Going Solo: Journalists moving to full-time bloggingBy Beth Carter in Media News on Tuesday, 30th April 2013 at 3:15pm
The token line most bandied about for why journalists are being forced to branch out and tap into digital content is that “print is dying”, and therefore job opportunities in the sector are decreasing.
Influencing spoke to three journalists-turned-bloggers, who mostly say that the changes to the print industry are not the sole reason for their drastic career change, just the straw that broke the camel’s back.
With 45-years of journalistic experience between them, the three full-time bloggers have worked for some of Australia and New Zealand’s largest lifestyle publications, as well as in local regional newspapers, business magazines and government publications.
“Ultimately, the print magazine industry is getting smaller and smaller and I wanted to be able to cover subjects I know and love again,” Jenna Moore, founder and editor of lifestyle blog Gems of Gorgeousness, told Influencing.
The story is the same across the board. Nikki Parkinson, of award-winning beauty blog Styling You, said redundancies were being handed out at her workplace in 2008, creating a “scary” environment which motivated her to make the change.
“The atmosphere in the workplace was not good and it didn't look like it would ever improve,” she said. “I had a ‘now or never’ moment, really. I wasn't happy with where things were going - the weekly glossy magazine I edited was getting increasingly smaller (the death knell for any product - it was shut down less than six months later) and I could not imagine returning from that to sub-editing or general news.”
“I'd already been a journalist for 12 years when I started my blog in April 2011,” she said.
“When the print edition of Dynamic Business [where she was editor and publisher] closed in October, I decided to take my blog full-time and really commercialise it. Working in publishing, I was well aware of how the media landscape was changing and the growing importance of digital and bloggers.”
Possible to make six figures as a ‘blogger’?
“Over the 20 years I worked on regional newspapers we'd had budgets and resources squeezed and squeezed. I hadn't had a non-CPI pay increase in 10 years,” Parkinson explained.
Parkinson discovered that she can make a lot more money running her own company through her blog. After four years of using the website to promote her personal styling business, she realised she had to focus solely on the writing and content.
“The advertising and sponsorship opportunities had started to come in,” she explained. “My national profile had risen considerably, and by May 2012 I had a Sydney-based agent selling my blog to brands. My gross income has far exceeded that of my ‘senior’ journalist wage.”
Both Parkinson and Bishop remarked that it is absolutely possible for bloggers to earn a six figure salary. Moore, however, thinks the potential is there but maybe only for the next generation, saying that as recognition of bloggers grows, so too will their opportunities.
“As long as you have that all-important traffic, there will be lots of potential to earn well - more through partnerships and the like than actual advertising, I'd say,” she explained.
“For example Lancôme has linked up with Michelle Phan, a vlogger in the US, Estee Lauder has their affiliations, and Redken linked up with The Blonde Salad,” she said, before adding there are big name brands linking with blogs in Australia, but in New Zealand that may be a bit different.
“I think we'll have to see. That said, Maybelline New York NZ has teamed up with Isaac Hinden-Miller of Isaac Likes here.”
So, what’s the difference?
Many people have the impression that the work of a blogger is substantially different to that of a journalist, but all three of the journalists-turned-bloggers said they do considerably more now that they work for themselves.
Instead of being just ‘writers’, they now run businesses, self-publish and interact with their readers more than a typical journalist does. Not to mention being solely responsible for sourcing all of their own content.
“As a blogger I curate, write and edit content everyday,” explained Parkinson.
“It's not all that dissimilar from my previous career of 20 years when I was an employed journalist. I had to come up with story ideas and I had to write them to a deadline. I wrote mainly about fashion and beauty, so it was advice-driven and often contained commentary. It was written with a particular audience or readership in mind. And, I had to be mindful every step of the way of ‘commercial considerations’.”
Bishop said she sees no difference between being a journalist and being a blogger.
“I still write, interview people, decide what's newsworthy and relevant to my readers, deal with PRs and have advertisers. The only real difference now is that I self-publish and I own the publication,” she said.
Although the workload may be different, for Moore that is a good thing. Blogging means she can spend her time, energy and money on the writing and how readers are interacting with her content, as opposed to running costs.
“I run my site more as an online magazine so I don't feel there's a huge difference. Happily the print costs don't apply,” she said. “There's something very special about being able to have one-on-one interaction with your readers when they comment or send questions. It's very different from print in that way.”
