Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Convicted for the seditious act of mommyblogging


It's true: I not only bought my kids this toy housecleaning set, but I also sometimes make them put it to good use. And then I blogged about it. Oh the exploitative horror.

It's buzzing around the blogosphere again: oh ye hale and hearty mommybloggers, blogging so assiduously about your offspring, what harm do you do? HERE BE DRAGONS!

I read the most recent mommyblogging article on the topic of the ethics of parents blogging. Although at first read the article seems comprehensive and contemplative, on second consideration, it struck me as stale. And hyperbolic.

I suspect the writer reworked the material to fit her thesis. That's a no-no in science, but also in reporting. You can't---shouldn't---edit and force material to fit the headline you want. That's...dishonest.

The problem in large, to me, is that word exploitative. It sours the reader, and casts a pall on the subjects covered in the article.

Is blogging truly exploitative?

By focusing once again on that same facet, the article was missing a lot of really relevant---and more interesting---angles to blogging, which is something I've noticed happens frequently in traditional media editorials about blogging (excepting one really good article I just read today about Bossy).

Why not instead explore the amazing community, positive growth and outreach, and potential for family support that blogging offers, instead of tackling the negative cost of those positives?

Why does traditional media always write about blogging (and most things) from the negative or downside point perspective?

Stale---Hyperbolic---Pandering

The article began with a semi-whiny "I told you so" theme. Citing first Steve Almond's resignation from blogging, it pointed out big name bloggers are seeing the light, acknowledging the downside of blogging so personally about themselves...and thus are quitting.

Unfortunately, after the Steve story, the article simply threw on the table the same old questions that have been asked since I first learned about blogging---which is not to say that they aren't good questions to consider. But I think we need a fresh constructive approach. The quotes the author edited and selected only rehashed the issues, without providing some of the really good thoughts and ideas I know bloggers have for how to engage in the rewarding and enriching side of blogging without being exploitative.

In fact, that's one of the big differences between successful blogging and traditional media: successful bloggers must be part of the solution whereas traditional media continues to slouch in the nattering on about the problem.

Fitting the material to the headline: now that's exploitative

Additionally, the author sought and cited examples that fit her thesis, which was, "Writing about your daughter's toilet-training misadventures could net you $40,000 a month and a legion of fans. But some mommy and daddy bloggers are quitting the game in fears that their digital confessions have become exploitation."

First, $40,000 is like the Hope diamond level rare superstar blogger rumored income. I believe even really successful bloggers are largely in the low four digits.

Second, not all parent bloggers have missed the potential for trouble through their blogging. I know and read the bloggers quoted in the article. They are fresh, interesting and mindful writers. Along with many other intelligent and compelling writers, Catherine Connors has taken time, through BlogRhet, to explore the ethics and principles of blogging. They do share personal information on their blogs, but I suspect the author selected the sentences that would indicate a darker and deeper concern than they actually feel (and they can correct me if I'm wrong).

I don't see any indication that these people plan to quit, and if they did, I suspect it would be because of more than one factor.

I believe this because most of those bloggers haven't changed their ways. Why should they? Their way works! Bloglebrities are such because they are titallating. They write well and interestingly, and most importantly, engagingly. They are the frequently and repeatedly cited because they are famous, and they are famous because they are read widely, and they are read widely because their way works.

The ones who have changed...well, the change was largely to quit blogging.

Please tell me there is an ocean of possibilities between these two islands called Extreme.

I believe there are.

Mindful blogging---still revealing, but how unethical or different is that?

I find that most parent bloggers I read are fairly circumspect and respectful, of adults and children alike. Many parent bloggers limit images of their children, use pseudonyms, or only share generally relatable experiences---versus too intimate. This may not be a preventative but it is a safeguard. It shows mindfulness (which will help in the defense later, if it's needed).

In fact, just a couple of months ago, I hosted a Hump Day Hmm and the topic was talking about others on your blog and the rules bloggers have for that. I wrote about 7 simple guidelines I follow, and 18 other bloggers weighed in with their own guidelines, as did quite a few commenters.

We do keep effect and privacy in mind. At least most of us do.

Can we say the same for past generations and verbal story traditions?

The past comes back to haunt us whether written or verbal

Children (their life, times, and experiences) are, to some degree, and have always been, to some degree, considered public. Writing it down and publishing it on the Internet is of course a much larger and far-reaching act than sharing potty stories at the playground.

But who among us has ever been allowed to utterly forget the Big Moments of childhood?

Not me.

