The idea of creating a community of women bloggers has quickly gone from an esoteric discussion to a full-blown conversation about the diversity of voices in and out of the blogosphgere. This has all led to BlogHer.org, a conference and community for, by and in support of women bloggers (it is, according to the site: “a network for women bloggers to draw on for exposure, education, and community. By holding a day-long conference on July 30, 2005, and establishing an online hub, BlogHer is initiating an opportunity for greater visibility, learning and success for individual women bloggers and for the community of bloggers as a whole.”) What a fantastic idea, I say.
New West is happy to be fostering a friendship with the very smart and enthusiastic Lisa Stone, one of the movement’s main organizers. Lisa is what I would call a “big-time blogger” (she disputes this compliment, instead calling herself a “a professional journalist who thinks blogging is the best, fastest way to re-connect to people who care about news”) who has covered the blogosphere as a reporter for the likes of the Los Angeles Times and American Lawyer Media. She blogs for the Legal Blog Watch via Law.com, has recruited bloggers for Knight Ridder Digital, is often a guest writer for Jay Rosen’s Pressthink, blogged the 2004 National Democratic Convention for the LA Times and also has her own personal blog, Surfette. That’s a lot of blogging. To top it off, Lisa is New West fan and a former Missoula, Montanan (a Hellgate High School graduate and lover of the Rosettes and the Vikings at the Sons of Norway booth at the Western Montana Fair, a few of my favorites too). Lisa and I did a quick email interview to discuss BlogHer, women’s voices and a few other things. Read on for the interview.
NW: First of all, tell us a little about the BlogHer idea, how it originated and why we need it.
LS: I’d been mulling the idea of a conference for women bloggers, but I wasn’t sure it would fly. I decided to go for it this February when I met Blogger Elisa Camahort in person. The second we started swapping stories about blogging, I thought, “YES! This is what I’ve needed—good advice and feedback from a great woman.”? I invited her to join me and, thank goodness, she loved the idea.
Next we road-tested the idea with our friends. A few weeks later, I was sitting in conference room at the Harvard Nieman Foundation with a bunch of well-known bloggers and media executives, when a blogger named Halley Suitt challenged everyone in the room to link their blogs to more diverse group — to reach behind the white, male A-list to women and bloggers of color. When I came back to Silicon Valley, Elisa and I blogged the BlogHer Conference idea, suggesting it as a global network for all women bloggers to draw on for exposure, education, and community. That’s our goal: greater visibility for individual women bloggers — and, ultimately, for the community of bloggers as a whole. Since we suggested the idea, other bloggers have been running with the idea, making it better and smarter.
NW:Why do you think there is a push for women to focus and create our own community in the blogosphere?
LS: The subject of women’s voices in the blogosphere has been around since Weblogs began. Check out Blogger Jon Garfunkel’s post on Civilities: “Promoting Women Bloggers: A Timeline of Relevant Discussions.”? This ongoing debate is one of the reasons I added a line in this post on my personal blog, Surfette, offering a hat-tip to the unsung women who have tried this concept.
Speaking for myself only, I want to help create a community of women bloggers because I want to talk with other women and link to their writing. I want to share my experiences as a woman – both professional and personal – with other bloggers who are in the same boat.
And I feel it’s up to me to do that, after the past year’s deeply disappointing discussion of women bloggers. I’ve been increasingly disgruntled since full-scale coverage of bloggers began just before the Democratic National Convention last summer. You’d never know from the plethora of stories and photos and media appearances by one white female blogger named Wonkette that there are, in fact, millions of women of all ages, races, nationalities and interests blogging. We’re half of all bloggers! Happily, now that bloggers like La Shawn Barber are appearing on MSNBC, the image is diversifying.
I also found myself turning to other women bloggers and (some) columnists this winter, when the discussion of women’s editorial opinions and women’s contributions by national thought leaders and the mainstream media (of which I am an active part) hit a low point. By low point, I’m referring to Harvard president Lawrence Summers’ comments on the female brain, to Kevin Drumm’s column in The Washington Monthly, asking where all the women bloggers are, to Susan Estrich’s flame of Michael Kinsley, editorial page editor of the Los Angeles Times, about how few women write for that page, to some of the dismissive and hostile knee-jerk responses Halley Suitt got to her challenge from bloggers in the room when she issued her challenge at Harvard, to some of the nasty responses BlogHer elicited. No wonder Deborah Tannen is a best-selling author!
I could whine about it. Or I could do something about it. So I’m doing something about it. Happily, I’m one of a bunch of people who are doing something about it.
NW: How can we add value to our own work by creating a sense of community with each other?
LS: For me, blogging means expressing myself creatively through writing, design, user interface and, at rock-bottom, code. The only way I’ve found to get better at writing and all these other things is to (a) do it every day, (b) read other people who are doing it well every day and (c) get feedback from other people who do (a) and (b).
