Several weeks ago, while chatting in a theater lobby before a dance performance, a publicist wanted to know how Dancing Perfectly Free started, and – much to my surprise – assumed that blogging is my paid, full-time job. I was both flattered and alarmed. I explained to her that from nine to five, Monday through Friday, I work for an environmental organization, and navigating around that schedule (meaning at night and on weekends), I attend performances and write for the blog. Watching and writing about dance doesn’t usually feel like work; after all, DPF started as a hobby, to share my passion for dance with the online community and engage readers and fellow bloggers. But I do dedicate a great deal of time to the blog, and when I don’t post for a few days or can’t make it to a performance, I feel like I’m depriving my readers and slacking on my obligation as a dance blogger. And then I remind myself that DPF is a not-for-profit endeavor. With the exception of my time and energy (and sleep), it costs me very little, and I don’t earn any income from it. I’m certainly not alone. There are plenty of other bloggers in the same position: working for money by day, blogging for free by night.
In another category are the journalists-turned-bloggers – individuals who have lost jobs or freelance work at publications and are now blogging for exposure (and hopefully because they love what they do). Laura Collins-Hughes, who blogs on ArtsJournal and ARTicles, the blog of the National Arts Journalism Program, wrote a compelling post about why it’s unacceptable for journalists to be blogging for free. She explains that it’s fine to use blogging for exposure, but firmly states that “exposure doesn’t pay the rent” and journalists who blog for free “debase journalism”. By blogging, journalists are providing a service to their readers, so it seems logical that there should be a monetary incentive while exposure should be an additional perk. But sadly, paid blogging is the exception, not the rule.
So what does this mean for the future of blogging and journalism? For individuals, blogging isn’t sustainable or realistic if it’s given away for free, while employers and publications that are suffering from budget cuts can look for journalists who are willing to volunteer their services. And it’s hardly worth mentioning corporate sponsors, which are fading fast. I wonder for how long journalists will blog for free before putting their foot down and demanding to be paid for their time and product. And at one point is blogging merely for exposure no longer worth it? How do independent bloggers like myself strike a balance between blogging for personal fulfillment and making a living? I seriously doubt Dancing Perfectly Free will ever be a paid, full-time job. But if it is, that publicist will be the first to know.