Martha Stewart proves that no one can talk sh*t about bloggers – except other bloggers

Martha Stewart at BlogHer 2012  photo credit: BlogHer

Martha Stewart at BlogHer 2012
photo credit: BlogHer

Yesterday a Bloomberg News video with Martha Stewart made the rounds on Facebook and ignited a frenzy of indignation from the women’s blogging world.   In the interview, Martha disparages bloggers by saying they are “not experts,” that they don’t fully test recipes, that many just repost other people’s work.  Here’s a sample of the conversation that exploded on Facebook yesterday. (Shown with permission from an expert in many things, Amy Oztan)

So, here’s the deal.

Martha is totally right.

And she didn’t say anything that bloggers haven’t said amongst ourselves every time we get together.  I had this conversation over and over again at BlogHer this year.

Are there amazing bloggers who are absolutely experts in their fields?  YES.

Are there bloggers that are full of it, steal other people’s work, put up anything any PR person sends them, are completely based on smoke and mirrors and everyone wonders why any brands work with them?  HELL YES.

Now aside from the fact that you can tell the Martha Stewart interview was edited down to just these perfect controversial sound bites – I’d love to see the context of Martha’s discussion of bloggers – there also has to be a reality check in the blogging world.  Not everything is cause for outrage.   And sometimes the very media outlet that puts out the video and calls it

Martha Stewart Speaks Out: Bloggers Are Not Experts

needs to be called out for playing this game in the first place.  This is 30 seconds out of who knows how many minutes of footage.  I’m guessing at least a half an hour.  And they got exactly the reaction they wanted – all of the bloggers making this video go viral.

Martha Stewart should know better than to ever say what she said, even just from a savvy PR point of view.  But, she is someone who truly knows the media landscape.  She knows that blogging and the content machine have changed the way people get and want their information.  As Cecily Kellogg points out over at Babble, Martha Stewart’s company has taken a major hit, as have all large publishing companies, as they try to evolve in the changing digital media world. But that doesn’t mean she’s wrong about how many bloggers operate – or large online platforms – Babble, Baby Center and even the New York Times have certainly had their share of plagiarism scandals.

So let’s take a step back and get real.  Martha Stewart certainly doesn’t need me to defend her, but we also don’t need to be piling on one of the most successful female entrepreneurs – someone who elevated the crafting, food, and style niches to begin with, and proved there was a business model there – just to make bloggers feel justified about what they do.

If you’re an expert, prove it by turning out great, original content, and hopefully you will be able to make a living doing what you love.  And I bet if Martha asked you to contribute to her Pinterest Boards you’d do it in a heartbeat – because nothing proves you’re an expert more than the seal of approval from an indisputable expert in your field.

Why I’m Going to BlogHer – Again

going to BlogHer '13Every year around April and May in the mom blogging community a common refrain starts popping up on Facebook and twitter – “Are you going to BlogHer?”

I was on the fence this year.  It’s in Chicago so it means paying for travel and hotel.  To be honest, even though I technically went to the conference last year (it was in NYC) I didn’t even attend any sessions – they were too beginner level and didn’t really apply to me anymore.  People generally complain that it’s too big, too much about swag and just not a great place to really network anymore.

And, more and more over the past two years as my focus has been solely on building KidzVuz, I have blogged less often and been less active in the blogosphere.  So why would I go to the largest women’s blogging conference of the year?

Well, I felt the pull.  And I tried to understand why NOT going seemed kind of well, strange.

Here’s the thing about the BlogHer Conference – it’s like a family reunion, and so many of these women are my online extended family spread across the country that I rarely get to see in real life.

It’s hard to explain the mom blogging community to outsiders.  Perhaps they’ve read some of the disparaging or silly articles written in the past year.  Or they only see the free product bonanzas and giveaways, hear about the swag-fests and exclusive events, or even worse the petty infighting or bullying that occassionally happens online.

But, for most of us, particularly those of us who have been doing this since before the term “mommy blogger” was coined, there is a connection that is not quite definable.  A feeling that we’ve been in it together, built something together, watched each other grow and try new endeavors, helped define the space and sometimes even supported each other through loss and grief.

And, at it’s core, even though it’s become gigantic and slightly insane, BlogHer is still a celebration of that community – and all of the women blogging community, no matter what they write about, whom they write for or where they write from.

I’m fortunate I am able to go to Chicago this summer for BlogHer, and even more fortunate to reconnect and see so many women in person that I usually only see as a little avatar on my screen, and hopefully meet a bunch of new women whose blogs I can discover and who I will be able to add to my not so virtual circle of women I am proud to call friends – not “friends.”

Also, I’m ridiculously excited to hear Gale Ann Hurd speak.  So, there’s that.

