a journaler

Getting Fired From Weblogs Inc.
Saturday, November 13, 2004 @ 05:14  {link to this entry}

It’s probably every blogger’s dream: one day, they will achieve blogging nirvana and someone will actually pay them to blog. Despite the fact that people pay me fairly regularly to write for magazines, I admit that I, too, indulged in the blogging nirvana dream.

And on the 18th of October, the absolute weirdest thing happened: Nirvana knocked on my door. Twice.

Technically, I suppose, Nirvana emailed me. In any case, out there in the ethernet were two new travel blogs, each wanting to hire me to blog for them. As it turns out, one offer was from Jason Calacanis’s Weblogs Inc (of Engadget, Autoblog, and Blogging Baby fame.) The other was from Azeem Azhar’s Mink Media (which as a brand new enterprise, was basically of Azeem Azhar fame.) Weblogs Inc wanted me to write for Gadling.com, an adventure travel blog (hiking, camping gear, kyaking, etc.) and Mink Media wanted me to write for Wanda Lust, a first-class UK travel blog (posh hotels, celebrity vacations, swanky travel accessories, and absolutely, positively nothing involving tents, thank you very much.)

Brilliant. Nirvana. Kismet.

This was nanopublishing, the blogger’s best chance to get paid  — small, low-cost enterprises where niche blogging (travel, politics, gadgets) meets the business model. Multiple niche posts every day attract multiple niche visitors and multiple visits; multiple niche visits attract multiple niche advertisers, and everyone is happy. Roll this model out across a network of niche blogs, and the publisher is getting quite a nice share of happy.

What does the blogger gain?

Money, and sometimes revenue share, ad share, or traffic bonuses;
Traffic — the chance to put their words before an audience with some (hopefully professional) marketing backing;
Cachet, which is the polite term for Internet fame.
While I was never going to retire on the proceeds of either of these contracts, there were some benefits. First of all, as we all know, I’m a “cachet” whore and it’s always nice to be asked to dance. Second, I really enjoy writing about travel and a larger audience was attractive. Third, an association with either of these publishers was going to be good for my travel writing street cred.

So I entered into contract negotiations with both publishers, treating them with parity of confidentiality. And on Thursday, November 4th, Gadling.com was launched. Within minutes of the site going public, I told Azeem Azhar that I would be simultaneously blogging for Gadling while blogging for Mink Media’s Wanda Lust. He took a two-minute, slightly surprised look at Gadling and was fine with it.

On the 12th of November, Wanda Lust launched and four hours later, Jason Calacanis very sweetly and politely fired me from Gadling.

Oh dear.

Reassuringly, it didn’t have anything to do with my writing, or even my writing for two blogs. In fact, he told me I was perfectly capable of writing very well for five blogs — which even I thought was a bit of a stretch. Apparently, the problem was that he considered Wanda Lust to be competition.

This, I confess, baffled me a bit. First of all, I had a very clear Non-Competition clause in my Weblogs Inc contract — one with which I was readily familiar because I had written it. Second of all, Gadling’s market of K2 wanna-climbers couldn’t be any more different than Wanda Lust’s market of après ski mavens; having written 39 entries for Gadling and 29 entries for Wanda Lust, I was intimately familiar with this difference, too. Finally, I’m not sure what it says about scarcity of market when a new blog with a built-in audience from an established publisher is worried about competing with a new blog with no audience from an unknown publisher, but I don’t think it’s a particularly cheerful view of the industry.

In any case, Jason Calacanis exercised his contractual right to terminate me, asked me for a pro-rated invoice, and paid it promptly. (Technically, I’m still a contractor until he either turns up at my door to fire me or for five days after he drops a letter into the post to tell me my contract is terminated, but I expect the letter rather than the guest to arrive any day now.) And there endeth one (very short lived) half of my professional blogging career.