I have never lived down:

* the time I "polished" the coffee table with my dad's expensive scotch (age 2)

* the time I flooded my mom's bathroom because I turned on the sink and plugged the drain and then never turned off the water (age 3)

* how my best friend Steven Coffee and I were so inseparable that we even went to the bathroom together (age 3 and 4)

* my circus act on top of the swing set (tightrope walking) (age 6ish)

* the time the cat followed me home and stayed for 10 years (my dad is still sure I picked her up and carried her versus she ran after my bike---my version is true, by the way, his is assumption and we all know what that is) (age 8)

* totaling my 1974 Datsun 260Z in a spectacular launch off the road, followed by a flip and three rolls, only to land upside down, 10 feet down, off the road (may also have caused some friends who witnessed it to pee their pants) (also, not my fault) (age 16)

(Note to Flavia, my sister: Do you see how I left out your exploits? I want that noted. For...points, or something. Ditto to the brother.)

These stories, despite not being written down or published on the Internet (until now), survive. They still come up with regularity at family gatherings. And...I have survived.

Of course, the telling is limited to family and close friends, some of whom may have been there themselves, and may play a part in the story.

What I don't know for sure is how many times my parents have pulled out these tales to entertain or commiserate with their broad community of friends and acquaintances. There could be teachers or parents anywhere in the US who know I used to race my white kitten around the house in a Barbie camper.

I'm okay with that. I hope it gave them a laugh to hear it or some relief to know that their child was not a future sociopath for tormenting animals.

I hope my children are as generous with me, despite the fact that I have posted about them on my blog.

However, they may not be, and I ought to be prepared for this, as Andrea sagely pointed out in the post that motivated me to write this one, "We need to be honest about the fact that we don't know what our kids are going to think about this or how it is going to affect them, and not blithely affect a public stance of "I'm sure it won't cause any lasting damage" that is based essentially on wishful thinking. We need to be ready to apologize or make reparation if in fact it does hurt them in some way, down the road."

I am and I will.

And, like other bloggers, I might alter how I do things or even one day quit. I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

In the meantime, I think it's high time for traditional media to stop cuting quotes to fit the headline and begin reaching out to blogging with sincere understanding that it's much more than just a "gabby, tell-all past-time" in large part. It's a business and brand and groups from PR hack to venture capital flacks and even the Wall Street Journal are beginning to take it seriously and see the potential.

We might share stories---even personal ones---but this isn't a new tradition. Countless magazines and media sources have done this same, and have built empires from it. People want---and need---to hear from other people. The Internet has allowed that on a grander, and more day-to-day scale than ever before, hence the popular rise of blogging. Whether the blogger intends to become commercial, go pro, or stay small and amateur, simply sharing and even potentially earning doesn't make it exploitative.

As wikipedia says, "Most often, the word exploitation is used to refer to economic exploitation; that is, the act of using another person's labor without offering them an adequate compensation."

There is exploitation going on within blogging, but I don't think the egregious example is parents and children. I thin it's big business looking to use blogger's efforts to pimp their product without compensation.

Maybe the next traditional media reporter to tackle blogging can examine how and why companies and even traditional media are happy to ride for free on blogger's backs...and why bloggers agree to it.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.
MOMocrats

30 comments:

Donna said...

Excellent post, Julie. Writers have been telling stories about their lives and families since - oh, before there was such a thing as writing. The only difference now is the Internet, and THAT's what scares the print media reporters who keep drumming up the ethics question. Like, it's OK when the writer in question has been hired by a newspaper to write humorous columns about her family (think Erma Bombeck) -- but now that every Tina, Dick and Harry can be disseminated so easily, that's a threat.

Like you, I deal with issues of my family's privacy every day. There are times when I cross a line that makes them uncomfortable, and I have to withdraw a post. When I think I'm getting there, I will ask them to review the post before it goes up. For the most part, they are OK with the silly things they do being made public (besides -- I'm at the butt of most of my stories).

Her Bad Mother said...

As you say, family storytelling is nothing new. The difference, now, is that the mothers doing the telling are doing so on their own terms, in more creative ways, in more PUBLIC ways. We're lifting the veil, as I said in my post, and it makes people uncomfortable.

There's nothing unethical about sharing those stories - and everything ethical about sharing our voices with each other, with creatign a mothering *community* - so long as we're mindful in the process.

Professor J said...

I have often thought about how my writing may affect the people I love, and I try to be mindful of their needs. But my story includes them. Thanks for this wonderful post.

Andrea said...

Hmm.

See, there's a disconnect to me.

When we talk about parent-blogging, everyone discusses the need to be honest, to present the good with the bad, to form a community around the real experience of motherhood, blah blah blah.

Then we talk about marital blogging, and everyone discusses the need to be sensitive, to protect the relationship, not to hurt someone or expose their faults to an audience when they didn't sign up for blogging themselves, etc. etc. etc.

