The development blogging crisis

Initially I wanted to include these reflections in my annual blogging review post. In the end I decided against it partly because I felt a bit like a grumpy old man shaking his fist at the outgoing year.
But development blogging is definitely in a crisis and as it is a format I care deeply enough about to write academic articles on I will share some reflections on the nature of this crisis.

Chris Blattman announced in September 2017 that he would not blog anymore:
few people read blogs anymore. Including me. I no longer feel the pressure to write often, because the person who comes directly to the page daily or weekly in search of something new is a dwindling breed. Most people reach blogs by twitter and facebook. This has taken the pressure off of me and, what can I say, I respond to incentives.
In December Nick Kristof said good-by to his blog hosted by the New York Times:
I was apparently the first blogger for The New York Times, most recently using this “on the ground” space for my own ruminations and those of others. But this technology platform is no longer going to be maintained, and we’ve decided that the world has moved on from blogs
Earlier in 2017 Gina Bianchini made it clear that We’re not in 2007 anymore, Toto. and advised against starting a blog.

So as 2017 was coming to its end Farah Mohammed stated
The Rise and Fall of the Blog” on Jstor, where news meets its scholarly match.

So is development blogging dead then – and is it about shorter attention spans, the rise of videos or podcasts - or perhaps something about men?

The weblog has lost its reflective innocence

Like pretty much everything else online or digital yesterday’s promises have often turned into today’s curses. When I wrote about development blogging in 2014,
Aidnography as a small, permanent writing retreat my Internet filter bubble was not filled with partisan rage, trolls, a deteriorating debating culture and the long shadow of #metoo.
Even today I am impressed by the digital debating culture around me, but putting ‘stuff’, thoughts or personal reflections on the Internet can potentially be a more harmful than useful experience-so I understand that not many new blogging projects have emerged recently.

The nature of blogging is changing
Is Medium a blog or blogging platform? It may not be a static, slightly old-fashioned blog like my Blogger blog and it seems that the Medium community is generally more active than a Blogger or Wordpress community. I am thinking Bright Magazine, but also my friend Agnes Otzelberger who joined more recently. In the last few years the changing nature of development journalism has probably been one of the biggest threats to traditional blogging projects.

The merger of blogging and media brands
Do you remember Stuff Expat Aidworkers Like?!?
Of course you do! And some of that spirit can now be found elsewhere, e.g. in the Guardian’s Secret Aid Worker column or the 50 Shades of Aid facebook group. These are great spaces for aid workers.
And academics, key cheap content creators have found platforms such as The Conversation or the Washington Post-integrated the Monkey Cage blog. Jacobin Magazine and Africa is a Country joined forces, too.
And IRIN successfully re-launched as a premier source for humanitarian news and journalism. DevEx is also doing well and so is NPR’s Goats and Soda development space. Each of these projects uses different funding and monetization strategies, but at the end of the day they challenge traditional blogs.

Writing a book is the new blogging (sort of…)
In 2011 Bill Easterly decided not to continue Aid Watch and focus on longer projects such as his book instead. Chris Blattman also mentioned a book manuscript in his final post. Duncan Green, still blogging (see below), shared the success story of his book in a post in 2017.
Writing a book is certainly not a fad in academia it seems that many bloggers in my #globaldev and #ICT4D network have published one recently, e.g. Zeynep Tufecki, Kim Yi Dionne, Richard Heeks or Tim Unwin. That’s great news in many ways-but perhaps not for blogs and blogging output…

It gets a bit repetitive, does it not?

Those were the days when a Kony 2012 blog post raked in thousands of clicks!
From complaining about voluntourists, misguided celebrity involvement or sending toys/bras/T-Shirts to Africa development debates often come, go and re-emerge with the next group of mercenaries, missionaries and misfits. I also struggle finding an overall tone for my blog posts-not too snarky, not too bitter, reflective, but not too long or too academic...

What about male biases?

As I am writing about a ‘crisis’ 2018 kicked off with quite the development blogging bombshell thanks to Duncan Green and Alice Evans; #sausagefest and #Dercongate hashtags were used. But the ‘Perils of Male bias’ Alice Evans wrote about extend reading lists and recommended ‘must read’ books.
Almost six years ago Duncan Green and I had a virtual debate about the gendered notion of blogging and the question today is whether the crisis of blogging has to do with changing dynamics of how more women communicate their expertise on development issues. This question needs for exploration, because I do enjoy Alexandra Pigni’s or Gemma Houldey’s more ‘traditional’ blogging formats...

So why keep doing it?
The popularity of Twitter threads is an indication of some of the broader dynamics that are driving attention, traffic and engagement. And there is video content and there are podcasts which I rarely listen to. Plus newsletters, long-form journalism and the aforementioned books.

And yet, I still really enjoy the freedom of running my own small public writing project.
My blog is everything academic publishing is not, from rigid formatting requirements to waiting for peer reviews and that feeling that you are writing for someone else who may in the end own your product anyway (I use Google’s Blogger so I am much more embedded in those dynamics than I should/want to be).

My blog is also a very small form of resistance within my framework of full-time academic employment: I can afford blogging and engaging with the public that way. Blogging remains a great way of staying tuned in debates and actively engaging in communicating development which is more than a job I am passionate about. Blogging informs my teaching, supports my research and may ultimately just be some kind of online diary-something that may never go out of style even if formats and platform shift!


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