Recently, I spoke with a friend of mine who has been a journalist for decades. Due to health issues, she made the jump from print to blogging part time for a news website. Even though the site ended up laying off all of its part-time staff, my friend thanked me for commenting on her past articles because she received a financial bonus each time someone did.
A lot of things bothered me about that conversation. Am I the only person on earth who thinks that the "NEWS" should be news and NOT entertainment? Why should there be a reward system based on comments? Even worse, why is commenting used as a criterion for judging that blog's quality?
Is frequency of public response synonymous with worth?
The contemporary feedback phenomenon fascinates me. I am convinced that today's writers are becoming more dangerously cognizant and dependent on automatic/quick public input than our predecessors ever were.
Communication is easy, that's why. It's a slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am kind of world. Instead of taking the time to write a letter, address the envelope and mail it, people can knock out a quick fan email or damning criticism within seconds.
Everything — except, maybe, the submission process to agents and editors — is fast today.
This new reality has created strange expectations.
It isn't just news outlets that gauge the quality of blog posts based on the comments they evoke. We bloggers do it all the time to ourselves! We know that the vast majority of our readers don't bother to comment– for whatever reason — but we torture ourselves when our posts get minimal response. I don't know about you, but I try to comment on friends' blogs as often as possible. However, if I'm required to register on a site to comment . . . forget it! No way. That knee-jerk rule of mine has nothing to do with content; I just get annoyed at having to jump through hoops.
It's the same with our books and short stories. Nowadays, if our prose doesn't yield fan emails, online reviews at booksellers, or discussion on fan sites/listservs — we wonder what's wrong with our writing.
(Let's leave the discussion about sales figures as an accurate read of worth to another post, please.)
Bottom line: I doubt that Poe or Christie considered direct reader input nearly as much as we do.
And I think it's because we all know how very easy it is to take that little step of offering feedback. When we don't get it, we can't help but wonder why.
Do these expectations affect our work?
Do we seek out particularly incendiary topics in order to prove to ourselves that someone out there cares? Do we censor our stories and novels because people Twitter negatively about prefaces or books with serial killers or talking cats?
I don't know.
I do think that the paradigm has shifted. We writers need to be aware of what we're really responding to and the messages we're feeding ourselves, as a result of that feedback, about our own worth in our chosen field.
What say you?