A tug-of-war has been pitting old, print media against new, online formats. Last weekend, both fresh and seasoned writers met at Keystone Conference Center to brainstorm, question and carve out their niche on the internet.
Keystone hosted about 600 bloggers and photographers for the fourth international TBEX conference. TBEX is a community of travel bloggers who share an "insatiable curiosity" when it comes to exploring the world and sharing it with others. Annual TBEX conferences, as well as a site called TravelBlogExchange.com, exist to advance the profession of travel blogging.
The confusion - and tension - as to where traditional print journalists fit in today's changing media world was evident as some veterans showed up apologetically for not being bloggers. Like Dan Leeth, a journalist from Aurora, Colo., mentioned during a lunch conversation on Sunday, it wasn't long ago that publication in magazines and newspapers substantiated a writer's credibility. And just over a decade ago, self-published authors, who often included online writers, weren't always taken seriously. But times have changed.
Though the average age of TBEX participants settled in the 20s and 30s, plenty of 40-, 50- and 60-somethings turned out.
Leeth drove up to "explore options" and see "what else is out there," he said. After decades of writing travel articles for newspapers and magazines nationwide, he's feeling print media's downsizing effects. But so far, he's not impressed with the financial opportunities he sees in blogging; he attended a seminar called Monetize Like You Mean It Saturday and was surprised when only about 20 percent of people in the room raised their hands to indicate they made at least $500 a month blogging.
Other traditional journalists, like Michael Dwyer, who's also a blogger from Minnesota, found the numbers encouraging. He was surprised at the number of hands raised, "because everyone says there's no money in it," he said. He spent his time at the conference networking and following up with speakers - gathering tips from professional bloggers who make substantial money.
Lenore Greiner, a journalist in the San Diego area, knew she had to move online, she said, even though she makes more money in magazines and newspapers and finds it "a lot more complicated to make money" online.
"I kind of dance between both worlds because you have to if you're a travel writer, because nobody knows where this is going," Greiner said.
Christopher Baker, Lowell Thomas Award-winning 2008 travel journalist of the year, addressed the issue in his keynote talk Sunday afternoon. While he quoted at least one traditional editor who, at best, perceived the Internet as "cloudy" for the future of writers, Baker views it more favorably:
"You're at the forefront of the potential to tap into this," he said to the audience.
Sure, he admitted he found one consistency when talking to bloggers over the weekend at TBEX, and that was how few made much money blogging, but then again, he could find a similar sentiment among print journalists decades ago, he said.
"Think more expansively to use your expertise to increase your finances," he said.
Nearly every seminar presenter echoed a similar sentiment. The TBEX conference aimed to help writers and photographers stretch their imaginations to make money from online advertising, e-books, tours, speaking engagements and more.
Patricia King is a retired journalist who attended her first TBEX conference last year.
"The more I come here, the more I realize how much I have to learn," the Indianapolis-based writer said.
She hasn't blogged much and says she doesn't feel as comfortable writing with a personal, "I" voice after using a more objective, or journalistic, approach all her life. Last year she met bloggers and maintained contact, and this year, she increased her social network and learned how to market her work and develop an audience.
As Beverly Firme from the Washington D.C. area put it: We're in an era similar to the mid-1800s in Europe. Some pioneers are jumping on the ship and sailing to America, while others are staying in their familiar territory.
"It will be a nice life either way, but you have to choose," she said, adding that each choice has positive and negative aspects. Her choice to stay on top of technology has given her an advantage among her Baby Boomer peers and led to advancement in her company, and she hopes to use her online skills in retirement to move into food and travel blogging.
"It's a personal sense of accomplishment, that you're not that old stick-in-the-mud Baby Boomer that everyone groans about," Firme said.
Aside from keeping up with technology and finding different ways to make money, there seems to be one main, compelling reason blogging appeals to writers, young and old, amateur and professional, and it can be summed up in one word: freedom.
Most of the seminar speakers underscored the importance of writing about what you love.
Breckenridge photographer Daniel Dunn recalled Rand Fishkin's message in SEO Without Selling Your Soul:
"Write content that you're passionate about, and your fans will find you," Dunn said.
Even though most bloggers aren't making much money, writing "anything I want to, any way I want" is the biggest appeal for Leeth.
As Baker pointed out to bloggers on Sunday, this is a unique time in world history:
"We have the power to be content creators in its fundamental sense."