Every Day is Take Your Child to Work Day in My House

I woke up this morning to find endless articles, tweets and Facebook updates about people and companies talking about Take Your Child to Work Day.  I’m glad no one told my daughters about this special holiday, because then they’d be sitting right next to me at the kitchen table as I write this post.  And then they’d bother me to make them food at some point.  And then they’d interrupt my conference calls, and probably end up on a computer playing a game or watching Annoying Orange – which come to think of it is how many people spend their workday.  But, really it got me thinking about the fake Mommy Wars and how in the midst of all this Stay at Home Mom/Work Outside the Home Mom business there are so many of us who work at home, or at a coffee shop, or during nap time or until school pick up time or any combination thereof.

My problem is not that my daughters need to have a Take Your Child to Work Day so they could get an appreciation of what I do.    No, my problem is that my daughters see me working way too much.  When you work from your home and for yourself like I do there is no office to leave behind at night.  There is no commute to clear your head, no downtime between working and seeing your kids, no demarcation of work and personal space in the home.  My “office” gets cleared away to set the table for dinner, or make room for homework, but it just moves into the living room instead.

My husband also brings home his work in the form of constant email and the occasional project.  But it’s not like my work, which revolves around social media and a website that constantly needs to be monitored.  My work colleagues live on Twitter and Facebook.  They are not people I see for a set time during the day – they are constantly flickering through my world.  And it’s harder and harder to shut it off when there is a Twitter party that needs joining, another pitch or email to get back to, an event to plan, a site upgrade to approve.  Everyone in my space is working round the clock, and it’s become the norm to expect an instant reply no matter the time of day.

So instead of taking my daughters to work today I will try and do the opposite and turn off my work at 5:00 like a 1950’s dad would do, and shut my laptop and maybe even stow it away.  The cell phone too.  And the tablet.  And – this is going to be harder than I thought…

The Rule Every Blog Commenter Should Follow (in fantasy land)

This came my way via facebook this week and while it was posted as a lesson for students I think it applies equally well to blog commenters.

And, as many pointed out on my facebook page, it could also easily to bloggers too.  The new Golden Rule.

Lying, Cheating and Plagiarism – From This American Life to Mom Blogs, It’s Everywhere

Saturday Night Fever

This week on the Blogging Angels podcast we tackled plagiarism – again.  Why? Because last week a twitstorm of epic proportions hit the mom blogging world when a mom blogger and Babble writer, Kristin Ruiz, was exposed as a plagiarist.  She had lifted entire posts from another mom blogger, Amy Storch who writes at Amalah, and passed them off as her own.  She was promptly fired from Babble, but the fury this unleashed on all sides was intense and got quite personal.  And her defense was that she was only 27 years-old.

Plagiarism isn’t murky.  It’s stealing.  I spent a great deal of time this year when my daughters entered 4th Grade and began their first research projects teaching them the difference between copying text word for work and taking notes for research that will then become your own thoughts and support your original thesis.  When so many images and texts pop up with just a Google search and “copy and paste” is as simple as 2 clicks on the keyboard it can be easy to remember that this is stealing.  You may get all the content you want for “free” but ownership does not transfer to you the reader.  If 9 nine year-olds can understand that concept then grown women, and men, should have no problem either.

But mom bloggers aren’t the only ones suffering from lying.  The uncovering of Mike Daisey‘s Apple story, which aired on This American Life, as an exaggerated tale led to a retraction and endless media coverage.  Ironically though, that story resulted in many real investigations of conditions at the plants where Apple and many other electronic companies manufacture their products.  It’s all pretty complicated.  This idea of “creative” non-fiction writers is nothing new.  And Mike Daisey is defending himself as a “performer” not a journalist.  In other words, it was a piece of theater, not the New York Times (hello, Jayson Blair.)

Where does artistic license end and lying begin?  For some that line is clear – juicing up a bit of a story to make it more interesting and engaging, versus making up facts that corrupt the entire validity of a story.  For others, obviously, there is no difference – it’s all one big story and the embellished means are justified by the powerful end.  From Stephen Fry to John D’Agata this non-fiction fiction has been discussed.  Even the famous New York Magazine article, Tribal Rights of Saturday Night, that spawned the movie Saturday Night Fever, was exposed as being almost entirely made up.  Tony Manero, main character played by John Travolta in the film, never really existed.  It gives me pause every time I read a great long form piece of non-fiction journalism.

I wonder if there should be a new category – the non-fictionish essay.  It’s the story the way we wished it had happened, just don’t use it in a court of law or call yourself a journalist.  Or a blogger either for that matter.

When it’s OK to Work For Free (Really!)

