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?
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?
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
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