BlogHer12: Is There Room At The Table?

As 4,000 bloggers unpack their suitcases and settle into the laundry/write/prepare dinner routine across the country, the proverbial Internet river has suddenly swelled with “Post BlogHer Recap” posts.  I’ve spent a few days on my little lifeboat, floating down the Twitter stream, comparing and contrasting my own BlogHer re-entry with that of other bloggers.

What have I found?

Well, it looks like the water has gotten rough around here.  The whitecaps are knocking against the side of a couple thousand boats, all clamoring for their little space on this swollen river.  Each boat is overflowing with people, all struggling to steer through the rapids.  And the boats are sinking.  Professional, well-established tour guides are blaming the commotion on the current in the water/the sudden influx of professional whitewater rafters/faulty steering/bad maps….people are frustrated with this ride.

BlogHer12 was bigger this year.  And when something stretches and unfurls it’s wings to the tune of a few thousand people, the end result is often unexpected. Lunch lines were long and women started elbowing each other as they pushed their way off of the escalator.  A handful of workshops were so popular (thanks to the “Internet-famous” bloggers who were leading them) that they were filled to maximum capacity and many of us had to wait in the hallway before being allowed to sit on the floor in the back of the room.  People were tweeting furious messages to the Hilton about their staff and the bathtubs and the slow elevators.  And apparently some a-hole punched the SparkleCorn cake in the face.

According to some folks, the sudden influx of “everyone else” had made BlogHer unrecognizable.  Where there was once room to breathe, there was now an influx of “newbies” dying for a gasp of that fresh BlogHer air.   The conference organizers were aware of this.  At this year’s Newbie Breakfast, they shared with us that over 50% of conference attendees were there for the first time.  They told us that meant that BlogHer was incredibly successful, and it is, BUT doesn’t it also mean that the old-timers (the Original Bloggers, the Old Guard, The Pros) aren’t attending like they used to?  Well, why not?

Turns out, it’s because BlogHer’s growth was frowned upon by those who felt that it wasn’t an exclusive adventure trip anymore.  I didn’t realize that the Original Bloggers were sitting back and laughing at us Newbies, until I came home.  On Monday morning I jumped head first into that Twitter Stream, and I was shocked by how cold and unwelcoming the waters were.

Turns out, some of the Original Bloggers were pissed that the Newbies couldn’t swim as well as they could.  There weren’t enough lifeboats, and swim lessons should have been taught by skill level.  I happen to agree with some of this.  I’m sad that people skipped Voices Of The Year.  I’m discouraged that bloggers found time to go to parties, but not to go to the Geek Bar.  But I also know that when workshops have to appeal to large audiences, there tends to be a dumbing down of information.  Golden nuggets of genius have to be filtered out from the Blogging 101 that other folks might need.   But BlogHer will take a close look at these growing pains, I’m sure, and they’ll try to balance out their amazing growth spurt with finding clothes that actually fit their new shape.  In the meantime, I think we all have a responsibility to remind each other of why we paid so  much money to catapult ourselves into this rushing river for four days straight.

Perhaps some of the Newbies were learning to navigate these waters because whitewater rafting is the latest trend.  But not me.  And I’m angry (and ok, a little hurt) that the Old Guard feels so strongly that we’re muddying these waters.

I blog because I’ve written since I was 13.  I blog because writing is the only thing that stands between me and the dark space that is depression and anxiety.  I blog because it’s tangible.  When I can write my truth, I can’t run from it.  I blog to honor my son, and to leave him a story that belongs only to him.  I blog because it’s mine.  Because I feel safe here.  I, like many of the “Old Guard”, wrote before it was popular, and even before it was public.  I had a locked LiveJournal.  I keep a dozen paper journals, scrawled on with looping cursive letters, on the very top shelf of my closet.  Blogging lets my spirit live in the light.  I don’t blog for money (and I don’t judge you if you do).  I don’t blog for the community or the comments (though I’ve been sucked down that hole, and I won’t lie, it feels kinda snuggly and nice).  I don’t blog to be cool (in fact, I realize with every post how much courage it takes to be unpopular…and this post will probably seal the deal).

I blog for the same reasons that many of you do, which means that I was “new” to the BlogHer conference, but not “new” to blogging.  I came to learn (more).  I came to experience (more).  I came to test the waters and see if the SparkleCorn/Expo/”Holy Crap The Fearless Formula Feeder AND The Feminist Breeder are speaking” hype could really live up to expectations.  (The speakers did, the Expo…sorta, and the parties…not so much).  Like many of you had warned me, I ended up taking what I needed and leaving the rest.