There have a been a flurry of articles in the mom blogging space over the past year about mom bloggers who work for free and how you should never, ever do it.  I wrote one myself for Mom Blog Magazine.  You’ve heard it before: You cheapen everybody’s work; you make it harder for anyone to be taken seriously and get paid; you are a chump building someone else’s business without getting anything in return.  And, all of that is true – sometimes.  One of the things that bothers me about this dogmatic approach to the topic of being paid is that often it is hurled by people I know have worked – and continue to work – for free in some instances.  The other thing is, it’s not so clear-cut.  I’ve written previously about why you shouldn’t work for free – but taking stock of my year and really my last four years since I started blogging – I think it’s important to talk about when it’s okay to accept work that doesn’t come with cash compensation.

  1. YOU ARE NEW TO BLOGGING – It’s a big, wide blogosphere out there and building readership and traffic is daunting.  Joining a blog community where you are posting with a group of other women can give you an automatic group of colleagues and support.  You will not drive a ton of traffic from these sites – no matter what they say to the contrary – but you will start to feel like you belong, meet other bloggers and build links back to your site.  I started out writing for Silicon Valley Mom’s NYC Mom Blog site and then for the Yahoo! Motherboard and those two communities gave me the connections and friendships that are far and away the most valuable I have today – both personally and professionally.  I don’t regret writing for them for free for a moment.
  2. YOU WANT TO BUILD YOUR EXPERT REPUTATION:  There are sites that can provide a much bigger soapbox for your views than your blog.  Again, they will not throw you tons of traffic, so don’t fall for that, but they can give you a platform and a legitimacy that your blog alone will not.  When the Washington Post asked to re-post an education piece I had written I did not hesitate to say yes.  It enhanced my standing as an education writer and advocate and gave me a great byline to point to when applying to paying gigs in the field.  As long as you own your content and you are seeing the benefit then you should consider it.
  3. YOU WILL GET EXCLUSIVE ACCESS TO EVENTS OR INTERVIEWS: Let’s face it, you are just one of many bloggers trying to get press passes, invites and other access to brands and events.  If you don’t have the clout (or Klout) to obtain those on your own then having the byline and credentials from a much larger site can help.  I have attended many conferences, expos and events thanks to my affiliation with Yahoo! Motherboard.  It’s a name those outside of the blogging world understand.  To me, that was valuable.

Like I said in the beginning, nothing is black and white.  You have to go with your gut and you have to feel like what you are contributing is being respected and acknowledged accordingly – cash or otherwise.  You also have to be realistic about your worth.  Only you know what is right for you.  What do you think?  Would you or do you work for free?

She Streams Conference: The Next Evolution in Blogging?

I started with this blog.   I formed the Blogging Angels podcast a year ago.  I launched a user-generated video site, KidzVuz, this year.  And I am not unique.  All around me women are launching real media careers from their blogs – taking charge of their presence and voice in as many outlets as possible.  Once upon a time there was Lucille Ball – and then there was Oprah – women who owned their production companies, not just starred in the show.  Now, with the internet and social media, building a mini-media empire is truly within reach of women who have the gumption and work ethic to do it.

I spent two days at the first ever She Streams Conference – as an attendee, a speaker and on the expo floor with a booth for KidzVuz.  I had no idea what to expect since this was the first ever She Streams, we were presenting with another blogger we didn’t know in real life (even though her twitter handle is RealLifeSarah!), and then again with The Blogging Angels in a format we’ve never done before, and demoing our new KidzVuz redesign to numerous bloggers and sponsors.  More unknowns than I’d ever encountered before.  But, it was honestly fantastic.

First of all we New York City area bloggers are jaded.  We have so many events every week, a vibrant blogging community and a constant flow of PR pitches and meetings.  But let me tell you – the women bloggers across this country, in tiny small towns, rural areas, exurbs, South, West – where ever – they rock.  They are leveraging video, cornering their local markets, forming amazing communities and working their butts off creating fully monetized and successful blogs.  I love it.  This was a diverse, engaged and creative crowd.  Maria Bailey, who pulled off this endeavor with her top notch team in six months, really came through in a hugely impressive way.

You can check out the schedule here.  Hopefully they will post the sessions too.  The one downside to exhibiting in the Expo Hall and speaking in two sessions was that I didn’t get to attend any of the great sessions!  Check out the facebook page for more info.

Here were my top 5 Take-Aways:

  1. Sit next to someone you don’t know.  I made some of my best new contacts at lunch each day.
  2. To-do lists – learn to love them because they work
  3. Have a partner, or 3.  (I already knew this but it bears repeating.) When you team up with super smart people you shine.
  4. Good lighting is everything.
  5. It’s always worth it to put yourself out there.  Even if you’re terrified or just pessimistic.  There is opportunity everywhere.