As a journalist by profession, writing is something that I usually do for cash. So when an email invitation arrived in the Yahoo! inbox from Thought Leader I was suspicious. Because here was this newly established website staffer who suggested I post bits of writing on here without the promise of a positive reflection in my bank account.
I wasn’t aware of how all this worked and had some questions. The obvious one was: Why me? It’s really the flattering reply that got me writing blog entry number one. Staffer replied that “we thought you’re interesting”. Brilliant way to get any attempting writer loaded with insecurities to part with words for free.
“You like me? Really?! OK, you can publish this … and this and … and that. And my whole story file too if you want!! All because and only while you like me!”
I don’t know the real impact of Thought Leader, though. Thing is, I missed the hype — if there was any — when it launched in South Africa a few months ago. I’ve been living in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, since July 2007. I wasn’t even aware of Thought Leader until a journalist friend currently offering rape counselling in Kenya emailed me one of her pieces that she had posted on this website.
Then another Thought Leader blogger introduced me to the powers that be and aforementioned invitation popped up in my inbox. I was paranoid. Spent a few hours browsing this website and found a ton of familiar faces. My mind replayed the how and when of our connectedness. Fill in the ellipsis below to get the mental process.
I met … when I started out as a newspaper reporter in Cape Town. And … invited me out to a hot spot when I was fresh-faced in Jozi. Oh and there’s … who still owes me money. Holy cow, and … is also on here. I wonder if he still displays that strange behaviour he exposed at Carfax. It went on for a while … I felt at home among these familiar traces of my past and present.
And soon it was time to write blog entry number one — even though I am not sure what to expect or how to feel about exposing my thoughts like this to an audience that I don’t even know. With each freelance piece you write, you at least know who you’re writing for. Every publication has its target audience. But this is the internet. Everyone reads the internet. So the audience is … everyone?
I sniffed through some of the replies on other blogger’s entries. Sounds like many of the same people who read the (sometimes deeply depressing and disturbing) Meekly Wail, aka the Mail & Guardian, also log on to this website. So maybe that’s the target market. Or maybe not. Maybe with each new blogger — who knows all sorts of people — different sorts of readers would be visiting to see what Thought Leader is about.
Maybe all these and other questions about this social experiment will be answered by one of its founders, Vincent Maher, in a research paper at the next Highway Africa conference in Grahamstown, aka The Bubble. This student town of drunkards (OK, not everyone’s an alcoholic-in-training) is where I first encountered this internet-obsessed character while doing a media management course in 2005 at Rhodes University.
Blog Interlude …
INTERIOR: THERAPIST’S OFFICE
Yazeed: I remember the trees were very beautiful in The Bubble. The mornings were very cold in winter. I miss that strange place, strangely, sometimes … even though I cried with joy when I finally got on the exit plane. It stole a little something from my inside.
End of Interlude.
I’m scared that this experiment will expose me as one of those moron bloggers who know nothing and just simply wanks lyrical for the sake of posting something. Bloggers are morons. That’s a headline I read somewhere.
And I also think that the worst sorts of writers are bloggers. Very often, from what I’ve read, bloggers don’t have sources in their work and it’s just their own little mind playing games with the universe. Much like what I am attempting to do now.
At least most journalists and reporters, who gather information for exposure in the public domain, attempt to find an expert to comment on any given subject on which they’re reporting. Bloggers assume they’re The Experts with every tap of the overworked keyboard. Every click summons a call to blog more, to please a waiting cyberspace readership that exists. Or maybe not. And it’s irritating that some of these sods hide behind this facade of citizen journalism or whatever service they think they’re offering the world at large.
Blogging, the act of contributing to a blog, even sounds nauseating. It sounds like something you do to clear too much snot from your nose. This raises the self-doubt once more: Will I be able to add any value to the “blogosphere”? (Sjoe! It felt cool to use that word. “Blogosphere”. Makes me feel very kwaai. In an Educated kind of way.)
But I don’t even feel comfortable with this “blog” word. It sounds like a swear word in a foreign language. But I will get used to it, I think. Besides, Facebook has prepared me very nicely for this experiment. When one posts notes or photo albums to Facebook everyone on your list — unless they’re limited-profile “friends” — has access to view these items and scribble some thoughts. No matter how insane or mundane. Or even embarrassing. For both of you. And everyone else.
Sometimes it feels irritating logging on to Facebook to find your photo albums dirtied with words that you don’t want to hear, because you didn’t really ask for anybody to judge your photo mishaps. Neither did you expect someone you last saw exactly 12 years and 16 days ago to tell you that you’ve “changed” without going into further detail … but maybe that’s a case of the less said the better.
The thing with Wastebook — my affectionate term for this other social experiment — is that not the whole world with internet access can access your thoughts and comment on them. Only those in your circle of friends have the right to do so. This is how Thought Leader differs, of course. And that scares me. I feel like I just left the cave, man, and now here’s this thing called blogging and I’m invited to participate.
I revel in simply being The Byline. Not a face attached to the published words. With my writing for print, it’s also great that there’s no immediate feedback as with Wastebook or Thought Leader. Anyone with a keyboard and peanuts for brains can sommer just write what they think and then skip off to Happy Land while your ego looks dented.
I mean, everyone can tell you that you’re boring and you suck and you need to shut up. Now. I am the insecure-writer type. So insecure am I that I even asked the Thought Leader staffer whether or not they would remove me if I wasn’t interesting. I was assured that, you know, I am interesting.
Most times, I want everyone to like what I’ve written. Not because I want to feel I’ve made a positive contribution, but because I don’t like the smell of rotten tomatoes, side-stepping them when they fly toward me.
OK, so I am new at blogging. That bit’s only obvious in the extreme. Journalism has told me — actually, demanded of me — to remove myself from the writing that goes down for publication, at all times. It’s the way I’ve come to like and expect things to be. It’s about being that non-participating observer type who doesn’t actually have to have an opinion; the one who doesn’t have to be part of the conflict. Because, true as the sky is blue, I dislike conflict. A hell of a lot. It’s the middle-child syndrome thing. We like peace and stability.
By the way, all candidates running for country presidents should be screened for middle-child syndrome and selected only if they are MCS+ (middle-child syndrome positive). That would save many lives. Maybe we should start a campaign. Maybe the United Nations could help and finally get something right, for a change.
My next few blog entries are going to be excerpts from my notes section on Wastebook. It will be all about Sudan. I hope you’re gonna read them and like what you read. Save your rotten tomatoes for the garden patch. But hey, if you have any small change, feel free to throw that my way!