These two things seem mutually incompatible to me. I mean, one day, our kids are going to be adults. Just like our partners.

I really don't see what rational basis there is for treating our children differently than our partners. We protect our marriages and expose our kids.

This is the point I was trying to make: that, collectively, we seem to acknowledge by and large the negative effects that blogging can have on our relationships with significant people and as a result maintain very strict standards for privacy with anyone who might object. Partners, parents, siblings, coworkers, friends, neighbours, etc. But not our kids.

As a community norm, it's puzzling.

I do think there is exploitation on some mommyblogs. The kids are being used to generate profits on teh basis of their "labour," if you define their labour as play and being themselves, which is what the work of childhood is all about.

thailandchani said...

A long time ago, in a land far and away, there used to be a community of women - a village. In that village, women would share wisdom. They would talk about how to raise the children, how to help the elders, how to nurture the men.

Those times seem to have gone the way of corsets and ice boxes. Women will always try to form community because I believe it's part of our nature. We need it.

Blogging is one way that need manifests.

Since we no longer find it in the neighborhood, we reach out in other ways, using what's available.

No exploitation, in my opinion.

In fact, I believe it is a Good Thing.

Mayberry said...

I don't know Steve Almond or much of anything about him, but his final post on Babble struck me as pretty whiny. Was he really so naive as to think he wouldn't attract any trolls? (Or was his wife, to whom he shifts the blame?) He's gotten a fair amount of publicity for how and "why" he quit. Maybe he just got sick of the daily grind, or wanted more cash.

Thanks for another thought-provoking post, J.

crazymumma said...

people love to get bent out of shape about the smallest things. I would love. LOVE. To be a fly on the wall in the lives of all the negative voices critising a somewhat skewed article.

liv said...

I do try to respect my kids, and truly am not terrifically, personally interested in mommyblogs, but I think that everyone is charged with making a choice that is best for their family.

I mainly just don't care for it when other people post photos of my children. It is not theirs to do.

oh, and if you don't take off this word verification, i'm coming to see you with 2 dozen doughnuts.

Emily said...

1st of all, DO tell more about the spectacular Datsun aerial stunts!

Well said, Julie.

I like HBM's idea of "lifting the veil". I think the more truthful we are in our experience as women, the more beneficial it will be in the long run. I think, as wives and mothers, we are often admonished to hide behind our above average children and our highly polished facades, when that's not a true depiction of the experience we have as women.

I may be naive, but I still believe the truth will set us free. When we can own that truth in whatever forum, (blogs, neighborhoods, families) our children and families and we ourselves, will benefit. No need to feel ashamed of "Potty training" gone bad (Lord knows, I understand how ALL CONSUMING potty training can be, as does every mother of a 3 year old,) or relationships that seem to be tipping dangerously on their side. No need to be paralyzed by guilt of shame or fear. I think that's a lot easier when you have support, a community. And I think that blogging has created a pretty amazing community.

Christine said...

HBM hit it on the head for me with "lifting the veil." there is power in blogging, and that scares a lot of people, especial "real" writers and "real" journalists.

excellent post julie!

Flavia Whitefort said...

The saddest thing about that article is that it is written to present only an extreme. It is biased, judgmental, and frankly thoughtless.

It scares me like any other idea or message I see taken to extremes, as if there is only one 'right'. (not meant as a pun). I feel sad when people do not stop and take the time to accept (at least) or celebrate other people's differences and interests. You don't have to like it, read it, do it, or even try it. Just know that if you can't say anything nice, don't say it at all....

I don't know what else to say except let's talk about a bigger epidemic than this so-called exploitation (someone mentioned Erma Bombeck as just one example as an early 'exploiter', hehe) AND talk about the bigger epidemic of JUDGMENTALISTS! (if that's a word.)

whoo, I fell better. me

flutter said...

Ok am I the only one who just seriously didn't give a shit about that article?

It's so easy to judge and to write snarky commentary and to make assertions. It's not so easy to live a life and tell stories that need to be told, regardless if they are read.

Christine said...

i hear flutter

Jenny, the Bloggess said...

Either your blog just blocked me or I'm in comment moderation.

Either way I think I'm offended.

Kyla said...

Well said, Julie. And I think what Flutter said is very true, too.

Melissa said...

I don't care about that article, either. And I totally agree that it's not different from Dave Barry, or Erma, or any other "traditional" columnist. Don't hear anyone talking about how it's going to scar the kids on "Little People, Big World" to have their childhood on the air. I agree that it is more to do with the lack of control they have over this medium. It's too scary for them to have all of us insurgents out there using our words. :)

Ok...and the word verification today is 11 letters long...just so ya know...

