at the church foyer after the church service.  It's hard to articulate precisely why I don't get that sense with every Christian blog or blogger that does podcasts or vodcasts.  I guess I'd have to say I'm working out my thoughts and feelings about this a bit but if I had to find a way to articulate the concern it's that some blogs and bloggers I feel have transformed into the "how" of their sales pitch more than the "what" of what they're selling.  The old McLuhan bromide about how the medium is the message seems too trite and the neo-Calvinist bromide of what you win them with is what you win them to seems too old hat because the two bromides separately don't seem to quite get at what concerns me. The closest I've seen anyone articulate the kind of concerns I'm having was Alastair Roberts' piece "The Ad Man's Gospel" about how if the sixteenth century theologian was basically a lawyer today's theologian is an advertising representative.  As popular as it is to look askance on the things that the "lawyer" theologians did centuries ago that seemed mean and unsavory to our 21st century sensibilities I don't see the 21st century marketing representative theologians of our era being better in the end.  Neither the lawyer nor the marketing representative necessarily has to truly believe in what he or she is selling to be able to sell it is I guess how I'd articulate the concern. 

2 comments:

Steven Crawford said...

Is this your explanation for the minimalist layout for your blog? (minimalist being a generous way of putting it)

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

kind of, I'd be first to admit that if this blog layout were a painting it would be something by Frank Stella. :)