We’re not so different, you and I.  The sorta-but-not-really-a-Newbie, and the Old Guard.  You might not realize this, but those of us who you’d consider “new” to this ride?  WE NEED YOU.  We need to see CecilyK with her bright pink hair, walking through the crowds of people, sending knowing glances our way as if to say “Hello, friend” even though we’ve never met (seriously Cecily, every.single.day you had this fabulous kind smile on, and it helped me to breathe).  We need to hear BabyRabies and FreakyPerfect whisper the secrets of their success to a room full of hopeful bloggers, bursting at the seams.  We need to blend into the crowd while The Fearless Formula Feeder reads her beautiful truths at Voices Of The Year.  We need to squash into an elevator and feel really small.  We need to get lost in the Expo Hall and feel silly for eating an extra cupcake and not tweeting about it.  We need to randomly sit down next to someone at breakfast and realize that they have 5,000 twitter followers and have been here 3 other times, but still like to have a side of eggs with their bacon, just like we do.

And this might not be popular for me to say, but I think the hundred or so “Old School Bloggers”, need us too.  Even the ones who are complaining right now about how the newbies screwed up their BlogHer experience.

Because, ahem…..WE READ YOUR BLOGS.

As we learn from you, we’re also driving your traffic.  As we comment on your posts, we’re giving you the feedback that you need to draft your next essay.  When we come up to you in the halls and ask you one more question, we’re reminding you just how much you matter to us, and just how delicate this community can be.  We are the audience for the book that you’re drafting.  We overflow from conference rooms after we’ve voted your idea into a Room Of Your Own.  We’re eager, we’re hopeful, we’re curious.  We want to sit at your table, because we’re dying for a glimpse into the lives you’ve created for yourselves.  And we’re not all bratty upstarts who are trying to steal the last glass of orange juice or make off with all of the Expo vibrators.  Many of us are writers, who haven’t had the courage to grow yet.  We’re finally coming out of our shells in this terrifying space called BlogHer, while trying desperately not to knock into you in a crowded restroom or trip over your laptop cord in the hallway.  We are trying to be small and not call too much attention to ourselves as we learn, while still trying to be big enough to keep from drowning.

This is why I jumped into the rushing waters of the Twitter stream when I left NYC.  I want to share this journey with you.  I want to learn from you, and be inspired by you, and follow in your trail-blazing footsteps.  Adventure rafting blogging is so incredibly popular, because you’ve set the bar so high.

I’m no expert at whitewater rafting, but I’m smart enough to know that my love for the sport isn’t enough.  I need some amazing guides to help me stay afloat.  I sure hope that there’s room in this boat for all of us, because these waters are rougher than I expected.

 

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Comments:

  1. Beautifully written, Kim. I should have gotten your phone number before boarding the plane so we could have made a point of connecting. BlogHer has grown, no doubt, but this was a great conference—- and I’m so happy you have plunged right into the deep end. The difference between a social media writing conference and other types is that the writers like to pontificate every. single. minute. detail. until the end of time. and they do it on the internet. 🙂
    you are wonderful.
    xoxo steph

    • Mama By The Bay says:

      Thank you Stephanie. YOU are the most inspiring role model a writer could ask for, and I feel so lucky that Jen connected us! You have been so kind to answer all of my top-secret blogging questions, and to hold my hand as I’ve taken the first steps of this journey. I am so grateful that an OG like you has taken the time to show me such kindness 🙂

  2. As an oldie who, at every meal, had people I didn’t know at my table, I just honestly didn’t see any of this. And, if anyone I was talking to/sitting with would have acted that way, I would have been grumpy. Times twelve.

    • Mama By The Bay says:

      Thank you Jenna, for taking the time to reach out and say that! I probably should have been more clear about where that feeling was coming from. At the actual conference, most of the “Oldies” I encountered were gracious and warm. I totally understand that they all have their own conference agendas, needs, and circle of friends! What was upsetting was to read so many Twitter and blog posts AFTER the conference, where it was discussed that the newbies were to blame for all the things that were wrong. I’ve seen people teased for saying they felt left out, and I’ve read dialogues on how we were responsible for long lines, swag fights, over-crowded workshops, and losing a sense of community. I love what you said about welcoming new people to your table, and I thank you for that! I felt that BlogHer did a great job of bringing us newbies into the fold, which is exactly why I was so hurt to see some of the Oldies publicly shaming them for it afterward.

      • If people feel that there is a loss of a sense of community, they’re doing it wrong. I’m always trying to recruit new people to blogging. I love me some new friends!!

        Lovely to “meet” you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. This was really interesting. I only started my blog last year and haven’t been to any blogging conferences yet, but I’ve been hearing so much about BlogHer12 — it sounds like quite an experience, and your take on the situation with the newbies and the old guard struck me as really insightful. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I didn’t see much of this either, but it seems to me that Blogher is like a start up company having growing pains.
    The old timers can’t help but look at the packed ballroom and remember, misty-eyed, the days when the whole team fit around one table.

