When AOL/Weblogs Inc recently closed the doors on three small niche blogs, I wanted to meet the people behind the scenes.  I have previously posted my discussion with bloggingohio blogger and novelist Tobias Buckell.  Now, two of the main bloggers behind the now retired blog Divester share their stories.

I originally asked them slightly different questions, but I now feel that combining their answers makes for a more interesting read.  Both bloggers are staying within the Weblogs, Inc network and talk positively about their experiences thus far.

WV – Willy Volk
EB – Eric Brodeur

What was your blogging experience prior to working with Divester?  What’s your offline job?

WV: I don’t have any journalism experience, though I have a Bachelor’s degree in English and a Master’s degree in Public Finance. When I’m not blogging, I work for a unit of local government.

EB: Except for a personal blog, I’d have to say none. Writing, however, is not something new for me. The bulk of my professional career has been in IT and I’m one of those few who believe strongly in creating documentation for techies and non-techies alike.

How did you become involved with Divester?

WV: I was an active reader of and commenter on Gadling, Divester’s sister blog. In early 2005, I noticed an open call for a writer for Gadling, and I applied. A few days later, I was contacted about writing for Divester.

EB: I’ve been diving since 2001 and long before that a fan of everything ocean-related. I had trouble finding a consolidated scuba diving resource like Divester so when I found it in 2005 I became a daily visitor and commenter. After sending in a bunch of news tips that were published, I thought “I can do this.” After a few back-and-forth e-mails to the production team I was in.

What was the goal of Divester and what did it do well?

WV: While the dive community has many places to learn about various, discrete components of the sport, Divester served as an excellent one-stop-shop for recreational news, general underwater photo news, marine news, and dive-themed travel news. Moreover, Divester was especially good at catching the news quickly and presenting it. I think Divester was also good at doing follow-ups on many of the stories it covered.

EB: I’ve never seen a mission statement but, for me, the goal of Divester was to produce scuba-related news both interesting and informative. A core strength was Divester’s independence – it didn’t need to tailor content to dive agency agendas or advertisers like printed publications often do.

We had a great team who contributed based on their areas of personal interest. No topic was left untouched: gear reviews, interviews with dive personalities, ocean-awareness, underwater photography, book & movie reviews, contests, and dive trips. As a reader you could go to one place for all of your scuba news and I fear nothing will replace it.

Who did you answer to in the AOL organization? Did your contacts in the AOL organization share your passions for diving or blogging?

WV: The people above me all worked for Weblogs, Inc. I have no contacts at AOL. From Day One, I was supported exceedingly well by Weblogs’ staff.

EB: AOL owns WIN [Weblogs Inc] but was hands-off from an editorial perspective. As long as the content fit the blog I could write what I wanted. There was even freedom in the tone of our posts provided we maintained a level of professionalism.

Our blog team and readership were very passionate about diving. The
AOL/WIN team as a whole are passionate about blogging and making their blogs the best they can be. It’s an inspiring environment to work in.

When did you find out that AOL would be cutting some of the smaller blogs? Were you told of targets that you guys were expected to hit? For example, a million pageviews a month is the rumored basement level for AOL blogs now.

WV: I learned of Divester’s closing the day before the rest of the world learned of it. We were never told about targets; we were just encouraged to produce quality content.

EB:  I learned about the closure in mid-January from an internal e-mail.
There were upset bloggers from other retiring blogs because the story
had (somehow) been leaked to the public. I wasn’t bothered by
that…it’s a sign of the times…but I was disappointed that Divester
was getting the boot.

Targets? No. It would have been helpful to interact with the business
team since scuba diving is a niche sport with a much different customer demographic than, say, Engadget.

Do you consider yourself a professional blogger?  Were you ever close to leaving your offline job for blogging fulltime?  Would you consider that now?

WV: I am by no means a professional blogger. Divester was an excellent second job — very flexible and convenient. I’ll consider leaving my “real” job when a blog network or some other freelance writing opportunity offers health insurance.

EB:  Not if you define it as someone who blogs eight hours a day, seven days a week. I can’t sit in front of a computer for that long which is why my primary income comes from IT consulting where I get out and visit clients.

What have you learned from the Divester experience?

WV: I learned that there are a lot of places I want to go diving.

EB:  First and foremost that I can write about something non-technical. Second, that I can hit on subjects people care about.

(To EB) Isn’t their something odd about being an Apple-owning XBOX user?

EB: Yeah. I’ve discovered the perfect way to get work done and have fun without the hassle of Windows. It’s bliss.

What are your future blogging goals and projects?

WV: Ironically, I’ve moved to Gadling, the blog I originally applied to. 

EB:  Right now I’m exploring other blogs at WIN and educating myself about the business side of blogging.

I’m putting together Switchtopia, a blog dedicated to Mac switchers;
it’s an experiment to see how I can transform what should really be a
book into the bite-sized equivalent of a blog. I’m shooting for a March
launch and if anyone wants to volunteer content I’d be happy to slide it into the production schedule.

In another few days I’m releasing a piece of software called Layout Planner for the building and home improvement industry; there’s nothing else like it on the market to create unique paving stone designs with a super-easy installation diagram. We’re looking for beta testers.

This series continues with the thoughts of Jason Calacanis regarding this situation.

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