Everything I needed to learn about writing, I learned through blogging

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Katrina Stuart Santiago

AND I mean old-school blogging via radikalchick.com, which first went up in 2008, a gift from my Kuya who had also pushed the mother to start blogging two years earlier. At the time, there was an active blogging scene with intellectuals and pundits writing and discussing issues of the day, bouncing off each other, openly debating.
Trolling was frowned upon, as was name-calling. Anonymity was put into question.

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I like to think of that time to have been pre-Joe America and pre-Mocha. It was also pre-social media. People were actually having conversations, threshing out issues, doing research, building credible arguments. Opinion writers in the broadsheets were called out, as was government; people were not simply dismissed based on their ideological leanings; sound arguments were the rule not the exception.
Those days are gone.

Echo chambers

Blogging has gotten such a bad name given current discourse and both black and pro-government propaganda. It is also altogether misused in the sense that Asec Uson has been calling her Facebook page “a blog” – which it isn’t. Daang Matuwid was no different, lending credence to the nameless, faceless Joe America – when we had all already decided anonymity to be unacceptable.

Since then of course, pro-Duterte “bloggers” have thrown their weight around, name-calling and cursing at mainstream media, demanding the same kind of treatment and access journalists and reporters get to government events and Malacañang, missing the point entirely of what blogging and online punditry was relative to the mainstream.

This administration has “rewarded” these “bloggers” with government positions. The basis of course is clear: likes and shares and follows – not credentials. The echo chamber on these blogs and FB pages are championed as public opinion, in favor as these are of the government. Of course, when what’s to be had here is hate and vitriol, bullying and silencing, fake news and baseless assertions, no one takes responsibility for these echo chambers.
There was a time when online discourse was the real alternative to the mainstream, a time when echo chambers were criticized and torn apart. Gone are those days, too.

In the past year of Duterte, we are reminded that real, productive, relevant discourse is not at all about where it happens, but how.

Reception perception

While so much has changed, one is also reminded of how the more important things about writing and discourse remain the same. These things I learned from having started my writing through blogging – when blogging was not an activity to be scorned, and the blog was not just another excuse to spew hate and spread baseless assumptions.

The blog taught me humility in writing: you will not, cannot, get the number of readers you want or expect at any
given time, and certainly not when you’re just starting out. You earn your stripes, so to speak, and build credibility as you go along.

And here’s a lesson in credibility I learned from blogging: it is never about the number of people who agree with you, or who post a comment, or who – in current times – like and share what you say. In fact, nothing is ever about those likes and shares in this time of promoted pages and posts and social media armies.

In truth, after a while, you will realize that there are subjects and issues that will ensure more visits to your site, and more FB likes and shares. Case in point: at any given time that this column is critical of VP Leni Robredo, even if it just seems like it in the title, that article will get the most number of hits. Which makes you wonder: did those people read that essay, or just “liked” it because everybody else did?

Blogging taught me to not care as much about likes and shares, because with blogging, you start off with no readers – or maybe just two (my mother and brother, in my case). It also teaches you that when you care too much about likes and shares, and hits on your website, at some point it starts to dictate what you write about – which is a terrible thing.

It’s like selling out. To the bandwagon, the public noise, the blind belief that writing – and writing commentary – is about trending online.

It never is.

Back to writing

Having started with blogging taught me to choose carefully and critically the things I would spend time writing about. Soon enough it became clear that I’d go in the direction of issues and events and articulations that are rarely discussed by the mainstream, because too difficult, too leftist, too rebellious, too pro-poor.

Dominant discourse silences many things in this country, in the past and in the present, and blogging taught me – as I have tried in this column – to write about those things. Because another thing that writing full time and independently the past seven years has taught me is that information is controlled. It is manipulated and spun, it is used towards personal and political ends.

And the writer, when she is free and independent – especially on a blog – can choose to write differently about this information, can demand more of government given contrary statistics, can be the voice of reason if she so chooses, because she has nothing to lose, and even less to gain.

It might not get the same number of readers, nor will it get the thousands of likes and shares that any of Mocha’s (or Jim Paredes’) articulations might get, but in the future, when someone does a Google search, or someone wonders why this same issue has blown up in our faces in a big way (as all un-addressed issues will), then at least it might be said that someone wrote about it thoughtfully, taking the side of the silenced, when no one else did.

And in times like this one, it seems even more important to be this writer, likes and shares be damned.

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