A more informative headline for this post might be Ronnie Citron-Fink's Life Well-Said, to borrow the tagline from Blogher.com. Ronnie is a blogger extraordinaire. She will be among the more than 5,000 women converging on New York City today for their annual conference on blogging. This growing--both in numbers and power--cohort will attend workshops and parties and snag swag from commercial sponsors.The sponsors aren't the only ones courting the bloggers' influence. Among the speakers this year are: Katie Couric (she needs to promote a new show premiering on ABC this September); Martha Stewart (she needs to resuscitate an aging magazine looking for younger subscribers); and, by satellite, Barack Obama (he's running for re-election and needs the female vote.) Maryl and I will also be attending.
But back to Ronnie. . . She's the founder of Econesting.com and also managing editor of Moms Clean Air Force (MCAF)--and a friend from the Hudson Valley who helped inspire my own nascent blogging career. Between her vacation on Martha's Vineyard and working at Blogher (if you're there, stop by booth 309 to meet her), she answered a few questions about how she turned her own blog into a career that not only maximizes her first life skills but is personally-satisfying and financially-rewarding. And, did I mention she's helping save the environment at the same time?
|First Life Second Life|
Can you tell us about your first life as a teacher, a wife, a mother, a head of a school?
My first life was filled to the brim with family and work. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I entered college. I knew I loved kids, and I had a lot of creative and physical outlets (I’m a pretty decent skier and a so-so tennis player). I read a lot and wrote a little, so I kind of stumbled into being an English teacher. I loved everything about teaching. It kept my mind and my body active. I worked my way up from teacher to co-administrator at the Randolph School, a small progressive private school. It was a wonderful job when my two kids, Lainey and Ben, were young. The kids and I had the same hours and the same vacation, and summers off felt like a working mom’s gift. Teaching allowed me to be a hands-on mom and also have a work life.
You told me once that you felt burned out and decided to quit teaching. What was the cause of burnout? Or, what was your catalyst for change?
I think I said I was burnt. I worked for years with a mentor who was incredibly supportive of my teaching skills and my creative pursuits. It was because of my co-administrator, Eric Tomlins. that I stayed in teaching, and it was because of him that I left.
The last few years of my 30-year-long teaching career, I was getting antsy. I still loved working with the children, but the internal conflicts of running a school were stressful. I started magazine writing on the side. I found it rewarding and relaxing. I wrote lots of DIY and feature articles. I discussed my taking a leave of absence with Eric. Then he was diagnosed with ALS. I knew he was going to die, and I knew I didn’t want to be at the school without him. He encouraged me to give myself space to figure out whether it was time to pursue other passions. I made the decision to leave the year before he died at 56 years old. I stayed on the Board of Trustees at the school until a few months ago when my current work life just got too busy to be going to Board meetings on weekends.
Did you have another plan when you quit? Had you already started blogging?
|Ronnie writing what she knows: She's led the green eco-world life for three decades|
The same month I left teaching (I was 52), I ran into an acquaintance that was the editor-in-chief of Care2.com, an online network that empowers millions of people to lead a healthy, sustainable lifestyle and support socially responsible causes. She offered me a blogging position as the green home design blogger. I discovered that I had a niche and a knack for blogging about sustainable design. My husband Ted (Fink) is an environmental planning consultant, and I’ve been immersed in that squeaky green eco-world my whole married life (29 years). My dad was a designer (and so is my daughter), and I’ve always been attracted to good design. I named the Care2 blog, Econesting. and bought the Econesting.com URL five years ago. I wrote hundreds of posts for Care2 (for low pay) and became a popular blogger. Yahoo named me one of the Top Ten Living Green Experts. At Care2, I amassed a strong following. The new editor encouraged me to start blogging on my Econesting site, which I did. Hundreds of my Care2 readers signed up and started following me. It was because of a post I wrote about Heirloom Design that I was “discovered” by the editor of Treehugger and Planet Green, MaryAnn O’Neill. She offered me a position at those high profile sites--also, for pretty low pay. I took it and began cranking out two or three blog posts a day. I was starting to make a meager income as a blogger. Throughout this period--about two to three years--I kept writing for Care2 and for local print publications. My name was popping up all over the web, including at the Huffington Post and Inhabitat, where I still write from time to time.
