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.
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.
While packing up our apartment in preparation for our gut renovation we found many old pictures and pieces of children’s art work that made us sigh and go “ooooh, aaahhh.” But nothing made me take pause as long and reflectively as finding the remnants of the last tech bubble when my husband was deeply immersed in the first round of start-up frenzy back in the early-mid 90’s and I was a spec screenplay writer obsessed with crafting the latest TV pilot for then brand new WB Network! All Hail Buffy and the TV pilot I never finished writing. Someday…
(here’s the link I unearthed via the WayBackMachine where you can see a 1997 SonicNet homepage! – yes it was revolutionary)
So, in case you’re one of those people who skims the whole Sunday Magazine section of the NY Times just to get to the crossword puzzle I’m here to fill you in on an article lighting up the mom blogosphere and Twitter. Queen of the Mommy Bloggers, an article by Lisa Belkin, a woman whose journalistic cred I think is well established and deserved, hit the stands and the web and caused an enormous whirlwind of discussion. This is the kind of thing that would usually get my fingers typing all on their own, but luckily for me a blogger extraordinaire, Liz Gumbinner – MOM 101 – beat me to it. It’s not just that she wrote a great response; it’s that she wrote exactly what I would’ve written, only shorter, better and with a much more even temper. She’s fabulous like that.
So, click on over and read her wonderful defense of being a writer. Not a blogger. Not a mom. A writer.
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about girls – the way they socialize, the way they learn, the way they are taught and the way they are perceived. We’ve been looking at sleep-away camps for my daughters over the last couple of months and the one thing both of them requested is an all girls camp. This never would’ve occurred to me just a few years ago when they were 5 and played equally with boys and girls, but now that they’re 8 I can see how a summer of girl power would be just the right thing. Watching the camp DVDs and reading the literature has made me realize that there is something special, something that deserves to be nurtured in a single-sex environment, something freeing about just being at a place that celebrates being female – and it applies to grown women and women’s conferences as well.
This past month two major women’s blogger conferences announced that their next conference would include male bloggers and stop being “mom” focused and become “parent” focused. Type-A Mom will change its name to Type-A Parent – they already added a dad track this past year, and Mom 2.0, one of the largest momblogging conferences is now looking to focus on “innovation” meaning bringing in men to speak and attend. How that is innovative I’m not sure. This past August many dad bloggers crashed BlogHer to mingle with the brands and attend the parties, which many female bloggers, myself included, felt was mildly annoying in some cases to outright rude and schnorr-y in others. Here is a movement built by women, conferences created for women by women, with sponsors and companies finally recognizing the power of those women – and yet we are still so damn accommodating that we smile and welcome the men into the scene because hey we’re all in this together right? Wrong.
According to Technorati’s 2010 State of the Blogosphere only 1/3 of bloggers are women, in some areas this is vastly smaller like science, technology and politics – and few women bloggers make it on any major media’s Top 25 or 100 blogger lists unless it’s a specific list for mombloggers. So why then are we so eager to cede the one space we have carved out for women when we should be expanding it to push more women into the limelight and up the rungs of the general blogging ladder rather than cannibalizing our own space? This has nothing to do with not liking dad bloggers in general. There are dad bloggers I think are great and read regularly. When I’m at PR events or blogging conferences that are meant for everyone I love seeing the male bloggers and writers I know and respect. But these conferences – these women centered conferences – they were created for a reason and that reason has not disappeared: women’s voices are still marginalized.
I’ve been thinking about this so much lately that I reread Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas. Though she talks about women and fiction the same ideas apply to all writing and especially to blogging since having a blog/voice of one’s own has never been easier. But, the same stereotypical impulses survive. Women bloggers who have children are categorized as “mom” bloggers when in fact, according to that Technorati survey, only 13% of “mombloggers” write about parenting. The fact that they still label them “mom” bloggers probably best illustrates my point.
So yes, invite everyone to your Blog World Expo and Web 2.0, invite a man to speak at BlogHer if he’s the best person for the job, but keep the conferences for women. To find their voices, share their stories, lift each other up, make a fool of themselves singing at the tops of their lungs or cheering when they finish the high ropes course (oh wait, that’s the camp DVD I just watched – or maybe not…) Hopefully you get my point. There’s nothing wrong with saying these 3 days, they’re for women only, and while we love you guys too this is about something else. We don’t need to apologize or explain. We should just be proud of what women have created and think about how much more work needs to be done by and for women. I for one can’t wait to see my daughters grow up and thrive in dynamic real and virtual rooms of their own, without making excuses for why the signs on the doors say “no boys allowed.”
Really it is. For the past two weeks my real life has kicked my ass and I’ve watched as day after day my computer has functioned as a giant Twitter stream and email board. My writing, my real honest to goodness writing has taken a backseat to the whirlwind that swept through the month of September. It’s not that I haven’t been going to fabulous events or seeing friends or thankfully recording podcasts it’s just that my writing groove is hopelessly out of sync.
For a writer this state of non-writing is like being in a haze. I know my days are packed with important tasks, meetings and obligations but without real focused writing time I tend to feel untethered. What I’ve realized is that this new school year requires an entirely new schedule not just for my daughters but for me too. What I’ve also come to realize is that as I’ve piled on new projects and responsibilities I haven’t given up or delegated anything old so by default it’s my writing that has suffered. This is not OK.
I know I’m not alone in my stack of posts in draft mode, the events I attended that I still haven’t written about and the running mental conversations babbling through my brain at all times that I’m sure I will write down just as soon as I can. This is why blogging is hard. Maybe the hardest kind of writing I’ve ever done. Once you are established there is an expectation – from loyal readers and subscribers, from PR people who invited you to events and from your own nagging inner voice – that you must produce on a regular basis. I suppose for people who blog their everyday life or who can shoot out a quick 150 words this is no biggie. But for me, a girl who constantly edits, rewrites, is never happy with the final product and instantly wants to make another change the moment I hit “publish” the act of blogging is constantly stressful.
When I wrote fiction and screenplays (a lifetime ago) there was a different kind of investment in my writing time. There was a big picture I could feel my way through with an endpoint in mind. I loved spending time in whatever world was being created on the page, following characters, crafting dialog – telling a story so far outside myself. Having that final “THE END” was both mystifying and exhilarating. In contrast, a blog has no end. Every post leads to another. The characters? They are real. And the world? Well it’s not terribly escapist for me the writer.
So while I love my blog – and I really do – I have realized that every once in while I need a break: A blog-cation. As from any hiatus I have to hope I come back recharged and with a new perspective in the blogosphere. Or maybe I need a Twitter-cation instead – ’cause Twitter? That’s disgustingly easy.