Amy@UWM said...

Great post, Julie. My grandmother continually exploited me by telling everyone who would listen about the time my brother and politely asked the waitress at the Howard Johnsons for jello instead of the ice cream sundaes she tried to tempt us with (apparently that made us mutant children).

Traditional media hate bloggers because blogging is their downfall. If I'm going to read news that's slanted, I'd rather read it from somewhere that's admittedly one sided and slanted rather than traditional media which pretends, but often fails, to be unbiased.

Cathy said...

Traditional media -- of which I am a part -- are afraid of blogging/bloggers/blogs. Plain and simple.

Those most afraid? Older men. One editor often drops stories about blogs on my desk, the most recent being the WSJ article about Dooce. He did so with utter disdain.

Not sure if he realizes I have a blog or not.

Regardless, I find his attitude outdated and annoying.

Blogversary said...

Wonderful post.

Here is as link to why journalists should not become bloggers according to the "Web 2.0...Oh Really?" blog.

http://2ohreally.wordpress.com/2008/04/02/why-journalists-should-not-become-bloggers/

jen said...

i really loved Bad's post, and yours and couldn't agree more.

and it's amusing listening to the media talking about exploiting people.

SciFi Dad said...

And the similarities keep cropping up...

When I was a little over one, I washed my grandmother's floor with a bottle of whiskey.

Julie Pippert said...

Andrea, I hear you.

From my POV, though, I'm not being hypocritical.

I'm being consistent, and applying the respect to both adults (my husband, for example) and children.

For example, just as with adults, I'm careful not to show other children on my blog, or share details that could make them identifiable.

I tell my own story here, on this blog. My children and husband happen to be a big part of that story, so they do crop up. But I'm still not telling their stories...I'm telling my own. As I do so, I endeavor to be respectful of the fact that our stories intersect and overlap, and keep in mind that they might prefer some privacy.

In the end, what I do is the same old thing, new medium. Either you are okay mentioning others as you tell your story publicly or you aren't.

It is an intriguing migration that more and more people are okay telling their stories publicly.

The line is an interesting thing, IMO. For example, I'm okay with blogging, but am relatively circumspect in general. However, I am not okay with reality TV and would never do that. What's the genesis of that line, and how do people develop it?

we_be_toys said...

Well said girl!

As a parent blogger, may I say that my children are not only aware of what I write about them, but they think its cool that I write about them.

Obviously I don't share every moment of their lives, or mine, for that matter. I wince when I read blogs that do. Of course, I also thinks its demoralizing to put hats with ears on a child's head, regardless of their age. I consider it grounds to wreck the parental car in their teen years!

I guess my personal guideline for blogging about my kids and family would be to have respect for their lives and their privacy.

Very thought provoking post - i loved that you ripped up that tired old "report"!

Space Mom said...

I use pseudonyms for my family. I use my real first name. I avoid the best stories if they involve situations that may embarrass the kids later in life. I use really obfuscated terms when talking about Jay's work (he is SO Googleable). So yeah, you need to be careful with what you do.

But it is exploitation to discuss the daily stresses of parenting? I don't think so...

Gwen said...

Does anyone even care about what the Canadian newspapers have to say?

(That was a joke! I am joking, of course.)

But I'm with Flutter; that article engendered almost no response in me. Apparently, I just don't give a shit anymore what other people that I don't know, that have no relation to me, think. That can't be good, can it?

Mad said...

Ditto to Flutter, Christine and Jen. Globe columnists spin so that Globe commenters can show themselves as morons. So it was in the beginning, so it is now and every shall be, media without end. My knickers? Definitely not in a twist.

anniegirl1138 said...

Dave Barry did what parent bloggers do for years in his column and even sold it to TV as a sitcom. I think he stopped writing about his sons when they asked him too (I think) but was he exploiting them? Telling the kinds of stories people tell about their kids to co-workers and friends and in those awful Christmas missives?

This is just a case of the print media taking note and finding fault. The stuff they run exploits people they don't even know and often does more damage.

painted maypole said...

very interesting, and well said (of course!)

LaskiGal said...

So true! Excellent post! Like all new forms of communication and technology, this will run its course. I just hope we find a balanced perspective . . .


I think sometimes the media just has a slow news day/week/month . . .

Miscellaneous-Mum said...

I've read so much about this the past week on all the posts you've linked to - and more - it's so hard to process.

Part of me is tempted not to, that it doesn't apply down here b/c blogging isn't the phenon it is over there, but that's just me suffering the boiled frog syndrome, perhaps: I don't/won't feel the heat until too late.

And then who's fault is that? All mine.

Wow - this scares me a little :(