Are personal #globaldev blogs a thing of the past?
|Business Week cover from 2005 on |
"Blogs will change your business"
I share Mark's positive sentiments about blogging and it has guided my own writing experiences for more than a decade now:
Blogging has been the central means through which I’ve developed a distinctive outlook as a researcher, providing me with an open-ended invitation to reflect on what I’ve been reading, analysing, organising and teaching. I’ve been doing it for so long that I find it hard to imagine what it would like to be an academic without a blog.As early as 2012 I started to reflect on the practice of blogging in the #globaldev arena: Development blogging-How to have fun, avoid disappointment & be a strategic writer, culminating in a post from 2018 about The development blogging crisis, even though I tried to stay optimistic:
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!So where are we in 2022 then?
The personal blog is definitely a dying bread, but the format of blogging is still very much alive-it just moved along with the evolution of digital publishing more generally.
Substack is the new Wordpress
Today I rarely read traditional blogs, personal diary-type reflections powered by Wordpress or Blogger, perhaps Medium, as one of the upgrades to the blogging infrastructure.
And yet my social feeds are still filled with interesting reflections on #globaldev. The most obvious change is from URL-based blogs to newsletters, often distributed through Substack: This Week in Africa, Ruth’s Friday Notes or Disability Debrief are just three of those “modern newsletters”. Substack is the new Wordpress, but the content is not dissimilar from traditional blogs.
Podcasts as blogs
And then there is a mushrooming ecosystem of development-related podcasts; strictly speaking they are different than personal, written blogs, of course, but the conversational tone, personal reflections and an atmosphere that encourages questions and discussions, sometimes with the audience, reminds me quite a bit of well-run #globaldev blogs circa 2014.
Vlogging crises David Beasley-style
Another perhaps obvious aspect is that digital communication has been changing dramatically away from written text; as much as I have some problems with the way WFP’s David Beasley communicates, some of his shaky mobile videos from “the field” have an authenticity that I could easily see fit for a blog 10-12 years ago together with a few photos and relatively un-edited thoughts on the latest humanitarian crisis he talks about; if you like a perhaps more reflective version, NRC’s Jan Egeland Twitter or UN’s Melissa Fleming LinkedIn also run some content of their feeds as a modern version of a blog-from a professionally produced podcast to Twitter
|Screenshot of a WFP Tweet that shows |
David Beasley pointing at WFP cardboard
Are books the new blogs?
It's no surprise that traditional development bloggers from William Easterly to Duncan Green or now Chris Blattman (I already mentioned Melissa Fleming, but there is certainly a gender imbalance) have written and promoted their books with blogs. The blog as a companion to the latest book occupies the space where personal academic and development blogs meet.
So, are those care-free days of happily blogging into the Interwebs without secondary products and personal branding gone?
Well, I haven’t seen any interesting new personal blogs recently, either by younger professionals exploring the industry or by the likes of jaded J., the aid worker who was instrumental for Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like and the very concept of field-based ranting about development and humanitarian industry.
Reflective ranting, keen observations from the latest humanitarian “theatre” or a simple “read what our staff is struggling with” (MSF was a pioneer in that genre) blogs are mostly gone (or perhaps more precisely: they don't seem to be shared, commented and “used” in other digital ways) and they won’t come back.
The difficult relationship between paywalls, news media & traditional blogging
Perhaps a final nail to the blog coffin are paywalls and how development-related journalism has also been changing. I’m sure the Economist, Foreign Policy, Quartz, DevExPro or maybe even the Times feature the odd reflective piece about aid, humanitarianism, and the broader state of development, but I can’t afford subscription to all of them.
On the other hand, funded journalism projects like the New Humanitarian, the Guardian's Global Development pages (although they don’t show up in my feeds as often as they used to…) or Rest of World inform a global audience about #globaldev topics without a paywall, but interestingly none of them hosts a “blogger in residence” as commentator.
I may also have missed a few paid newsletters or other media that aren’t simply available on “a website”, but I have always advocated for as much easy and open access as possible.
I don’t want to believe that the entire concept of personal blogging is dead-there are so many great posts on FP2P, I just read a great reflection on the state of digital humanitarianism and a project like No White Saviors combines the advocacy-style of a blog with social media and tough questions around decolonizing development with almost a million followers on Instagram.
And there are less “noisy” projects such as Convivial Thinking or Developing Economics that still run a Wordpress site and combine research, personal reflections and important questions about the study of development.
At the end of the day, the one-person personal blog project is pretty much a thing of the 2000-2010s. But development blogging as a practice to share, engage, collect, curate, promote “stuff” is still very much alive and has evolved just like the rest of the digital world…next stop a #globaldev book/podcast/essay fair in the Metaverse ;) ?!?