Bloggers as Agents of Change For Our Own Community

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Reflections on BlogHerFood 11

BlogHerFood 11 crept up on me so quickly. With the move from October to May, it seemed like just yesterday I was in San Francisco at BlogHerFood 10 inundated by swag, food bloggers, and enough enthusiasm and education to overwhelm any mere mortal.

So it was with great anticipation that I chose to attend again only 7 months later and 2500 miles away in Atlanta.

Delta burst that bubble right at the outset by stranding us in the San Francisco airport for over 5 hours. Luckily I was with wonderful people – food bloggers and BlogHer staff, who made the situation ever so much more tolerable.

And there were many high points once we safely arrived in Atlanta:

  • Getting to know my roommate, Lana Watkins, who writes a wonderful blog called Bibberche

    Lana Watkins and Beth Lee Atlanta

    My roomie and I at the Sweet Auburn Curb Market

  • Dinner Thursday night with many unfamiliar but very friendly faces who all welcomed us after a long day of flight delays
  • The session on blog design by Sabrina Modelle of TheTomatoTart and Irvin Lin of EatTheLove and the session on Simple and Affordable Tools and Techniques to Improve your Food Photography with Sarah Olson of Sarah Olson Photography and Alice Currah of SavorySweetLife
  • Sharing a great bottle of wine and conversation with new friends
  • Meeting Donna Pierce’s father, Eliot Battle Sr., who studied under George Washington Carver
  • The interviews with Molly Birnbaum, author of A Season to Taste, who lost her sense of smell in a car accident; and with Laurie David, author of The Family Dinner and Asata Reid on raising children who care about food, health, and the environment
  • The visit to the Sweet Auburn Market offering a chance to see the regional differences in food and eat barbecue from the Sweet Auburn food truck

Atlanta Food Specialties

Regional Food Specialty of Atlanta

Not seen in my local butcher shop!

Regional Atlanta food specialties

Sweet Auburn BBQ brisket sandwich

Beef Brisket Sandwich from Sweet Auburn BBQ

  • The chance to eat at Empire State South and enjoy Hugh Acheson’s and Ryan Smith’s fabulous food and southern hospitality including an engaging discussion on sustainable food and food values (photo courtesy of Elaine Wu of virgoblue.net)

    Photo with Ryan Smith, Hugh Acheson, Nicole Jayne, and Elaine Wu

    L to R, Nicole Jayne, Hugh Acheson, Ryan Smith, Elaine Wu, and Beth Lee

But as I navigated through the sessions, keynotes, and various gatherings this past weekend, I heard rumblings of discontent occasionally too, some concerns bravely spoken into a microphone, others spoken in hushed tones in small group conversations.

Overheard were:

  1. Concerns about blogging cliques – the in-crowd vs the newbies, the bloggers going to hush-hush sponsor dinners, the “successful” bloggers vs the rest of us
  2. uncertainty about what defines success in the world of blogging
  3. concerns about how traditional media and new media are merging and working together

Since I live in Silicon Valley and am old enough to remember when there were no computers, I have lived through the entire Internet boom (bust and boom again) and have witnessed the evolution of the semiconductor industry as well. So I am no stranger to fast-growing business and the uncertainty and concerns that naturally arise during periods of rapid growth. And clearly blogging is still growing rapidly as nearly 80% of the attendees listed themselves as new bloggers.

As I reflected on the conference,  it occurred to me that it is our responsibility to not only use our blogs and our communication abilities to facilitate change in the world, but also to positively impact our own food blogging community. We need to break out of our comfort zones and cliques and meet new people. We need start using Follow Friday on Twitter not just to recognize those we already know but to seek out those we don’t.

Just as we eagerly share our food intelligence on our blogs, we need to use our blogs, blog gatherings, and Twitter presence to educate and welcome new bloggers. If someone misuses a recipe or photo, take the high road first and assume it was an innocent mistake and therefore an opportunity to forge a relationship and share your knowledge. There is always time later on to get angry if the intent was really malicious.

And when traditional media reaches out to us, grab hold and participate. A good example is Jeff Houck of The Tampa Tribune and Rene Lynch of The Los Angeles Times who have created a Monday morning ritual on Twitter to share #weekendeats. I drop by every Monday morning to share what I cooked or ate on the weekend and drool over everyone else’s contributions. In return, Rene and Jeff retweet our contributions and provide a URL to post our photos. Rene even featured one of my photos in the printed food section recently.

But why should we be agents of change in the blogging community when we can all barely keep up with our own blog, our family and work responsibilities and of course, the big world issues we all want to help change? Because if the quality of blogging as a whole is improved, all bloggers will benefit. The stronger the blogging community appears to the rest of the world, including traditional media, the more leverage we will have with brands, publishers, and the general community and the more our messages will impact the communities we wish to reach.

