For four years, I tweeted and blogged under a pseudonym. This is Part 3 of my story, as well as some things I learned along the way. I hope people find it enlightening.
One of the more entertaining and interesting parts of the pseudonym experience was starting my own blog. I had written a few posts on this blog, but not a lot of them and all of them in relation to my job. What I originally intended with the blog was that I wanted to write about all the things that interested me outside education. So, I wrote about classical music, football, television as well as politics.
So, I had to give it a title – named it an “Institute” that intended to satirise the types of titles that we see with Think Tanks. Think Tanks continue to amuse me, because they appear to actually be offices filled by people thinking of things to say and write about, even if they really don’t have a lot of qualifications in the areas about which they comment. I used to think it was quite an achievement to have that kind of pointless activity to be funded. After my experiences of the past 4 years, that belief has been confirmed.
It started as a blog about whatever came into my head and wasn’t particularly meticulously edited or composed. After a while though, I started to write more and more about things like issues in the outer suburbs, or Federal issues from that lens. It wasn’t a conscious decision to be a point of difference or anything like that – I essentially wrote about things that I didn’t see feature all that much in other blogs or in the media generally. As my follower numbers grew, as did the numbers of readers of the posts. What I also noticed that I started to develop and improve the editing and ways of attracting attention as more people were providing me with a variety of feedback – even though this feedback was more on Twitter than through the comment section of the blog.
The first breakthrough moment was with an attempt of satire suggesting a “Bogan Tax” that would to tax wealthy people who spoke disparagingly about the poor and refugees in order help fund projects to help the poor and disadvantaged, pretty much in response to the work being done by the people behind the Things Bogans Like blog. The Facebook site of Things Bogans Like promoted the post and suddenly I was seeing that hundreds of people were reading my blog. It was a fascinating experience. In keeping with my approach to write about whatever I wanted to, however, a post written later in the week was about classical music and gained 11 readers. One of those readers, however, was the aforementioned Malcolm Farnsworth, who loved it and asked me to write more about the classics. Considering that he rarely expressed an opinion on my political posts, that was another interesting moment of my blogging experience.
I continued experimenting with my blog posts, varying topics as well as picking the sort of things people might like. I also started to fall into some patterns with the blog posts. On weekends, I was reading tweets from time to time and see themes and patterns developing about an issue, I felt a build up to want to write a blog post late on a Sunday afternoon, then press publish that night (as well as promote the post with my account). There seemed to be a number of people wanting reading material on a Sunday night, so I saw some higher reader numbers as I saw people retweeting links to my posts.
Another pattern that developed with my writing was the deconstruction post. I would be reading a particular story in a weekend paper and often noticed some inconsistencies of argument or evidence – or ingrained bias. I would decide to do what I did during my university days, as well as what I do as a teacher, and deconstruct the article, paragraph by paragraph. There were a number of people who liked that approach, because they could see the specific inconsistencies and evidence of ingrained bias in articles, instead of reading generalised criticism of journalists and journalism. It became my favourite method of writing about political reporting and politics in general. This was because I felt in the end the format of me just expressing my view of politics was not necessarily all that interesting, engaging or relevant to people – after all, I’m just some teacher in the outer suburbs.
As I was continuing to write in this fashion, I was becoming interested in writing for other outlets for the experience and curiosity factor – but for that only. I was asked by some at this time whether I was interested in changing careers into being a writer or journalist and I would give a flat no every time. I enjoyed the hobby of writing and enjoyed it when people liked my work. But I did it when the mood took me, rather than as something I had to do for work – I didn’t want to have that change for me. Something that has confirmed that view over the years is that I have seen many try to take their online hobby into being a continual paid job and seen many miserable people, trying to take well worn themes and spinning them into new pieces. At my less ego driven moments, I knew my limitations.
After looking at a range of emerging independent news projects, such as Independent Australia and No Fibs, I had my doubts as the true independence of such forums. I felt as though they were pitched at a niche group – Labor and Greens supporters wanting to read partisan critiques of the Liberal party. What I did end up doing was agree to be part of a project called AusVotes assembled by former Liberal Government staffer and political consultant Paula Matthewson. Paula and I had had our differences over the past – many differences, many arguments, but I came to realise that I liked a fair bit of what she was writing. I also liked the idea behind AusVotes – that it would feature the writings from a number of people of different political backgrounds and views. I liked that idea of an independent publication – that it might attract readers who might not have committed to a “side” and wanted to read a balanced critique of the media and political activities. It was also attractive because whilst Paula started the site and promoted it through her Twitter account, she gave us editorial control over our own work – we wrote them, edited them and published them in our own time, not having to wait for editing. In that way, we were all treated as equals.
In 2013, I focused more on contributing to AusVotes than to my own personal blog because I found that I had run out of things to write about on the blog – the political writing was what I was interested in doing. AusVotes also attracted a higher readership, partially because it was a focused project with good writers that developed a solid following. It also won an Australian Writers’ Centre award. With that site, the reader numbers for my posts went into the thousands and more importantly, people I respected were warm in their praise. It was a nice time to be writing.
After the election, I continued to write as AusVotes became AusOpinion. As time wore on, however, I could see that I was becoming repetitive and I felt as though I was getting stale. It was becoming more a chore rather than a fun hobby and I realised that it was becoming time to stop. I wasn’t the only one, as the other writers I respected started to withdraw from the site, Matthewson included. As none of us were paid to write for the publication, the decision to go was easier. Not getting paid, however, helped to make it more enjoyable and less like work – so the issue of pay was a double-edged sword in writing.
I then returned to writing my own blog, where I received a lot of excellent and surprising responses to a deconstruction post I wrote about the way supporters of the Western Sydney Wanderers were stereotyped in the media. My work was suddenly appearing on a variety of forums and Facebook pages of Red and Black Bloc members, which was not exactly something I had envisioned. That post was the one that received the highest number of readers of any of my posts.
The experience I gained from the writing was invaluable in the end. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that it was nice to have good numbers of people reading my blog posts. It was nice to know that when I was writing the posts, that there was an audience and people interested in my thoughts and words. What I found that having that audience made me focus more on structure and style, so what I was saying was concise and thought provoking. As a writing exercise, it was a useful activity, especially as I could apply that to the way I was teaching my students to write.
Along that line, it was good to have the opportunity to write for the Guardian’s Comment is Free section under my name, which was obtained due to the reputation I had gained in writing for AusOpinion. I have been able to show students those columns and discuss the kind of work involved in creating comment pieces. I will hopefully be able to continue to write in such forums, for my own continuing interest in improving, as well as communicating my ideas and experience to people.
When I do continue to write under my name, however, I will only write pieces about issues and areas about which I have experience and detailed knowledge – such as issues relating to the outer suburbs of Sydney, classical music and education. I have seen many other bloggers succeed in being commenters on various issues outside their specific experience or training, but I could not do that under my own name for a media organisation – I don’t have the chutzpah. Under the pseudonym, I felt I could just comment on whatever I read and saw about politics because it was an amateur blogging life and fun.
It is good, however, to see the phenomenon of the past years that media organisations like the Guardian have given voice and a forum to writers outside media organisations who provide their readers a view of what non-media professionals think about important issues. It’s certainly a better approach than to give voice to former party staffers, which is the approach some news outlets take, for example, which runs the risk of publishing partisan propaganda, rather than balanced views about issues. It has also been good to see how via twitter and blogs, there has been a wider variety of people contributing ideas outside the traditional media sources. It has been fun to be part of such an emerging area – and using the pseudonym gave me the freedom to develop skills in that area. It was, ultimately, a lot of fun.
Part 4… The Pitfalls of the Pseudonym Life.