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Today, at the Patheos Pagan Channel, Christine Kraemer interviews Anne Newkirk Niven, editor and publisher of Witches & Pagans Magazine, about the current state of Pagan media (among other things). During the interview, Niven expounds on blogs within the umbrella of Pagan media, and the role they serve.

Anne Newkirk Niven

Anne Newkirk Niven

Today, blogs fill a specific niche: real-time, fast-paced information. No print media can keep up with the blogosphere; on the other hoof, even the most super-heated debate in the legendary Green Egg forum (letters to the editor) never got as crazily divisive as what happens in the comment-rich, disinhibited atmosphere of the Web.

Pagans are an information-hungry group of people; reading led many, if not most, of us onto our paths. (Most of our magazine readers are solitaries, which I suspect is true of Pagan culture as a whole.) The purpose of a magazine is to gather together a group of collated, vetted, and edited articles in a way that makes sense as a set and which forms a non-evolving collection of knowledge; blogs, on the other hoof, are radically individualized by their nature and are constantly evolving. I see these two modalities as fundamentally complementary—what one does well, the other does poorly. I hope we can see the continuance of literary paper-based culture even as the digital culture continues to grow, which is why I publish magazines (both in digital and paper formats) as well as hosting a rapidly-growing Pagan blogosphere.

XKCD comic by Randall Munroe

XKCD comic by Randall Munroe

When I started The Wild Hunt nearly 10 years ago, there wasn’t really a “blogosphere” to speak of. Most Pagan content on the Internet existed in the form of bulletin boards, static (sporadically updated) sites, and e-lists. There were literally only a handful of Pagan blogs when I started this site, and many folks used the new technology at places like LiveJournal for personal journaling, not a soapbox per-se. I was a fairly early adopter of blogging technology when it emerged, and was fascinated by the possibilities of the medium. Like many others, I quickly recognized that the “blog” had capabilities far beyond listing updates to a large website, or writing short personal entires. While some feared the disruptive nature of blogging technology, I realized that it could be used to prove a point. I could use it to prove that people wanted to read about Pagan news every day, and that there was enough news to write about something every day.

Ten years later, The Wild Hunt has more than enough to write about. More, in fact, than our small team can conceivably do justice to. We’ve grown from a one-person personal project into a media outlet that employes several columnists, and one staff writer. We have a yearly budget, one that we raise from donations, and our traffic continues to grow at a steady rate each year. So I see Niven’s generalizations as not only limiting, but subtly insulting. A blog, at its heart, is simply a technology, like the printing press. When you say you read “a blog” that today says almost nothing about what you’ll get (it’s like someone saying they read “books” and nothing more). The biggest media empires use blogging technology on their sites, and the content can range from celebrity gossip to ultra-professional, edited, and vetted, content. Meanwhile, picking up a magazine gives you zero guarantee that you’ll receive “collated, vetted, and edited articles in a way that makes sense as a set and which forms a non-evolving collection of knowledge.” 

A medium is a medium, not the content within it. Mediums can be stretched, changed, challenged, and redefined over the course of different generations. A “real” magazine can be experimental and radical, produced on a shoestring budget, or it can be a well-funded venture that engages in the current norms of editorial and news gathering. Anyone who grew up during the ‘zine revolution of the 1990s knows well enough that mediums aren’t limited by the dominant culture’s standards. Likewise, while many tried to pigeonhole blogs in the early years as the tool of the lone opinionated crank (usually writing about politics), the reality is that many different people used the technology for many different things. Is Talking Points Memo a mere “blog,” or is it a news and political commentary site? If we call it a blog, does that mean it isn’t collated, vetted, and subject to editorial oversight? Is The Wild Hunt still a blog? Are we a part of a blogosphere? We use blogging technology, certainly, but I also think we’ve grown outside the expectations that seem to inform the Patheos interview.

Finally, let me talk briefly about the Pagan magazine. Another reason I started The Wild Hunt was because I was hungry for news about my community, and couldn’t find any in Pagan magazines. They had interviews, and columns, and short stories, and poetry, and recipes, and a letters column, but they rarely tackled actual events happening in and around our lives. When they did, it was often long after the dust had settled. It created the sense that modern Paganism should be handled by the professional Pagans, the “Big Name Pagans,” and that the rest of us should simply give our support. It didn’t have to be that way, even a quarterly magazine can write about big issues, can at least inform their readership of all the things that happened in the last few months, but a reliance on “evergreen” content, and a hesitance to embrace these new technologies left the door wide open for The Wild Hunt’s success. When people ask me why my blog got so big, I tell them the truth: no one else wanted to do what I was doing. At least not on the daily schedule I maintained.

Blogging may have been disruptive, but it also empowered all sorts of people to speak up, to insert themselves into the process of how our community is defined and presented. It rejected the old “club” mentality that had held sway from the 1980s, and demanded a more responsive, more inclusive, community. If things are so “divisive” now, perhaps that is simply because there’s 20 years of frustration built up from having no voice at all in national and international Pagan affairs. Now, we can’t be shut up, because our news isn’t centralized into a handful of vetted and edited publications. If someone doesn’t like something in The Wild Hunt (or any media outlet), they can (and do) publish about it. They can rally their own corner of our community, they can create alternatives, they can have the public discussions they want to have. I sometimes bemoan how uncivil things can get sometimes, but I would never, ever, roll us back to some simpler time before this technology existed. We are collectively better for it.

Digital Pagan media is the dominant format today, and I don’t think anyone could convincingly argue otherwise. The separations between a published print magazine, and, say, The Wild Hunt, is only in the format. I would certainly place may content on the same plain of quality as anything in print, perhaps even better (though I may be biased). It is no longer acceptable to generalize about the “blog” without providing a list of caveats that make the comparisons almost meaningless. The larger Pagan blogosphere is many things, and has many manifestations, but it is no longer some ascendent disruptive format, it has become a ubiquitous tool used by every manifestation of the content we consume. From commerce to hard news. We are the media now.