I received an advance copy of Dominique Browning’s book, “Slow Love” and wrote a book review for Care2. Then I requested a phone interview for Planet Green. Dominique and I chatted about her books, our blogs (hers is SlowLoveLife), our lives. She started following me on Econesting, and we kept in touch by email. When Dominique told me about an exciting new campaign she was founding with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), called Moms Clean Air Force, I was jazzed. I started as one of the core bloggers. Right before the MCAF official launch last year, Dominique asked me to be Managing Editor of the newly designed website.
|Moms Clean Air Force: Ronnie (left) and Dominque Browning, former editor of House & Garden|
Was it hard to go from writing content to managing content?
This was…is…a perfect position for me. I was an English teacher, I am very versed in online content-management and publishing, I had created many deep connections in the blogosphere eco-world, I managed a school community for years working with parents and children, and I am passionate about environmental issues, particularly global warming which is directly impacted by hazardous pollution. The position came at a great time in my life. My son, Ben, now 23, was in his last year of college and my daughter, Lainey, now 27, was launched in her career as a graphic designer. (Can I gush and plug her new design studio—Bluerock Design?) I love the life Ted and I created in a beautiful Hudson Valley town, and working from home is a joy. But before I joined MCAF, I was beginning to think it would be so wonderful to be compensated for all the long hours of writing required to keep those blog posts flowing.
|Love (of the planet) and marriage: Ronnie with her husband Ted Fink, an environmental planning consultant|
Do you get to blog on your own site much anymore?
Ah, blogging has taken a back seat to editing, which I also absolutely love, love. I am still constantly sourcing great stuff for Econesting, and I’ve got lots of unpublished drafts in my queue, but the time it takes to write a thoughtful post is not in the cards on most days. My fabulous Econesting followers have stuck with me while I limp along on a few posts a month. And they send nice notes about missing my “voice.” And I miss my online readers, but right now I’m focused on MCAF. I really want to make a difference in our kids' future. I truly believe this is the time to create a legacy of caring for the planet.
Finally, since we are running this to concur with Blogher 2012, can you give some advice to women who are considering a second life in blogging?
|Ronnie and a blogger's best friend: a reason to leave the laptop and go outside|
MCAF sent me last year to BlogHer in San Diego (MCAF is a non-profit Blogher sponsor), and it opened my eyes to the world of sponsored bloggers. These women were courted heavily by marketers, and I know a few who are making mega bucks. Personally, I have a ying/yang feeling about sponsored blogging that often causes me to click away when I encounter a sponsored post. Like most women, my time is limited and I like to read authentic voices. That said, there are a few really fine sponsored writers who are making a good living blogging because they don’t compromise their integrity. They only accept sponsors who are aligned with their mission. I respect that. I make no money from Econesting, and for me blogging has become a stepping-stone to creating a new career.
Most bloggers do it for love, not money. Any suggestions for how
blogging could help underwrite a second life?
I do see three possible ways to monetize a blog:
1. Write sponsored posts, but don’t sell your soul. I don’t know any sites other than big multi-blogger platforms that make money from ads alone and those are just getting by.
2. Sell something on your blog: a book, a handmade product, a service--something that brings in a steady income.
3. Write well-written posts for websites that you like for low pay (or guest posts) and keep slogging away at it. Create relationships with other bloggers and editors. It’s a content rich approach, but you may be able to save the world in the process.
Any pitfalls to life behind the laptop?
First, I am not a photographer. But, my posts are very image-driven. In fact, I’m often inspired to write when I see an incredible photo or a lovely piece of art. Luckily, I have a few photographer friends who let me use their photos with attribution. And, secondly, I miss being active. My not-so-sprite body sometimes pays the price with back and wrist issues. But, I figure if I can solve our climate crisis quick, I’ll get back on my skis this winter!
(Window seat and dog photos: Jen Kiaba Photography)