I learned some interesting lessons and drew some probably-less-interesting conclusions from this experience, though, namely:

If a magazine wants a writer to write for nobody else, they put them on staff and compensate them accordingly. Otherwise, the writer is free to write for any magazine, including direct competitors with the same content, the same readers, and the same advertisers. The last time I checked, both Cosmo and Glamour were both still in business.
The nanopublishing market hasn’t standardised on anything as sensible as that, but it should, because the nanopublishing market isn’t financially mature enough to pay bloggers for exclusivity of authorship. There is simply not enough money in flat-fee blogging to reasonably ask desirable bloggers to limit themselves and their financial capacity in a rapidly expanding market.
Whether you agree with the above statement is, of course, going to have a lot to do with your background. If you’re already being paid print rates to write, well… compare 75 posts x 100 words a month to a feature article of half that word count in a monthly magazine, and blogging is approximately two tenths the money. If nobody’s ever paid you to write for anything, then it’s not another freelance gig, it’s icing on the cake of your paycheque, and that’s different. (Actually, it isn’t, but you’ll perceive it to be different, and that’s OK.)
In either case, if a publisher feels they have too much invested in the success of a title to share you as a freelance resource with anyone else, make sure they’re investing in you, too — with ad revenue shares, company stock, or traffic bonuses.
But one day, people will actually be career bloggers, and readers will look to read them daily on all of the blogs on which they appear. Personally, I’ll read Doc Searls or Jeffrey Zeldman wherever they’d like to post. (“I will follow him, I will follow him wherever he may post…”) The web lends itself to this perfectly; it’s a pity not to capitalise on it.
The final thing I learned is that as a travel blogger, I have a niche within my niche. Writing about tents and backpacks was a bit of a creative stretch for me every day, since I have an absolute horror of camping and don’t even like grass. My blogging partner at Gadling, Erik Olsen, was completely in his element and spitting out posts at an alarming rate. Writing about hotels in Sydney, taxies in Singapore, and chalets in Chamonix is much more in my comfort zone. I’m a much, much better, happier match at Wanda Lust; we’re perfect together.

So, to be honest, I wasn’t heartbroken to be given the big push from Weblogs Inc. It was an interesting experience but not a good culture fit. In fact, I had already tried to quit twice in fourteen days over various discomfort issues, which might be some kind of record. All credit to her, the wonderful Editorial Director Judith Meskill talked me back from the ledge each time.

And so I stayed long enough to get fired, and we all lived happily ever after.

The Why of Weddings
Monday, August 23, 2004 @ 01:14 {link to this entry}
Several months into the wedding planning process and less than three months from D Day, I spend more time than you might imagine wondering why we’re getting married. I’m very happy that we are getting married, but the act of marriage itself has forced me to confront my assumptions, beliefs and expectations in surprising ways.

Neither one of us feels that the act of marriage will change our relationship internally in any substantive way. We have a very basic, dog-like devotion to one another; the way a dog wags it’s tail and shakes it’s body in an ecstasy of “it’s my person! My person! Yay, my person!” when it’s favourite human comes home is pretty much the way we feel about each other. TBG is my person, and I am his. Marriage won’t change that for us.

But the truth is that marriage will instigate change, both for us and for the way other people view us. As Chief Justice Margaret Marshall pointed out in the majority opinion for Goodridge v. Dept. of Health, the Massachusetts court decision legalising same-sex marriage, “For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations.”

Recently, TBG and I had a very long discussion about the legal obligations of becoming each other’s next-of-kin. If one of us gets hit by a truck and is in a comatose or vegetative state, it’s the other who has to make a decision about life support. To me, that is one of the significant burdens and privileges of marriage; it is a privilege when another human being says to you, through the act of marriage, “I trust you to make the most fundamental decision about my life when I am not able to make it myself.” It is also an enormous burden, that decision.

Being effectively buried alive in my own body tops the list of horrors I really would like to avoid. What I’ve told TBG is that if we’re ever in that position, he needs to stay with me, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When he’s tired of sitting there, he can assume I’m tired of sitting there, too, and it’s time to pull the plug.

As I said, marriage can be a burden.

It’s the social aspects of marriage, though, that really give me pause for thought. The very words “wife” and “husband” speak to a huge range of cultural assumptions and expectations. The word wife, in particular, is not something I’m comfortable with. The word association game in my head conjures up loving wife, dutiful wife, housewife, and a whole host of other dubious terms before it gets to any associations I actually like.

I think that there are very real cultural roles and expectations associated with being a wife; that she will lovingly dote on her husband, that she will have the duty of tending the marriage, that she will carry the primary responsibility of tending the home.

Interestingly, I rarely hear the terms loving husband, dutiful husband, or househusband; what I do hear far more often are loving dad, dutiful father, stay-at-home dad. I do honestly believe that the prevailing cultural concept of marriage is one in which women relate to their husbands as children, mirroring the ways in which men relate to their children.

