A behind the scenes look at my interview about personal blogging with Heather Armstrong and Mrs Woog at the 2015 Problogger conference.
People had been asking me all day if I was nervous. To be honest, I wasn’t. Why would I be? I wasn’t the headliner of this show. I was just the white noise between two rock stars. No one was coming to see me.
I’ve interviewed a number of Prime Ministers, current and former. I’ve spoken with industry leaders and world experts about the economy and our health and education systems. I’ve witnessed dead-of-night leadership coups and challenges…
But that’s not quite the same as doing an interview with someone you really admire and whose opinion actually matters to you.
I was jittery with excitement but my nerves were steady… Until I realised my two rock stars were not exactly rocking the confidence. They were, in fact, not. doing. well.
Turns out Mrs Woog hates speaking in public and just wanted the whole thing to be over. Heather was really homesick and missing her kids. I started to feel sick myself as I realised I might need to actually work to pull this session together. I wasn’t going to be able to sit back and watch the show unfold.
That’s when the nerves kicked in.
And the need to wee. Damned pregnant bladder.
I bolted to the loo and back with minutes to spare and ended up huffing on to the stage like a huge preggo just as the session was about to start. Heather still looked sad and Mrs Woog was fidgeting with nervousness as someone thrust a microphone in my face.
I wanted to offer something encouraging to Mrs Woog and something profound and heartfelt to Heather. If I’d been a little more thoughtful and less huffy, I would’ve had a really special moment with them both.
But instead, I picked up my phone, checked my questions and tried to catch my breath. Smoooooth.
I think this is the point I realised things might be about to unravel. Heather was radiating disinterest and Mrs Woog kept patting the couch and telling me to JUST GET STARTED ALREADY.
I’ve been told my face looked a little like this:
So, I picked up the mic and pathetically whimpered “hi,” sounding like a tweaky 14 year old. I felt like an idiot and mentally slapped myself. I steadied my voice, cracked a joke or two and pretended I had some right to be on that stage.
And then, Mrs Woog, despite all her protestations of nerves, took charge. She was so easy to talk to I instantly relaxed. She was the rock star I
wanted needed her to be.
And then there was Heather…
As a journalist, you learn an interview can go three ways:
1. You ask a question. You get a direct answer (rare)
2. You ask a question. You get a PR approved message that is in alignment with the interviewee’s agenda and doesn’t really address the question (a politician specialty)
3. You ask a question. You get a ramble that has a barely tangible link to the question but is mostly unusable in the context of the interview because it’s depressing and the opposite of what you wanted them to say.
Number three is not usually a disaster for a journo because you can just leave it out. You can edit it out of the footage or use a different quote in your article.
Not the same when the interview is live. In front of hundreds of enthused and engaged bloggers, eager to learn from the pros.
So when Heather sat on stage and told the audience how soul destroying it was to do sponsored posts, I died a little bit on the inside. Because I knew all anyone was hearing was “personal blogging is dead”.
Not ideal when the topic of your session is ‘how to make money from personal blogging’. This was not what people had come to hear. They’d come to hear the personal success stories of two of the best. What they were hearing was, “it’s pointless. Give up now.”
I’m new to this blogging thing. I’ve been writing and reporting for years, but blogging is new for me. And I love it. I love the community, I love the opportunities. I’m excited and eager and raring to go. I wanted to be just like Heather.
Until I interviewed her on stage.
I ended up feeling sad for her. She’s been blogging non-stop for 15 years and she’s been burned and burnt out. She’s been relentlessly attacked and her children have been targeted. She’s made an absolute fortune doing it but it means nothing to her because she feels like she’s sold out.
“The only way that you can make money in the States is through sponsored content,” she said, pointing out that brands want you to jump through hoops until you lose sight of who you are as a person.
“Writing sponsored content for me was becoming a gruelling experience.”
She told us all how all of her friends hate blogging and want to quit.
“I don’t know a single one of us who’s happy doing it anymore,” she said. “The joy that it brought us is completely gone.”
“A blog post is my heart. A blog post is all of me and I had to stop giving it away. I don’t want to put my children through this anymore .”
WHAT A RAY OF SUNSHINE. But then again, can you blame her? After 15 years, anyone can feel disillusioned and fed up.
I can’t tell you just how aware I was that it was going badly. I could feel the shock and disappointment rolling in from the audience. It was hitting me in waves of ‘what the fuck?’
I tried to get a more helpful, positive answer out of her. I tried. But this wasn’t a hard-hitting political interview. No one wanted to see me go in for the kill. This was an interview with a sad and disillusioned woman who wouldn’t have responded well to a grilling.
There’s a point in some interviews when, as a journalist, you know it’s over. There’s no point trying to save it. You can ask the question 18 different ways and the subject will keep giving the same depressing answer. That’s when you stop asking.
That’s when you turn the spotlight over to the hilarious ray of light sitting on the other side of you and ask, “but what about here in Australia?” with desperate pleading in your eyes. Eyes that scream “tell me it’s DIFFERENT here in Australia!” And that delightful woman tells you Australia is a whole different ball game.
Let’s all take a moment to celebrate and rejoice in the amazing Mrs Woog.
I will love her forever. She knew the audience wasn’t there to hear a sob story about how blogging sucks your soul dry. That’s one woman’s personal journey and it needn’t apply to the rest of us.
Mrs Woog knew the audience could listen to that tale of woe or they could learn something practical about the situation in Australia.
She told us about the opportunities in Australia and how things are on the way up.
“We are seeing a rise in how much money is expected and dedicated online.”
She gave practical advice about alternate income streams like freelancing, copywriting, e-products and advertising. She told us that if you write a sponsored post in the same way you’d write any other post, with the same voice, your audience will stick by you.
“I make sure it doesn’t really differ from my regular posts.”
She told us how you can be just as creative as you want, while still making money. It’s all down to your approach, your attitude and how genuine you are. And, if writing sponsored content really gets you down, don’t do it!
“Every day, just tell a story”
And that’s the message I’ll take away from our session. I’ll just keep telling my stories. Thanks Mrs Woog xxx
Did you come to our session? What did you think?
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