If a musician plays music at home, he does it for his own pleasure. If he’s invited to a party, to play with friends, he does that to entertain his buddies and himself. He wouldn’t expect to be paid for it. He might go out onto the street and busk. Perhaps for some exposure or coins, but he’s not expecting to make a fortune. His greatest pleasure will come from the brief smiles and positive comments of those passing by. If he’s invited to play in a café, there might not be payment as such, but he’d expect to get something from the takings at the door. Maybe a meal and drinks. Any venue with a stage has an obligation to pay him for the music he plays for their audience. In the music industry that seems to be obvious.
When I started blogging for Overland it was because I’d just been to the Overland Master Class and had made friends with a few of the people in the group. I started up a blog because of those buddies and a few weeks later Maxine Clarke asked me to help out on the Overloaded project. So for me it’s always been more or less like that musician getting called to one party or another. It’s always been a pleasure.
It does seem different when a position is being advertised, submissions are being examined and applicants have been given an outline for the kind of work that will be required of them. Clearly, for unknown writers looking for their voices to be heard, writing for the ABC in whatever guise, would be a wonderful opportunity, but if a venue like The Prince of Wales put up an event like this, even for amateurs, wouldn’t they be bound to make some kind of nominal payment? The ABC is a lot more like the Sydney Opera House though, and not some local Melbourne bar. What Overland’s own obligations are should be decided by what kind of stage they are offering their prospective writers.
There’s different kinds of blogging and most of them have an off the cuff approach. Little research is usually required and it’s more about opinion than it is statistics and fact. However we decide on its ultimate merit, a blog post is an effort to entertain and enlighten, even if it’s not always of the refined standard that you’d see in print. Weeks may have gone into the calibration, correction and polishing of a piece committed to print but years of craft and knowledge often go into a few quick sentences dashed off for a blog.
There’s the daily nature of blogging to be taken into account. With a flowing blog a literary magazine doesn’t just disappear for months on end until it resurfaces with a new issue. With this kind of blog a magazine remains ever present within public awareness. It maintains and can develop readership. With a blog about books it becomes a powerful tool for promotion and a gauge for what’s generating interest. It allows a public broadcaster to directly assess its appeal with its audience since the audience become an evolving part of shared knowledge and feeling. The bloggers are not merely writers here but facilitators of a public forum.
To create parallels between internship programs and blog writing is not easily accepted. Interns will never find content, develop an idea into an article, proofread it and publish under the masthead of a magazine’s online presence or a broadcaster’s site. There’s no apparent mentorship and the ultimate gains in profile for a writer are highly questionable, if blogging in general, isn’t considered to be real writing. In fact, it might be detrimental to a writer’s career to become too well known as a blogger.
Money will always be a problem in Australian literature but the argument that an opportunity is being provided for unpublished or emerging writers, so that payment can be foregone, could also be applied to all areas of print media. Why pay a writer for their first few pieces in a magazine like Meanjin if they’ve just been granted the prestige of a publishing credit in such a fine literary journal? Why pay a first time author for their debut novel when it’s well known almost no first novels actually make a profit?
The industry does pay those kinds of writers because a service is being provided and it goes directly to whatever profits have been garnered, be they large or small. The profits of good blogging still seem abstract. When someone plays that kind of music, it’s just the kind of thing we hear on a street corner as we pass by. Not many of us think that it’s worth more than a few coins. Those that walk past us, might wonder why we even bother. The answer is always, that it’s about the music.