For me to really hear and learn from other people, it helps if I know and trust them. Knowing people online is one approach. Investing the time required to meet people offline is another. The latter is so helpful – it’s organic, it’s a connection, it develops trust in me to be able to look someone in the eye, shake their hand and recognize them as a person. Hearing their voice helps too. This relationship can be cyber or flesh-and-blood, but it has to feel real. Authentic. My ability and interest — my gut-level caring — to drop everything in order to brainstorm with them about an idea and/or help them connect with other people to reach a goal of their own has everything to do with a genuine relationship with them.
My theory is pretty simple: The more real relationships we have with each other as women blogging, the more we’ll be inspired and able to share what we know with each other — education — and grow each others’ visibility online. I’m pretty sure that will make me smarter and better at expressing myself through blogging, and I hope other women will get a lot out of it too.
NW: And, considering blogging relies so heavily on linkage and visibility throughout a new community of writers, do you see women as often being left out of that vital loop? If so, is that a direct result of a male-dominated community, or is there something else keeping us from being in the conversation? Do you think the blogosphere is male-dominated or are we as you say “right here!” but just not speaking up as much?
LS: My opinion is that the search engines available to track and discover blogs are flawed in a way that underserves the entire blogging community, regardless of gender. Here’s what I mean: It is often said that the good blogs get read, that’s why they’re in the Technorati Top 100. But after reporting on blogs for a year, I disagree. Blogs make that list because they have the most links to them from other blogs—not necessarily because these blogs are the best quality.
In the past year, I’ve covered the blogosphere as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and American Lawyer Media, and recruited bloggers for Knight Ridder Digital. When my editors asked me, “What’s really going on out there?”? answering this question was surprisingly challenging. I found I could rely on services such as Technorati, Feedster and Truth Laid Bear, but only to a certain extent. Why? Because the same bloggers kept popping up on my searches. I found it surprisingly challenging to extend my appreciation of the blogosphere beyond a list of the usual suspects in any individual subject/category — even when I scoured “blogrolls,”? lists of blogs recommended by bloggers. And for many of the best known men who blog, that list can be somewhat predictable. When the blogs that are most-linked (and therefore at the top of the Technorati heap) link mostly to each other, well, women bloggers are indeed being left out of a vital loop. More importantly, the user is suffering because (s)he is not experiencing the vast breadth and rich quality of blogs out on the Internet.
I haven’t done the exhaustive research necessary to compare numbers of comments by women v. men, so I don’t want to discount the arguments I’ve read alleging low contributions from women. But given the blind spot that has afflicted some male bloggers and some mainstream media outlets where women bloggers are concerned—and the rollicking, strong opinions of millions of women bloggers online that I see all the time — I feel the biggest obstacle to women’s participation today is the fact that we’re being ignored and/or sidelined. Even if we get to the point where women bloggers aren’t ignored, we’ve lacked an open, global outlet for our individual exposure and our interest in each other. BlogHer.org aims to change that.
NW: Is there a certain genre of blogging that women tend to migrate? Would you agree that female bloggers (with the exception of folks like Ana Marie Cox and well, frankly, you and me) shy away from blogging about topics like politics, law, the environment, business and technology? If so, why do you think that is?
LS: There’s just no such thing as a prototypical woman blogger. In my experience, women are enthusiastically blogging about the hard edge of politics, law, the environment, business and tech. Our advisory board at BlogHer.org provides stupendous examples of people such as Mary Hodder and Rebecca Blood, blogging technology, and Rebecca MacKinnon posting about global voices. At the same time, women are making the very most of blogs to write about their own identities. It’s both eye-opening and cathartic to read some of the experiences women are sharing about the darker side of their lives, from divorce to miscarriage. And I’m happy to report that men are writing about these subjects too.
NW: Considering that blogging is open to all (away from the gatekeepers of mainstream journalism) is it our fault as women that we have fewer female bloggers out there? That is to say – are we the only ones to blame for our silence on the Web?
LS: The numbers for women blogging are really exciting. Women represent roughly half of all bloggers. A Perseus Development Corp. survey (12.04) reported 56 percent of blogs are created by women. A Pew Internet survey (1.05) reported that 43 percent of bloggers are women.
This is one of the reasons that BlogHer’s motto — for the 2005 conference anyway — is “Where are the women bloggers? We’re right here!”?
NW: Finally, what can we do to convince more women that their voices are vibrant and important additions to the wide audience that blogging can provide?
LS: I think inviting women users to participate in a conversation about the news like New West does is the place to start. When I’m on your site, I don’t feel like you’re dictating the news to me. I feel like you’re bringing me the inside scoop — every story I’ve read thus far has been extremely well researched and written. Adding the comments section to each story makes me feel as though I’m part of it, as though I’m participating in the news exchange and joining the fray. This is a real leap forward that I’d like to see lots of other media outlets take. My compliments — New West is a terrific site.
Many thanks Lisa! – C