    • Mama By The Bay says:

      Mari, that’s a very valid point! I really enjoyed meeting you at BlogHer…thanks for being such a friendly face to connect with!

  5. This is like when people freaked out because the kindle was replacing books. Or the cell was replacing a landline. Or when Kate Plus 8 got her hair all extentioned out and everyone was all WTF! The “originals” wax nostalgic about the way it use to be. But, times they are a changing. Step aside and get ready for a bunch of newbies ready to Carpe the Blogging World. We’re coming for your followers. We’re young, funny and ready for action! It’s our turn for a piece of the pie!

  6. I’m new to blogging though like you, I have forever. I’ve never been to a blogging conference and it has been quite eye opening to read the various recaps. You make some excellent points.

  7. I’ve seen some of these recaps, too. And they made me frustrated as well. I hate this feeling like there’s us-and-them or that only some people deserve the BlogHer experience. Hello, everyone had their first time.

    Luckily I’ve encountered loads of experienced bloggers who are kind and thoughtful, which has helped a bunch. And hopefully the people who need to see it will read your post. 🙂

    • Mama By The Bay says:

      Jessica, I like what you said about how everyone had a first time 🙂 Puts the whole “us and them” into perspective. I agree with you that there are so many “oldie” bloggers who are fabulous and warm and welcoming. I hope that their example helps others to see that us newbies aren’t all so terrible.

  8. I think I fall into the Old School category, and I want to say THANK YOU for coming to BlogHer and having a great time. The recaps have been bothering me, too. Thank you for eloquently addressing the issue. KEEP BLOGGING! See you in Chicago for BlogHer ’13! 🙂

    • Mama By The Bay says:

      Thank you Blondie, for your warm comment! I am very touched that an “Old School Blogger” would stop by with such kind words of encouragement!

  9. I’m kind of an introvert – so I generally focused on the few people around me (equally long-time friends and new acquaintances). And I didn’t catch any of the negative attitudes about new attendees.

    I do hear some people complaining about the conference being to big for their liking now – and I think that’s valid. Big isn’t for everyone. But I don’t know if that’s necessarily a statement that newcomers aren’t welcome…maybe they just didn’t really think about the connection between “more people” and “new people.”

    I really liked that part toward the end about how so much support comes from newer bloggers. We used to focus on “small” as opposed to “big” (and I’m still “small” by the way) – so “new” and “old” are like a new take on an old theme. It’s funny.

    Either way – I would have loved to have met you. Perhaps in 2013!

    • Mama By The Bay says:

      Thanks Kate, for your insight and your feedback! It definitely makes sense that BlogHer may have just started feeling too big. I absolutely sensed that when I was there, so it’s nice to hear someone else frame it that way. And I love how relative “big” vs. “small” blogs can be, because I think that you’re a BIG blog! 🙂 Would love to meet you in Chicago next year!

  10. Say it, sister. You said it so well. I attended blogher 10, then just one day of 11… Never even entertained the idea of 12. Not because of any single thing. A lot of it was good. But it had little to do with me, my self, my terribly neglected blog. The energy and excitement has its place but when it starts to feel likes high school, it loses it appeal.

    But I want to thank you because reading this sparked my desire took write a post and that has not happened in a long long time. 🙂

    • Mama By The Bay says:

      Thanks for your honesty and your input…it’s so appreciated! I can’t wait to read what you’re writing!

  11. I enjoyed reading this. It was my first BlogHer and I am a new blogger. A lot of it I enjoyed, and some, not so much. I missed out on a lot of the sessions I wanted to attend to LEARN, as they were full to capacity and not even room on the floor. One session I was wedged next to a watercooler. ugh. The ones I attended were great. I felt that as a newbie, I wasn’t always welcome which surprised me, and shocked me to be honest. Large groups that know each other weren’t welcoming at all when I tried to sit at a table. Made me sad at times, but then others were amazingly kind. I was surprised when people would ask about my blog and I told them it was a craft blog, “so, you aren’t a writer” and would move on. That happened 3 times, not the same words, but the point was made. I did learn a lot, and skipped most parties when I went in they were too loud. The Voices and the Open Mic night were among my favorite things as I got to hear bloggers, and that was important to me. If crowding can be dealt with, I will go again. A seat for everyone at lunch is important, and classes need to have more space. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    • Mama By The Bay says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your BlogHer experiences here! I am so sorry that you heard a “you aren’t a writer” message…wow…that is horrible! And it makes me sad to hear that people weren’t welcoming when you wanted to join their table. I think that a few folks need a little reminder before next year about how important it is to bring newbies into the fold. And yes, VOTY (and from what I’ve heard, Open Mic) were huge highlights. THAT is what blogging is all about!

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