Heads up. Major media wonk stuff ahead. Get out while you still can. Look over here for something shiny that has nothing to do with blogging.
On November 11th, I posted the following to my Facebook page:
Yesterday I was in a meeting with the social media consultant for a new client (NOT in travel) and the idea of including bloggers in the campaign was nixed because “The content would all be pay for play, they’d just regurgitate your press release, and you wouldn’t really get much of value out of it.” The client asked how the content could possibly be ethical and/or useful given that it’s pay for play, and if that’s the case, shouldn’t they just buy ads? “Yeah, that’s a better place to start, certainly, while we find out who’s worth working with in this space.”
I ain’t saying there are no issues in other media, I ain’t saying all bloggers are like this, and I ain’t saying that bloggers shouldn’t be paid for the placement of advertorial. Back off.
I’m saying it hurts me that the dominant definition of what a blogger is has evolved from independent voice into pay for play marketing mouthpiece. It used to be a platform and the blogger’s role was defined by what they used it for. Now a blogger is defined as marketing hack, sometimes cheap, but whose role is to speak on behalf of brands.
I felt really defeated hearing this.
And now: You kids get off my lawn.
A month later, I’m still thinking about it. A bunch of players in the travel/blogging space had a lot to say about this tiny interaction. They hit a couple of consistent themes and I want to address them in this more public format.
I’ve extracted the main points for brevity, but before you accuse me of taking things out of context, please read the entire thread on Facebook. I think you’ll see that they’re given the context they deserve.
Tim Leffel: Every magazine I write for is basically pay for play. It’s just accepted so nobody talks about it.
(Tim is a writer who has a few commercial blogs and websites. Full disclosure, I’ve written for Tim a few times and I was a paid regular contributor to his gear blog.)
Not true. Lots of folks are talking about it, and it seems that not a day goes by that I don’t read a discussion about content marketing, native advertising, sponsored content, brand journalism, or the like. The discussions run the gamut from “It’s saving journalism!” to “It’s the worst thing for journalism since William Randolph Hearst started trashing up the San Francisco Examiner with hyperbolic tales of crime and immorality.” But people are talking about it.
In December, 2013, the FTC hosted a hearing devoted to the issue of pay for play content – I watched the entire thing online. Here’s the Harvard Business Review on the ethics of paid content. I track Andrew Sullivan’s “sponsored content watch” on The Dish. There’s a lot more out there.
Matthew Karsten: Just explain that the term “blogger” is not the same as “journalist”.
(Matthew is a blogger who does a lot of pay for play content. I’m not outing him; he writes about it here. Full disclosure: I tried to give him a ride on my bicycle once.)
Not true. Lots of journalists have blogs, though certainly plenty of bloggers are not journalists. Given the widespread tendency to downplay disclosure, it can be difficult to find out where a blogger sits on the spectrum between reporting and marketing. I’ve always held that a blogger is a person who has or contributes to a blog, but this stance is increasingly negated by industry definition of what a blogger is and/or does.
“Just tell them what a blogger isn’t” implies that there’s something a blog consistently is.
Rick Calvert: I was going to say, I think you worry about this too much Pam but I think it’s more accurate to say you agonize over this too much imo.
(Rick is the CEO of TBEX, possibly the largest conference devoted to travel blogging. Full disclosure: I was an invited speaker at every TBEX (minus one) until June 2013. I was not paid to speak, but my travel expenses were covered.)
Gaslighting. “You’re being too sensitive” is a classic method of focusing on a person’s emotions as a way of invalidating the argument. “Your feelings are wrong” is not the same as “Your ideas are wrong.” I’d rather focus on my ideas than my feelings about them.
In 2013, Skift ran an article staking a claim on what bloggers are. “On a good day, travel bloggers are marketers…” and should not “expect to be treated as a critic or a journalist.”
The New York Times, in a look at how bloggers work today said, “Mr. Jenkins’s approach to blogging — and travel — speaks volumes about the state of a medium that began as intimate and creative. The paradigm has shifted across the board, in areas like food, parenting and so-called lifestyle blogs. But nowhere has the shift been as jarring as it is for travelers. “I want to travel the world” is no longer an idealistic statement, it is a transactional one.”
“But the Babe isn’t an advocate. She’s an entrepreneur who clearly, obviously, is only in this for her own profit.” That’s a criticism of The Food Babe, a popular (and some would say misguided) food blogger in AdAge.
There’s absolutely a creeping redefinition of what a blogger is or does that’s got nothing to do with the platform — blogging — they’ve chosen for their work.
Rick Calvert: There are hundreds of millions of blogs in the world today. 99% of them are complete crap. So what? The good ones are changing the world of media forever. Anyone who denies that is an idiot. I understand you being upset by someone slagging your profession. But your client should fire that consultant and get educated.
Rick Calvert: I stand by my assertion; people who try to say blogs have no credibility and dismiss the medium are idiots and do so at their own peril.
Confusing. If “99% of blogs are crap,” surely we can agree that the challenge of getting educated about bloggers is a significant one and that delaying blogger engagement, as the social media consultant in my meeting suggested, is legitimate. Isolating the 1% that is worthwhile is hard work. The field is full of people using black hat tactics — buying Facebook friends and likes, playing games with SEO, creating false engagement schemes, lying with statistics, to name a few. My client hiring someone who understands this is their process of getting educated.
No one dismissed the medium out of hand, but skilled social media and marketing professionals are beginning to question the value of working with bloggers, as indicated in this post by a former tourism campaign manager.
These remarks also attack two constituencies that TBEX targets as their customer base — social media consultants and bloggers.
Rick Calvert: Blogging is not and never was a utopia of creativity.
Not true. I found many different data sources on the nature of blogging. One said that 81% of blogs never earn more than $100 annually, another said that only 2% of bloggers earn a living at the task. One might extrapolate from these surveys that there’s another reason people are taking to the medium. A 2008 survey by Chris Garret said that 49% of people blog “for pleasure.” This academic paper, published in the journal for the Association of Computing Machinery in 2004 concluded that “Bloggers are driven to document their lives, provide commentary and opinions, express deeply felt emotions, articulate ideas through writing, and form and maintain community forums.”
Blogging is more than personal expression, but data seems to hold out that yes, for some, it actually was — and remains — a utopia of creativity.
Annemarie Dooling Wow what the solid fuck
(Annemarie is an online community manager who swears a lot and usually punctuates properly.)
Yeah. You got me.
A bunch of you are about to unfollow/unsubscribe/unfriend. Probably while saying things like, “But I have to make a living!” or “But the mainstream media…”
Please consider this:
I did not say paid content was bad. I did not say you should run advertising for free. I did not say other forms of media should be exempt from this level of scrutiny. I did not say earning a living was bad. The list of things I did not say is quite lengthy.
At the most basic level, I said I felt defeated by the creeping one size fits all definition of a once undefined media. I said I did not like it. That’s all I said.
Please keep that in mind should you feel compelled to comment further on this issue.