So a huge thank you to BlogHer for creating a platform that has fueled the wild growth of the blogging community and for providing venue(s) for us to gather and learn. And to the many food bloggers who already share their knowledge, ideas, and enthusiasm easily – you have made my decision to pursue a new career in the world of food an easy one. And as much enthusiasm as I’ve witnessed, it’s natural that we will all struggle occasionally too.

But let’s not allow our frustrations to quell our enthusiasm. We are lucky to be participating in this exciting communication medium and if we support each other along the way, we’ll navigate the changes together and continue to share our boundless enthusiasm for food with each other and the audiences that we reach.

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27 Responses to Bloggers as Agents of Change For Our Own Community

  1. Amelia from Z Tasty Life May 25, 2011 at 8:19 am #

    You spelled out a wonderful mantra: “let’s not allow our frustrations to quell our enthusiasm” and provided a great reminder that we bloggers can be agents of change, if we just put our minds to it. Lots to think about.

    • omgyummy May 25, 2011 at 10:24 am #

      Thanks Amelia. I found this conference so different than the last and needed to figure out why. This was my attempt to verbalize some of that and I hope encourage us all to keep working together in this wonderful medium.

      Your enthusiasm is infectious. Thanks for sharing it on your panel and in your blog!

  2. Lynn May 25, 2011 at 9:08 am #

    Thank you for sharing your experiences at BlogHerFood. Overall, I found the learning opportunities, networking and foodie grazing options made the conference worthwhile. I appreciate your thoughts on community, and participation and supporting others as the field continues to take shape.

    • omgyummy May 25, 2011 at 10:29 am #

      Thanks Lynn. I wish I had had more time to explore your great city of Atlanta. Finally got out of downtown Saturday night and got just a bit of the flavor of the area. Hope to come back and explore more next time.

  3. sandy corman May 25, 2011 at 9:57 am #

    Great article Beth. Your writing and, of course, cooking abilities never cease to amaze.

    • omgyummy May 25, 2011 at 10:30 am #

      Thanks! I struggled with this one but think the iterations were worth the time.

  4. merry jennifer May 25, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    Excellent post, Beth. I think you’re right – we should all be lifting each other up, working together, and helping to keep things positive. I loved attending the conference, and I really loved getting to meet you. Thanks for this piece.

    • omgyummy May 25, 2011 at 10:33 am #

      Thanks for the kind words. Your piece also brought out a lot of good points about the dynamics of conferences and food blogging. Creating new industries is a process. What we have going for us is an amazing group of people with shared enthusiasm for a common subject – food. I have mostly found this community absolutely amazing and hope it stays that way.

      Enjoyed meeting you but wish we had had more time to chit chat. Next time…and online in the meantime.

  5. megan @ whatmegansmaking May 25, 2011 at 10:21 am #

    great post! I loved meeting you and enjoyed reading your insightful thoughts. It realy was a great conference. Not perfect, but I’m so glad I went!

    • omgyummy May 25, 2011 at 10:38 am #

      Pleasure meeting you as well. Just saw that chocolate chip cookie recipe on your site and had to click away quickly – so tempting with that Sharffenberger chocolate staring at me from the baking counter…

      I am so glad I went too. Met so many people that might not have attended a west-coast conference. For me, the personal connections are the most meaningful and it’s so great to be able to pursue those relationships through the blogs and Twitter even if we live far away.

  6. Jim from Comfort in Crumbs May 25, 2011 at 11:07 am #

    Excellent post! Keep reminding all of us that we are all a community and we have a responsibility to support each other, lifting us up and keeping it positive.

    I’m new to all of this, but so was everybody else. Regardless of how ‘famous’ some folks are now, they also started out being a total nobody, too. I wish the conference had allowed for more social time, but I am very happy I met you in the Travel Writers session.

    • omgyummy May 26, 2011 at 9:27 am #

      I’m glad I met you too Jim. You radiated enthusiasm for what you are doing. Glad we can stay in touch and get to know each other’s blog online and thanks to the great Twitter stream we all spend far too much time reading :-)

      After seeing so many comments on Dianne Jacob’s post, I wish everyone would read this and turn their frustrations into positive energy. Overall, we are an amazing community and I hope we don’t lose that as we grow.

      Individually, we can all improve and I’m sure BlogHer can make changes to the conference to make it meet the community’s needs as it grows. It’s all part of the process.

