I got pretty excited at the thought of Cook, the Guardian’s new supplement celebrating home cooking that launched last Saturday, but I didn’t get around to buying the paper. I made do with the free online version, which in spite of my newly adopted role of blogger, I still find a less drool-inducing way to read about food.
Inside, or should I say, online, I was pleased by the selection of soup recipes, and amused by Felicity Cloake’s choice of oysters on toast as the Reader’s Recipe Swap winner. As someone who earns a living creating written and visual content for magazines, it has never crossed my mind to cook oysters for breakfast. The closest I’ve come was the time I ate an oyster off a cart in an east London spit and sawdust at 1am, and I was given free crabsticks with that.
Claire Strickett (@clairestrickett), of Gin & It and For Books Sake, has written an interesting piece about Cook on her blog Cake and Fine Wine. The focus of her article is the fact that the Guardian didn’t pay the bloggers they invited to contribute to the first Reader’s Recipe Swap. This news came as no surprise to me, but I have to agree with Strickett, who says, ‘The Guardian might well be desperate to find cheap ways to generate content (it is, after all, losing £44m a year). But that shouldn’t necessarily override the moral issue at stake here. If someone provides work, then they should be paid.’
The point at which I get lost, however, is with her choice to blame the success of food blogs for contributing to the increasingly low value placed on food writing. ‘As blogging grows, so ‘proper food journalism’ dies,’ she says, ‘in an inverse relationship that isn’t entirely unconnected.’ Strickett’s argument is that while readers expect free content, journalists won’t get paid, and bloggers are to blame, because they are the ones saturating the market with free content.
Agreed, it is problematic that readers expect to enjoy content for nothing, but it is the responsibility of editors to make a portion of their content exclusive, and for publishers to be imaginative: to explore the new forms of revenue that the web opportunes. We read magazines to learn from and be entertained by a collective brain, and this an independent blogger cannot replicate. Blogs have more akin to a diary or notebook: they form a different genre entirely.
Strickett says that the thought of bloggers expecting payment for what they write is laughable, because ‘bloggers have very rarely, as far as I know, been paid directly for what they write… the entire premise of blogging is that you can publish your writing online pretty much for free, for anyone to read – for free.’ But studies show that a significant quantity of bloggers do earn money from their endeavours. According to Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere (2011) almost one third of bloggers have worked in the traditional media, most commonly a monthly magazine, and 39% of bloggers earn a living through, or partially through, doing so.
Looking at the figures, I can only assume that the rise in blogging isn’t so much a cause, but a symptom of the decline in the value of traditional food writing, and creative content-making as a whole. Badly-paid journalists and their sort are turning to blogging in order to keep active, regain control, to experiment, access new audiences, and/or revenues for their writing. Any blog written, edited and targeted, well enough to provide any tangible competition to established media such as the Guardian will not have been produced by any old hobbyist with a crochet hook and an iPad.
I started my blog for reasons both personal and professional, but a big one was the fact that after I had my daughter, I lost my job as deputy editor of a monthly magazine. I began my career as an illustrator. My disillusionment with my first choice of trade was contributed to by the fact it was so damn hard to get paid a decent wage for it, and that still goes on. In 2005 Topshop paid me £150 a day to design prints for their T-shirts. ‘Quids in,’ I thought, but for each day I was employed by Topshop freelance, I was expected to fulfil a large quota, and let go of my copyright.
I started a blog to keep busy. Should I hold back, lest I prevent any ‘proper’ school-tie-and-skinny-jeans writers from getting paid work? By utilising this medium am I really posing any more of a threat to my own kind than I was by accepting a shitty copyright deal from Peter Green? No. And now that’s settled, me and my poorly-paid self will mooch off to enjoy some more free content on the Guardian website.
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About Chloe King
I'm a freelance writer, designer and webby type. I live with my husband and daughter in the south of England. I like to cook and can throw a good party.
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