Executive Editor, The WIP
This past weekend I attended the third annual BlogHer conference in Chicago, Illinois. Participants networked, socialized, and attended presentations by successful female bloggers from all online spheres of life. This year’s event, called “A World of Difference,” is precisely what I found.
BlogHer was developed in 2005 “to create opportunities for women who blog to pursue exposure, education, community, and economic empowerment.” The founders call it a “do-ocracy” that gives women online the opportunity “to help ourselves and work together to voice and achieve our individual goals.” It is no surprise that Blogher’s founders, Lisa Stone, Elisa Camahort, and Jory Des Jardins are three successful internet pioneers who had the chutzpah to follow an intuitive hunch, and they have developed something great and important.
BlogHer ’07 was not my first blogging conference. Like most political bloggers, I am a regular critic of politics and of the dominant media. Since leaving the teaching profession in 2005 I’ve devoted a lot of time to alternative news websites and blogs. What I’ve noticed is that as these websites grow, gradually they mimic what they once abhorred. The same lack of diversity, lack of women’s voices, and narrow perspective persists and what is worse, political blogs often lack the depth that was once a basic requirement of journalism. There also appears to be little diversity of readership: bloggers essentially preach to a choir of like-minded individuals about issues on which they already agree.
From the first session last Thursday afternoon, I knew BlogHer was different. At past conferences, presidential candidates were keynote speakers and the most popular bloggers filled the hallways with their laptops, producing posts to be read by thousands of eager readers. In such a setting, it is hard to not be seduced by the glitz and glamour and to avoid a false sense of importance. This weekend’s experience cleared my mind about the bloggers’ roles and it clarified for me the true potential of the blogosphere. The bloggers I used to read complained a lot. But truly, what is the point of complaining to other bloggers and readers who share your point of view? Isn’t the greatest opportunity of the internet the opportunity to create a platform where people from diverse backgrounds can share their ideas, opinions, and beliefs?
In Chicago I was surrounded by a network of experts and social thinkers from all over this country and from a handful of other countries as well. Speakers included journalists, poets, comedians, CEOs, marketing executives, designers, lawyers, progressives, conservatives, and even mommy bloggers -- all devoted to this online medium. I finally understood that a blog is not only a community -- it is a conversation. And to truly become devoted to blogging, you have to want to have that conversation. And the blogsphere is open to everyone with access to the internet. With everyone participating, the internet can and will become a viable alternative for gathering and dispensing a wealth of accurate information.Some would argue that men and women approach technology differently. I would add that women have a unique approach to blogging. At BlogHer I was surrounded by women who were not even trying to become the next dominant voice in media; rather, they used their blogs to empower others – whether they blog about healthy eating habits, child rearing experiences, encouraging civic participation, or education. BlogHer is a participatory community: it doesn’t rely on popular or famous voices to build readership. All the women I met are making important contributions; their expertise and concerns fall across all fields of life; just by generating these conversations, their voices will certainly make a lasting impact.
An equally important feature of the BlogHer conference is that the women were not all alike. There were progressives and conservatives, feminists and non-feminists, writers, teachers, techies, attendees and presenters, all from a diversity of cultural backgrounds. These women bring to the blogosphere intuition, fine-tuned sensitivity, and personal experiences that contribute to our understanding the totality of life.
I used to feel the need to compete when writing online; it was as if I was submitting my blogs for publication and my struggle was to be heard. Daily I was determined to scoop a story or write an even better rant. This became tiresome, very quickly. Blogging is really a conversation started by one blogger which is spontaneously responded to by many others. At BlogHer I was one among many participants joining in a conversation that had the power to connect all of us so that we were not only empowered, but could also build the bridges critical to inspiring real change.
And that is precisely what we are doing at The WIP: connecting individuals from different backgrounds through online journalism written by women offering their distinctive insights. What I felt on leaving the conference was a surge of emotion: I knew that I was a part of something new and great. Seeing the many ways those many impassioned, committed women were interpreting BlogHer’s mission reassured me that at The WIP, it is possible to cultivate dialogs that will inspire change.