  7. Lori May 25, 2011 at 11:10 am #

    Well done! Fostering an environment of cooperative collaboration is paramount on my list of goals, and for the most part this is what was reciprocated by the majority of delightful bloggers I met (including you, briefly). Sadly, some chose to be divisive, and that’s unfortunate, because their behavior is self-destructive and isolating. This sub-group is actually necessary in various cultures; they become the example of what not to be and strengthen the larger community as a whole. And based on the recaps that I’ve read, this is happening.

    • omgyummy May 26, 2011 at 9:34 am #

      Wow – Lori. Well stated. How was I not following you on Twitter? I am now. Lemons, particularly, meyer lemons really make the world complete for me :-)

      Anyhow, it seems that we should focus on the great connections we did make, not the relationships we didn’t form. And perhaps all of us that addressed the good, the bad, and the ugly of food conferences should post BEFORE the conferences instead of after so we can all brush up on our etiquette. I also think that there are changes that could be made to the conference to defray some of this behavior quite easily.

      Glad we met and I hope we can continue to connect online until we cross paths in person again.

  8. Orly @yumivore May 25, 2011 at 11:35 am #

    I love that you shared both your experience at BlogHer (for those that missed the opportunity such as myself) and that you importantly shared your candid thoughts about the event. While I’ve grown to observe there are a lot of perks to being a part of the food community, your observations remind us that there’s always room for improvement, and opportunities for the blogging community to grow stronger together. I hope that most food bloggers (if not all) will be welcoming, supportive and generous to new folks who take the plunge into blogging. You certainly lead by example and are an inspiration for launching yumivore.com this week! Thanks for a great post Beth!

    • omgyummy May 26, 2011 at 9:40 am #

      Thanks for your kind words – I am glad I inspired you to start yumivore.com. You’ve been an inspiration to me too to keep exploring how my past career intersects with what will hopefully be a new one in the world of food.

      All this talk in the post-conference posts about the in-crowd and people feeling snubbed has really reminded me of a skill set that I have that I need to apply to my interactions in this community. I am a good networker and connecter of people that have interests in common. Almost all of us bring a different background and career to our food blogs and we should leverage that to help form this new communication medium into a strong, powerful influence for the food world and beyond.

  9. Anneliesz May 26, 2011 at 7:58 am #

    Beth, I enjoyed reading your recap and perspective on being an agent of change in the blogging community. You gave several bits for me to mull as to my role in that too. Thanks!

    • omgyummy May 26, 2011 at 9:45 am #

      Missed having you at the conference. The human connections I make are always a highlight for me and I still am thrilled that we met at BlogHerFood last year and continue to stay in touch.

      Hope to see you over the summer – maybe at a Bay Area bloggers gathering?

  10. Kalynskitchen May 27, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

    Great post, and I do remember meeting you (and I was getting so confused after a while!)

  11. Lana May 27, 2011 at 6:47 pm #

    I did not expect anything less from you! I know how much you must have tortured yourself over this post, but you wrote a beautiful, realistic, and very positive recap. We need to start thinking seriously about the community and different ways we can help each other and bloggers coming behind us. I am so happy I had you as my roommate:)

    • omgyummy June 7, 2011 at 9:24 am #

      Same here Lana. Thanks for the nice words. There is a local South Bay food blogger gathering brewing so that is a positive step. And I am trying as much as I can to be present online and encouraging to new bloggers but it is so hard to keep up!

  12. KatySheCooks June 2, 2011 at 8:21 am #

    So well-expressed. It seems inevitable that in any subculture/conference environment there will be rumblings, but that should just be an impetus for us all to do a better job encouraging each other!

    I confess jealousy of your night at Empire State South, since I’ve had a chef-crush on Hugh for almost a decade(!).

    • omgyummy June 7, 2011 at 9:26 am #

      And what a well-deserved crush you’ve had. He was simply delightful to talk to, a gracious host, and his food was fantastic. I wish you had been with us too. Maybe you and I will find a way to meet up in Athens Georgia and have a Hugh Acheson meal there. Your description of the town while we stood in front of those jumping blue crabs has me motivated to visit!

  13. Melissa (My McDonald Meal) June 5, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    Wonderful thoughts. Many of my relfections were just as yours! Very glad I briefly met you via Julie/mommiecooks. I believe we spoke about teenage children. HA! I may need you in a few years. Best to you. Looking forward to staying connected.

    • omgyummy June 7, 2011 at 9:28 am #

      Thanks Melissa. I am so glad I sought out Julie and was able to meet so many of her friends too.

      Contact me anytime to talk food or teenagers though the former is far more fun, in my opinion.

  14. Mrs. L June 10, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    I admit, I didn’t go to Atlanta because I didn’t personally know anyone else going and I was worried about feeling a bit left out. Nice to read your take on this years event. Might have to rethink and go next time.

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