I want no part of that. And despite the fact that we will not fill those archetypal roles in our marriage, the fact that people will make assumptions about me because I am someone’s wife greatly disturbs me.

On the other hand, the social benefits of marriage are pretty cushy. When two people are married, the world recognises them both as family and as a cohesive social unit. Despite the fact that I have known and loved and cared for Clare for seven years, and known and loved and cared for Ellie for all of her life, the world will acknowledge TBG as my family the moment we make our vows, regardless of the length or depth of our association. On the other hand, no cultural or legal ceremony exists to publicly acknowledge Clare and Ellie as my family, too, which they are.

Our own functional and emotional definitions of family are pretty wide-reaching and embracing because of our backgrounds; I count six people as my “parental family unit” for example, and TBG was “raised” by a pack of lesbians in the peace movement. Other people, however, are frustratingly immune to anything except the traditional nuclear family unit; the number of people who refuse to accept that my step and half sisters are my sisters, period, drives me insane. As far as I’m concerned, a family is what you make it, not what the State declares it to be.

And yet, the desire to be acknowledged by the wider world as family, with all it’s legal, social and financial burdens and benefits, is, for me, the compelling reason to marry. And since I can legally make this commitment to one person and one person only, I choose TBG.

The fact of the matter is, of course, that as one half of a heterosexual couple, I have the luxury and privilege of contemplating all of this and making that choice. I absolutely concur with Chief Justice Marshall that marriage is a civil right, one that should be extended universally to same-sex couples. The fact is, though, that I choose the exercise this civil right while others cannot. To an extent, I believe that the more people within the legal institution of marriage who lobby to extend that institution to people excluded from it, the better — it counts, for example, in the opinion polls that influence our elected officials. I admire the commitment of people who make the intensely personal decision to boycott marriage and more publicly participate in grass-roots marriage boycott activism, but I don’t necessarily think it’s effective. I don’t believe that holding back at the door helps get anyone else through. I do believe that issue voting and funding, grass-roots education and campaigning, legislative and legal challenges, and being a vocal advocate of universal marriage rights is the best form of activism. And I truly believe that is one of the social obligations that comes with being legally married. At least in our marriage.

My expectation is that one day in the near future, we’ll be able to welcome through the door married couples of all genders from all states. It will be interesting to see what kind of social change that brings; I’m interested, for example, in how our cultural assumptions about wives will change when wives are not unilaterally juxtaposed with husbands. I think the challenge and the change will be good for marriage as a whole, for women and for men in every kind of marriage, and for the families and children born of an inclusive legal definition of marriage.

From my position of privilege, though, it’s easy for me to forget the kind of radical social change legal gay marriage means. TBG and I have a mutual understanding of marriage as the public declaration of the personal commitment made between two people, completely and totally unrelated to forming a contract with the state. (In fact, we consider the two acts so unrelated that we’re doing them at separate times.) To us, it’s the personal commitment, not the legal one, that makes the wedding day, the anniversary, and the marriage. So, we’ll consider ourselves no more married than any of our friends who, through ceremony or simple declaration, consider themselves married — regardless of anyone’s gender.

In fact, given that my father and his same-sex partner have been together for 30 years, my mother and stepfather have been together for 28, and my uncle and his partner have been together for 25, we’ll probably be less married than any of them.

But married we will be, for better or for worse.

For Your Listening Pleasure
Tuesday, June 29, 2004 @ 02:28 {link to this entry}
I have to say that having a Rock DJ boyfriend (sorry, Serious News Presenter boyfriend) is pretty fun, even when it means he leaves me for a week every year to go off to the Glastonbury Festival and lend his broadcasting talents to the air waves. He presents news and music on Radio Avalon, which broadcasts for only one week each year, live from the festival, locally on 87.7 FM and online.

Which means I get to hear TBG on air all day, which is pretty nifty.

Now, Radio Avalon has a professional yet Glastonbury-casual vibe, and while we don’t like to distract the radio presenters, it’s fun to torture them a bit on their last day. Thus, I decided there was no better way to amuse myself and several thousand departing Glastonbury guests than by texting the station during TBG’s show with a different kind of song request:.

William, Garrett, and Martin all assisted in getting the text message through multiple times, since I couldn’t find my mobile when I needed it — and crashed the Orange text message server in the process. I think the proposal that first got through was sent from William’s phone, so no doubt they’ll be getting married at next year’s Glastonbury.

But hey, at least he said yes 🙂