Bishop says that, although she may not spend as much time writing, she “definitely works more hours overall because I’m now a business owner and self-employed, so there are a lot more things I have to do as well as just write!”
Moore explained that her workload varies, saying when she began she worked seven days a week and 18 hour days.
“These days it's a lot more manageable. I try to have writing days and event/meeting days. I'd say - and I do still do some freelance because that's my income - I do 30 to 40 hours per week including meetings and events,” she added, explaining she still never has more than two days a week to herself.
Parkinson also explained she works long hours, but it suits her family because she is able to choose which hours.
“I would average 9 hour days, 9 - 3pm and then back on the computer at 8pm...I try not to work on the weekends but my phone is always close by,” she said. “Like any small business, annual leave is rare. I didn't blog for a few days over Easter and Christmas but apart from that I turn up weekdays with new content.”
Even when Parkinson is away for work or on holidays, the business of her blog is on her mind, requiring her to hire freelance journalists to fill in and “lessen the pressure before and after” her absence.
Parkinson travels to Sydney (from Queensland) at least once a month, and explains: “I love what I do and all the hours that go into it benefit my business, not someone else's.”
There is a whole new skillset journalists need to acquire in order to run their own blog and business.
Journalists-turned-bloggers need to manage the day-to-day tasks of a small business, whilst writing and content creating, but also deal with commercial aspects like advertising and partnership agreements.
Moore says this is the biggest challenge, and her site is yet to be financially viable.
“I had to write all the content as well as explore, and learn about things like affiliates and Google AdSense and be out-and-about spreading the word,” she said, adding they aren’t lucrative without a “huge” number of readers.
“It's all about traffic. You don't have anything to sell until you have an audience.”
Despite hiring a person to deal with sales and marketing, Moore says time management is still a challenge for publishing quality content that she is happy with.
Parkinson explained she garnered a lot of these skills working as the editor of print publications, using social media to figure out what her readers want, taking commercial interests into account in deciding what is published and making sure her reader’s interests come first.
“I have an agent who handles any negotiations for sponsorships and ambassadorships on my blog,” she explained. “I don't accept all that is offered but instead choose to work with brands that fit me and my readership demographic. So it's “readers first” for sponsorship as well as editorial.”
Bishop also took on an agency to help deal with the advertising and sales aspect of career blogging.
“I approach it very much the same way as I did when I was in traditional publishing,” she explained, adding that advertising and editorial need to be kept “as separate as possible”.
“I appreciate there are opportunities for integration, sponsored posts and brand ambassadorships where the two have to meet - the most important thing there is to be transparent about what is paid for and what has been gifted,” Bishop added.
Backlash and job satisfaction
The change isn’t all rosy, with occasional backlash from others who think journalists are making a poor decision or taking the easy-road by becoming career bloggers,
“I realise that this is not the journalism most people think of when they think of journalism,” said Parkinson, explaining that even though she had worked in media, she’d spent over a decade working away from general news reporting.
“I truly believe only a small percentage of people are really cut out for the cut and thrust of political reporting or the court and police rounds. I am not that person,” said Parkinson.
“Being a journalist does not make you a great writer. It trains you to write to a formula but I think that you either have creative flair or your don't. And there are less and less avenues in journalism to express that creativity.”
Moore said her work in the newsroom was not challenging enough and taking up blogging full-time meant she has better job satisfaction.
“When I made the decision, I was working part-time as the beauty editor at New Zealand New Idea and only writing about beauty,” she said. “After having been used to doing longer, much-researched stories for a long time, I didn't find it fulfilling.”
Bishop explains she still feels uncomfortable with the title ‘blogger’, because people may assume ït isn’t “a real job”.
“I personally find it a little weird, maybe even embarrassing, to say ‘I'm a blogger’ when people ask me what I do,” she said, adding she still feels she has to justify her career move, telling Influencing she mentions her journalism background whenever she gets a chance, despite the change being beneficial.
For instance, Bishop’s LinkedIn masthead reads: “Experienced journalist, editor & publisher turned full-time interior design blogger and freelance writer”.
“When I think about it, I probably have more readers these days as a blogger than I did at the magazine I was editing. Plus I own my own business now!”.
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