Bloggers ‘own the news cycle,’ Kotecki Vest says
As a professional journalist, Erin Kotecki Vest worked hard to keep herself out of stories. She “never ever ever ever” took a stand on anything. Her political persuasion was fully a mystery to her audience.
That was then.
Now Vest, political director for BlogHer.com, posts updates from a laptop on her kitchen counter while making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids. She posts tweets about her lunch and her accommodations at the Silver Legacy in Reno. Everybody knows she’s a Democrat. Everybody expects the woman who tweets under the handle @queenofspain to occasionally tell politicians to “#SUCKIT.”
Vest is a blogger, a Tweeter, a self-described “old school journalist who went new school.” She works hard to stay relevant, to be part of the online buzz that now becomes the evening news — the stories that get reported in the morning’s paper.
“I like to say to the news cycle, ‘I own you,’ Vest told students and faculty March 5 at the launch of the Nevada Interactive Media Summit. “Bloggers scare the hell out of traditional journalists.”
Vest’s conversion wasn’t an easy one. She had to be yanked, kicking and screaming, as she puts it, into the brave new world of social media.
When she decided to put on hold an award-winning 10-year broadcast journalism career to stay home with children, Vest started keeping an online journal or blog of her thoughts. But this wasn’t journalism, she thought. Then a former colleague contacted her about a new project that would create a network of women bloggers.
Vest resisted. This blogging stuff was dangerous. If she participated in such a project, she’d never be able to hold her head up in mainstream media again. People would find out she was a Democrat. “They’d know I was a crazy progressive,” Vest recounted. “But my friend told me it was OK. And I trusted her.”
Freed from the constraints of so-called objective mainstream journalistic constraint, Vest immediately catapulted her writing over the steep cliffs of perspective. She had edge. She had insight. She had freedom. She said whatever she wanted to say about politics. She started a sex column.
“It was like Pandora’s box had opened,” she said. “It was ridiculous … I was blogging politics like an activist, not like a political reporter, like a grassroots activist."
Readers weren’t bugged by this. Blogher’s population of active users now numbers more than 20 million per month. Vest runs BlogHer’s initiative to connect community members to legislators and policy-makers. She’s interviewed Obama when he was a presidential candidate and facilitated meetings between women bloggers and a presidential adviser. She’s met with federal lawmakers in Republican and Democratic camps and ran a webcast with Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about health care reform.
Vest blogs on her personal site, the Queen of Spain Blog. She tweets for @BlogHer and as @queenofspain. The transformation to respected blogger wasn’t always smooth. Vest warned students that she now regrets some of the things she wrote in her early reckless days.
“Now I try to remember that what goes online is there forever,” she said. “It’s like getting a tattoo only there’s no laser removal.”
She advised students to think twice before posting something.
“Think forward a little,” she said. “Try not to do something you’ll regret forever.”
As social media changes journalism, students need to be nimble and ready to craft new ways to make names for themselves. They might choose a traditional journalism route, complete with internships. Or they might start a blog, post videos to YouTube or broadcast local sports from the sidelines of games with a laptop and a free UStream account.
“It’s easy and it’s free,” she said. “Pick it up and do it yourself.”
Journalism student Misha Ray said she recently embraced blogging. She had issues with the idea of citizen journalists who had not gone to college but who got to act as if they were journalists. It’s also hard to walk the fine line of self and professional representation.
“It’s difficult for students who are learning what real journalism is and who want to get a career in journalism,” Ray said. “If you have a personal blog and Facebook, and your employer doesn’t like what you say, how do you respond?”
That’s the kind of question that journalism assistant professor Bob Felten thinks journalism students and educators need to ask.
“We have to be listening to these conversations to understand how the world is changing and prepare our students to have that flexibility to earn that respect Vest is talking about,” Felten said. “As journalistic practicioners, we are too traditionally bound. We, as a school, continue to shake off those bonds.”