CRRRITIC, Everybody's a Critic

Garden Writers Should See the World

Elizabeth introduced our new web design a few months ago by asking an interesting question that was raised at the Asheville Garden Bloggers Fling: Is garden blogging still viable?

After all, why blog if you can post on Facebook or tweet?

I have to say that as a news consumer, I love Twitter.  I follow many garden writers, but ALL the significant food writers. Though they tend mostly to operate in a politically correct echo chamber led by Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan, there are some stand-out originals among this group. I really respect the hard-hitting reporting of  Monica Eng of the Chicago Tribune.  She’s the woman out there ineptly hunting deer and eating horrible food in school cafeterias in order to reveal the truth about our food culture. And Kat Kinsman of CNN’s food blog Eatocracy is provocative and funny–as is parody tweeter Ruth Bourdain, who won a James Beard Award last year.

But, look, unless you are Steve Martin and a genius of the one-liner, you can’t say it all in 140 characters. It seems to me that Twitter is mostly about the links to longer pieces of writing elsewhere.  It doesn’t replace anything.

On the other hand, I’m not so old-fashioned as to think those glossy gardening magazines do the job for people who really care about plants and food and the landscapes around them. Though some are better than others, I think they all underestimate their audiences.  Too shy of controversy.  Too uninterested in individual voices. After writing for one of them, I am generally grateful to be back home at Garden Rant, where there are no editors grinding off my edges. Where there are intelligent commenters, in fact, sharpening them up.

Blogs are fantastic, in that there’s enough space for an opinion to be expressed, and then a volley of counter-opinions.  There is nothing really like it, other than possibly talk radio.

But the truth is that it’s easy to opine from one’s screened porch. It’s another thing entirely to get in a car and drive 5 hours each way to investigate a drought or new varieties of food crops or to see some particularly inspiring garden–let alone, get on a plane and see how farmers in the Sahel are using the lowest of low-tech methods to turn back desertification. That requires a professional-sized paycheck and a budget for expenses. Are any garden bloggers earning enough from their sites to wear out shoes and suitcases in support of them?  I don’t think so.  Alas, gardening will never attract the advertising that food and home improvement do.

The medium I’d like to be venting in?  The disappearing one chronicled in the fun 2011 documentary about the New York Times I watched last night, Page One. Page One makes it clear what vanishes if you lose the resources of a place like The Times: reporting.  Are there any newspapers reporting on gardening any more, other than The Washington Post and The New York Times?

But gardening is worth reporting on. Are you kidding me?  Given climate change, drought, storms, the challenges of feeding the earth’s population without destroying the planet, plus the health problems inherent in the America diet, and the sickness and ugliness of many of our landscapes, gardening may be the most significant of all beats.  We’re not talking ten best intersectional peonies, as fun as those are.  We’re talking survival of the species.

The most recent Pew report on the State of the News Media had a mixed message: While advertising revenues are dropping, the public’s hunger for real news is greater than ever, thanks to portable devices that allow us to follow a story all day long.  I hope this all shakes out at some point soon, in some positive way that allows more garden writers to hit the road much more often. My suitcase is already packed.

 

Posted by on August 24, 2012 at 1:11 pm, in the category CRRRITIC, Everybody's a Critic.
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16 Responses to “Garden Writers Should See the World”

  1. Kat B. says:

    Great post — blogs ARE fantastic and fill a void other mediums don’t quite fill.

  2. allan becker says:

    There is nothing quite like a garden blog. As yet, social media cannot do it justice.

  3. Susan says:

    I follow several garden blogs and I love them!!

  4. Laura says:

    If all the blogs disappear and everything moves to Facebook and Twitter, I’d have little read. Facebook & Twitter aren’t part of my life. I don’t need a blogger who travels the world though. I just want to read good garden writing…I’m sure, however, that I don’t speak for everyone.

  5. tropaeolum says:

    I use Facebook all the time. I maintain 2 pages in addition to my own personal page. However, I LOVE blogs.

    I hate Twitter. I have tried to use it expressly for the purpose of following garden writers. But I hate how all their re-tweets or little asides to their friends show up on my page. I would be all over Twitter if I could eliminate all the stupid re-tweets and miscellaneous garbage and just see their personal writing and their personal suggestions for reading.

    In other words, Twitter is too cluttered. Blogs give me a nice article all in one place. Easy to find, easy to read. Perfect.

    • Janet says:

      I agree that wit doesn’t seem to be one of the skills of garden Twitterers.

