Not too long ago, blogging was the de facto way of making your voice heard on the internet. Now, some are beginning to ponder if blogging is all but dead.
The number of millennials who maintained a personal blog declined by half between 2006 and 2010. Not surprisingly, this roughly corresponds to the rise of social media and micro-blogging platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.
Since then, the so-called “death of blogging” has been a recurring conversation topic in writing and media circles. In a Motherboard article about the notorious blog Hipster Runoff, Brian Merchant characterizes the heyday of blogging as “a singular moment in internet history. A blip when a persistent weirdo, without the help of venture capital or a marketing firm, without getting swallowed by a media company, could simply blog his way into modest fame and profitability.”
Many are nostalgic for those days, including former Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein, now now editor-in-chief of Vox. In a piece reflecting on fellow political blogger Andrew Sullivan leaving the blogging scene, Klein points to social media for the downfall of blogs: “[B]logging encourages interjections into conversations, and it thrives off of familiarity. Social media encourages content that can travel all on its own.”
It’s not just the big guns who are abandoning blogging. A recent survey here at The Freelancer found that freelancers are more likely to have professional social media accounts than websites or blogs.
But is blogging really dead—or has it just changed? And does it still have any value for freelancers?
From websites to social
I had a WordPress blog at some point—the kind that had the word “ramblings” in the sidebar bio. My early experiments in candor have long since been scrubbed from the web.
While my WordPress site never led to any paying work, Tumblr, where I run a sustainability page, netted me my first freelance writing gig: a weekly column with Hobby Farms. My 35,000 followers helped me nab the attention of editors in my writing niche and kick-started my freelance garden and agriculture writing opportunities.
From my my perspective as a social media “micro-blogger” cum freelancer, blogging isn’t really over—it’s just happening on faster, more social platforms, and in shorter form. Blogging as a practice may not be dead, but its traditional format—a personal website—has certainly gone out of style.
In an article in The Atlantic about Medium, writer Robinson Meyer takes a similar stance:
For a couple years now, it was clear we were going to lose the reverse-chron, single-URL game… But in return, we got Twitter and Facebook and whatever your other favorite social-media tool is. They adopted the chatty tone of blogs, and they unified the hundreds of streams of content in reverse-chronological order into just one big one. They made blogging easier, because a writer didn’t have to attract and maintain a consistent audience in the same way anymore.
In The Freelancer’s recent survey, more respondents gave social media platforms an importance of “10” on a scale of 0-10 than any other number. It’s where freelancers share stories, make connections, and give opinions—all functions that used to take place through personal blogs. Platforms like Medium, meanwhile, have eaten much of the space for longform personal posts.
Some, like Terry Simpson Jr., a copywriter who specializes in writing for outdoors and camping brands, also believe that aspects of conventional blogging have also been absorbed into advertising.
“I think blogging has evolved into marketing,” he said. “Blogging started out as personal diaries: Facebook and Twitter changed that to micro-blogging. At the same time, people have changed their consuming habits and forced companies to market more personally.”
The value of blogging in 2016
If social platforms have taken over, what’s the value of old-school personal blogging for freelancers in 2016—if any?
“I’ve always had a personal blog, and it’s helped to give me the confidence to pitch my work, and in turn, give readers a place to find my work,” said Alisha Tillery, a freelance writer and journalist.
With work appearing in Ebony, Essence, Cosmopolitan, and Clutch, Tillery still makes time to craft thoughtful blog posts for her personal website. A blog offers her space to express herself in a way that’s just not possible on Twitter or Facebook.
“I have the freedom to write about what I want on my website, and truthfully, everything you write doesn’t have to be—and won’t be—published.”
To her, a blog is a great space for stories that don’t get the chance to be told for one reason or another: a rejected pitch can be salvaged into a post, for example, with the caveat that self-publishing a story drastically reduces the likelihood of it being picked up by another publication.
“Editors also like to see that you are writing consistently, so [that’s] where a blog or website is helpful,” she added.
While a blog can be a great place to stay sharp as a writer, it’s still difficult to tangibly measure any success. Old-school blogs measured success in hits, comments, and engagement with the larger blogging community; these days it’s more germane to look at viral reach, social media engagement, SEO rankings, and—if you’re a freelancer—conversion from hits to a paycheck.
Lorrie Hartshorn, a copywriter and freelance coach, isn’t necessarily curating her blog for the sheer joy of storytelling. “Blogging for my business is definitely ‘work’ rather than ‘play,’ although it’s on the more enjoyable side of work,” she said. However, strictly business doesn’t have to mean dry: “It is a creative activity, and you have to make sure it stays that way if you want anyone to read and enjoy.”
Like those heralding the “death of blogging,” Hartshorn doesn’t see the format returning to its former mode of reaching readers. “The days of single-contributor, multi-topic blogs being destinations in their own rights are coming to a close, I think, and I sense that people are finding that hard to come to terms with. The romance is definitely dead, even if blogging isn’t.”