There’s a lively discussion (well, maybe not as lively as bobsledding at the Olympics, but lively enough for a bunch of people sitting on their arses in front of the computer) at a good blog called Traveling Savage. It started out as a discussion on voice versus destination in travel writing, and is now also touching on print versus blogging thanks to yours truly and that fiesty blogger Nomadic Chick. I was thinking a lot about print versus blogging last night as I lay awake in the wee hours of a cold Saskatchewan morning. (It was -31C when I got up. You’d stay in bed, too.)
While I don’t agree that bloggers necessarily have a ‘fresher’ voice, as many in the blogging world seem to think, I do agree there are differences between the two and that we can learn from both genres. First, in defense of newspapers, as I love print – love love love the feel of it and the fact that there’s no glare on my eyes – I’d say there have always been fresh voices in the newspaper world. Look at Hemingway, writing dispatches from Paris for the Toronto Star. And wasn’t a lot of Charles Dickens’ work originally written as a newspaper seriel? Well, yes, Carol, it was. Not obviously as reportage, or travel writing … I’m just trying to make a point. The point is that if it weren’t for fresh voices pre blogging, we’d still be writing like Shakespeare. Doest thou not agree?
As a columnist for the Toronto Star (yah, yah, I know … I’m no Hemingway) since 2003, I’ve seen one major change in writing for print as a result of the Web: articles are shorter. I think just about every columnist in the travel dept lost 100 words off her/his column a year or so ago. There are two reasons for this. 1) People’s attention spans are shorter because of the influence of Web writing, so they say, and 2) because of the Web, advertising budgets have been slashed in print. I don’t see either of these as positive things, but when I really examined my own writing – your typical insomniac soul searching in the early a.m. – and whether it’s been influenced by writing for my blog, I have to admit … bloggers have a point.
Blogging is more immediate. No question. If I’m at a film festival in Bangkok, say, it’s almost impossible to write about it for a newspaper travel section because by the time it gets published, the festival is over. So I have to write about it for the next year, by which time all my own experiences are sorely out of date. I’m not speaking as a film critic, but as a travel writer. As a writer, in fact, who went to the Bangkok Film Festival a couple of years ago and this very thing happened. My editor didn’t want it after the fact, so I rewrote it for the next year. But when I went to fact check, I found out the festival was postponed and that the venue had changed. The venue changing killed my story because half of my piece was about the funny setting for a film festival, in a huge new slick mall in downtown Bangkok, and sadly, the piece never ran, not even after I had written it THREE times. Luckily, Thailand has plenty of things to write about, like tigers (!), so I still pretty much filled my press obligations but I’ve always felt bad because if someone sends me all the way to Thailand, I’d like to come through for them. If I’d been blogging, I could have done a story a day. Score one for the blog.
Blogging is travel writing at warp speed. I spend a tenth of the time writing a blog post as I do for a newspaper article and do a fraction of the research. And I think – at least I hope – this is teaching me to write faster in my newspaper writing, too.
The problem, though, is that while spending less time may make it more immediate, and okay – maybe even more fresh – it’s not as carefully crafted. I agonize over finding just the right angle for a newspaper article. Being in Paris might make a great blog post, but it is not going to cut it as a travel piece, though following the footsteps of Oscar Wilde in Paris might (Read my Wilde piece here.) Or maybe finding your inner bad girl in the cathedral of Chartres (read it here.)
With a blog there is less accountability. This may sound negative but I see it as a good thing. You’re your own boss. When I write for someone else’s publication I suffer from performance anxiety and this slows me down. Writing for your own blog is total freedom. And that’s the best feeling of all.
That said, why do so many blogs sound like PR rubbish? I love this! And I love that! I went here and there and I had FUN! I don’t get it. Why, with all that freedom, are people writing the same kind of schlock that they complain about reading in print? Obviously I’m generalizing. The best blogs are thought provoking, entertaining and well written, just like the best travel articles. And here’s the crux of what I was thinking last night while tossing and turning. The best travel posts I’ve read are the ones when travel bloggers aren’t actually travelling. When they are reflecting on the nature of travel, what kind of footprint we’re leaving, what we’re hoping to gain and how best to describe our experience (ie posts about voice versus place). Maybe travel bloggers on the road can be too immediate. I know I’m guilty of that. Maybe it’s not a question of print versus blogging but of how to merge the best of the two.