      I follow some gardeners and wildlife experts on Twitter here in the UK and generally speaking they are not as entertaining as journalists. Of course, it is not the job of gardeners etc to entertain me. What I think this shows is that ‘nature’ is not well represented by 140 characters. I know I cringe when I find myself tweeting something like ‘ my dahlias have just flowered’, or whatever. What a bore for someone else to read. BUT a blog, with photographs, can explain the whole story, which (sometimes) turns out to be interesting after all.

      By the way, Michele, can I hitch a lift with you? Travel and gardening – heaven.

  6. Like your point of view here Michele. Think that there should be room in budget for the kind of reporting you are talking about. I see garden bloggers making so many different connections between what they do in their own yards (or fire escapes) to urban or rural farms, water conservation, ecological issues like diversity, what’s happening for small indepedent nurseries or just joys and lessons that come with connecting to nature through the garden. There should be more of this in the news.

  7. Great post! A very thoughtful and thought-provoking look at our medium.

  8. I have 4 Facebook pages, Twitter account, a blog, a main author website, and a garden coaching website. I’m a team member for a blog, and am a columnist for the new gardening arm at Houzz.com. Did I mention I teach native plant extension courses? Who has TIME to pack a bag, let alone take that bag somewhere? Let alone complain about it all? Well, I’ll try more.

    • Yes, I agree, Benjamin. Time is the issue. And time is what professional reporters are allowed. They can investigate and develop their stories. I think there needs to be more institutional support for reporting–and in the case of gardening, there is almost none.

      • I just had a reporter visit my garden. She said that when she retires next year, the paper won’t do any garden articles most likely, esp since she so often has to twist their arms to get any in now. So, yeah. Support? Do we need a new angle, something besides drought tolerant gardens or wildlife? What is it? “Oh, gardens are just so much work.”

  9. val says:

    Tweeting is of no use to me.
    In addition to feeling part of a nationwide community of gardeners, I enjoy blogging and reading others’ blogs because I often learn something. Where else can you read first hand experiences of regular people? Whether they are novices like me or professional garden designers, I feel I get more out of reading blogs than I do magazines, where the content is often shallow or re-hash.
    My paper, the Washington Post, has a bit of garden reporting, but I think people are probably clamoring for more help–what to do and when to do it. Those who live in places without good garden centers probably need this type of reporting even more so. Those suffering through this summer of gardening certainly could use some real-time help. Also, some reflective pieces on how to plan a garden for drought would be timely. I would most like to see seasonal advice–down to the week the squash vine borers appear for example. How many gardeners could be saved from heartbreak with advice like that?

  10. Pam/Digging says:

    I’m glad to see the blogging discussion from the Asheville Fling continue here at Garden Rant — and that there are so many voices of support for garden blogging. I missed Elizabeth’s June post about it, and the comments on that post are now closed, but I wanted to say thanks to Susan Harris for being brave enough to comment her opinion that garden blogging has peaked — but that does NOT mean there’s no room for new bloggers, or that older bloggers will all suddenly quit. It just means that there isn’t the growth in garden blogging that there was during the big-growth years from 2008 to 2011. And, as she noted, commenting — such an essential aspect of blogging — has been fragmented by the proliferation of other social media.

    Some people at that discussion in Asheville seemed to think, when I brought up the topic, that I was saying I was burned out on blogging myself or that I thought blogging’s time had passed. Neither could be further from the truth. I believe myriad voices of bloggers are still needed and as interesting as ever. Keep on blogging, gardeners!

  11. Pam/Digging says:

    I want to add that I wish I’d been better able to articulate my real question for the other bloggers at the Asheville Fling, which was this: in this more-fragmented era, do we still define ourselves as bloggers, or do we see ourselves as becoming “Facebook bloggers,” with one-sentence updates and quick-share images? And also, do we still make time to read others’ blogs?

    From the passionate responses since then, I’d say that blogging still occupies a valued place despite the competing pull of FB, Twitter, and the rest. I’m thrilled to hear it. That’s definitely true for me as well.

    • Pam, I seem to get more interaction (that I’m aware of I guess) on Facebook. Twitter seems about even with the blog. Maybe more people read my blog than I’m aware, but the daily hits are down from a year or two ago. Could be me I guess. I think we are being trained to have attention spans like those of, oh, my college students, which maybe means blog posts need to be more succinct, pictorial, yet not as frequent as FB or TW. Eh?

  12. commonweeder says:

    I found a whole fascinating intelligent community when I discovered garden bloggers in 2008 – and was happy to join them. That didn’t mean I disregarded all the other ways I got my information, advice and opinions about gardens – and the environment and I still depend on many sources for my information – in every field.

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