"The path of truth is a lonely road" Cairngorms: A cyclist emerging from a cloud inversion. Photo Rob Bruce 2015
2015 has been the year I really started blogging. It was a big step for someone who has worked as a professional journalist and freelance to start putting their work out there onto the web without it being commissioned and paid for. Why would you write something when you are not getting a fee? Once this kind of writing was known as 'vanity publishing'. David Torrance quoted the great and much-missed Ian Bell in his Herald column this week “There is no such thing as free in journalism. Free is just another word for hobby.” Maybe so. I believe in the value of newspapers and professional journalism.
But for me personally, It has not been working or rather I have not been working. As a freelance who stepped out of full time work when my kids were small, I found it impossible to get back on a media carousel that was going faster and faster when I tried to get back into a job a few years later. I continued as a freelance, but it has become ever harder to place articles in newspapers with shrinking budgets. Pay rates haven’t gone up for 20 years. Submissions and suggestions are less and less likely to get a positive response.The process has become increasingly frustrating; queues of ideas stuck in the green room of my mind, waiting endlessly for their call.
A friend asked if there was much point in carrying on complaining that things don’t work the way they used to. “You should just get out there and find out how they work now.” That’s what I decided to do.
Instead of using my website to re-post content that had already appeared in newspapers, I started to write about what interested me. It could be called a hobby but for me it is a creative engagement with the world. I see myself as like the musicians I know. Few actually manage to earn their entire living from their work but they still play.
I have made new connections such as becoming involved in setting up a digital magazine, Sceptical Scot and blogging for the Huffington Post. A plus side of this new approach is that I have creative control. Having become my own publisher, I am no longer forced to filter my ideas through editors and news desks. The blog sites I use don’t require exclusive or first use of my content so I can post wherever and as many times as I like.
The downside is that I don’t get paid. And because of this it becomes hard to justify taking the time to write. That’s why most of the blogs are short and they rarely feature much original research. I tend to stick to a word limit of around 800 words. Also, I don’t have the helpful assistance of sub editors. A recent post was all over the web before a friend pointed out that I had spelled ‘Fascism” wrong. I was able to correct my own site but it’s still there on the Huff.
The subjects vary. I don’t work in politics or have direct insight into current affairs the way I would if I was still a full time journalist. But I spend a lot of time thinking, mostly when I’m supposed to be doing other stuff. I do also read the papers every day and I try to put in links to articles that I think are interesting or important and which other people may not have seen, many of them about Scottish affairs. I seem to have found a small audience. My kids even occasionally read my blogs.
Blogging is a bit like throwing jelly at a wall, most of it immediately slips off, but sometimes something sticks there for a while. Sometimes it is hard to figure out why; others not . Once in my career as a professional journalist I noticed that a serious piece I had written about Scottish affairs was on the “most read” on the Guardian website. Highly gratified, I clicked on it to discover it was illustrated with a video of a pipe band walking away from the camera over a grating in New York and a piper’s kilt was blowing up, Marilyn Monroe style to show his hairy arse. Most read was probably inaccurate in that case.
But even less graphic images do help and many of the most popular blogs on my site are illustrated with photos from my husband Rob Bruce who is a talented amateur photographer. Thanks Rob, and thanks to my small band of readers. Happy New Year when it comes.
Below are the blogs that have “stuck” the longest, my most read of 2015, based on the stats from my website.
Top of the list: Musician Mairi Campbell on the story behind her new show Pulse. premiering at Celtic Connections January 2016 .
Second: “Our young people are struggling to navigate a world in which pornography is everywhere”. A blog about the movie “Kingsman The Secret Service”
Third, Eclipse A magical moment obscured by bureaucracy. I was angry that schools across Edinburgh didn’t let pupils watch.
Four, a take on the controversy around Jeremy Clarkson’s firing from Top Gear
Five. A look at the giant software conference that takes over San Francisco each year: Glastonbury for Geeks
Six: My take on the 2015 Edinburgh Festival and freedom of expression
Seven: I wondered in this blog if the psephologists predicting an SNP landslide in the general election were wrong. They weren’t.
Eight. “Is the Southbank Centre Right to Exclude Scotland from its exhibition on Postwar History”, my first blog for the Huffington Post got 1,000 likes.
Nine: Is Edinburgh in decline? Centralisation and the City.
Ten: Scotland’s ‘Palocracy’ Makes England Look Like a Beacon of Democracy. I have had a few comments from friends on this one,
Photo: Rob Bruce