Bloggers, They Only Know What We Show

Last week ended with a bit of a public brouhaha regarding a personal Facebook image post and an incredibly bold – defamatory? – blog post about said photo.  Like flies to sh...like moths to a flame, blog post after blog post began to pop up on both sides of the issue.  I was mulching my yard all weekend so happily hid in the offline world as the storm swirled on in the digital space.  I got the occasional, “Did you see??” text and the periodic, “You have to read this” message on my phone.  I had a couple brief and private conversations on my thoughts (because you know I had to have thoughts), but really enjoyed focusing on removing weeds from my flower beds.  They were those weeds with tiny thorns that pierce right through gardening gloves, so believe me, my hands were already full.

And then I read a post written by Jessica Gottlieb, which has since been removed from her site.  Note: Every time I agree with Jessica, a unicorn dies, so I try really hard to not let that happen.  But the title of the post struck a chord with me:

People Only Know What You Publish or Say

I tell my kids a variation of this every time they grumble through a homework assignment or class project.  I am blessed with two intelligent and incredibly talented children who happen to have also inherited my I-only-want-to-do-this-if-I-want-to-do-it gene. This is the character trait that caused me to only attend college Calculus two out of three days a week and keeps the clean, folded laundry in the basket at the end of the bed.  But as I tell my children, your teachers will only know your ability level based on what you show them, and homework is one way to do that.

Bloggers, like Jessica said to the person in that photo, they only know what we show.

Last month the blogging community raged over a WSJ.com article that took the words of a very intelligent, professional, and kind of amazing blogger out of context and used them to further what I believe was a mom blogger bashing agenda.  This article was just the most recent in a long line of similar posts painting the image of bloggers at conferences as moms unleashed, running through swag suites like frothing animals, drinking themselves into oblivion then staying up all night to have pillow fights in their jammies, thrilled to be away from their controlling husbands and whining children.

The articles are utter nonsense.  But members of our community were the original source of this insane flame that the mainstream media continues to fan.

I have been in these blogger bashing posts myself, including one after a Baltimore conference.  The post referenced mom bloggers drinking mimosas out of children’s sippy cups while sitting in a conference session.  Why did they write such a ridiculous, unprofessional thing?  Because mom bloggers brought mimosas in sippy cups to the conference session like they were storing Zima in sports bottles in their lockers.

They only know what we show.

Two weekends ago I attended a conference where many of us – myself included – continued the ongoing conversation about the need for bloggers providing professional services to be contracted and paid for those services.  Then last week a prominent blogger asked her community to work for weeks for a “chance” to be hired and paid.  Brands watch us to know how to value our work based on how we value our work.  Asking each other to work for free while we’re getting paid?

They only know what we show.

Last year I took on Viacom, a media giant, because they were scraping blogger content without permission as well as using plagiarized content on their site, NickMom.  I wasn’t alone in my disgust and while the blogosphere took up pitchforks and torches and stormed their big brand doors, NickMom continued to excuse the behavior as acceptable in the online community.  Bloggers shouted back, “No, content is our livlihood, words and images are how we create, share, pay our bills.  You can’t use our work without permission AND attribution AND payment! NO! NO! NO!”

And then today I saw a post on Babble – another media giant – written by a member of that very same blogosphere, only there was one issue…

The post was plagiarized.

Thanks to Kelly Ripa reading the post on her daytime show, this piece from last October was suddenly being shared around the web, including on Facebook where the author and her co-writer shared this exchange:

“How did they not say OUR NAMES? We are *this* close to being famous.”
“I almost punched the computer screen. CITE YOUR SOURCES KELLY AND MICHAEL GOOOODDDDDDDDDDDDD.”

 Citing sources?  Et tu, Brute?

The post, which lists and describes 9 things that women say to men, begins with this:

In case you didn’t see that in the screenshot, the words she typed were, “I’ve come up with…”

Only she didn’t. She got them from this video on YouTube.

Baffled, I reached out to my friends on Facebook to see if maybe I had finally lost my mind after speaking and thinking in 140 for five years.  But nope, everyone saw what I saw – plagiarism on one of blogging’s top sites.  The author responded to me and said that the first time she reposted this material without permission on her personal site, she did credit the original source.  She regrets lying in the introduction paragraph on Babble.  Babble, a highly respected site with talented writers, many of whom I call friends, responded on Twitter that they are taking this issue very seriously and looking into it.

Bloggers, they only know what we show.

 

Update 5/3/13 – The post referenced above has been removed, and Babble has issued this statement:

You spoke up, we heard. We sincerely apologize that the post in question failed to live up to our editorial standards, which includes a zero-tolerance policy on plagiarism. Thank you for bringing your concerns to us and for giving us the time to do our due diligence. Our relationship with the community is one we cherish and hold in high regard. We also value our editorial standards, which we take pride in executing consistently across our platforms, while still preserving, protecting and promoting the freedom that makes the medium of blogging so special.  And we always want to be held accountable for this. 

Our bloggers are well aware of our policies, which includes proper citation of sources and inspirations for content. But because bloggers are human, they make mistakes, and we continue to refine our procedures for addressing these quickly without impeding the creative energy of the community’s work. End of the day, we want your experience in our spaces to be good ones.

Thank you for helping us achieve that.

-Andrea Zimmerman, Senior Manager of Blogs & Social Media

 

Written by: Amy

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59 Comments

  • Great article, Amy. Le sigh. I just don’t even know what to say – the latest Babble article is just embarrassing for everyone involved except the poor folks of the original YouTube video who are not getting the credit they deserve.

    As far as other non-professional acts by bloggers go, it just baffles my mind. How one expects to get paid – get respected by a brand – when two Instagram pictures ago they were acting not-so-professional – it just leaves me scratching my head in wonder.

  • Carolyn G

    Great post Amy. You hit the nail on the head. Act professional, be professional and people will treat you like a professional. This applies to the blogging world as any other facet of people’s lives.

  • One step forward, two steps back… We need to turn it around. Thanks for this, Amy.

    • Yes, because every time we take a step back, we’re stepping on the people coming up behind us who are trying to move forward.

  • Great job Amy — I couldn’t have said it better!

  • I love everything about this post. VERY well said.

  • Thank you for posting this. I see so many posts on what bloggers are supposed to “do”, especially newer or smaller bloggers like myself. This post nailed what EVERY blogger should be doing: act honestly and professionally.

  • There are bad apples in every business, every industry. Sadly, bc online is still relatively new, we all get lumped together. I appreciate you pointing out that bloggers need to be accountable for their actions, stop with the double-standards, and quit acting like victims when they get called out for bad judgment.

    • Thanks, Jill! Lord knows I make plenty of mistakes, but I hope they aren’t the ones I’m asking the brands and news sites around me to stop making.

  • Amy, while you have a point, and I agree with it, it is disappointing that the bad news always gets the most press. It’s that way with anything. You could have 99 all-pro bloggers at a conference, and the one drunk girl-gone-wild is the one someone will write about. Etc.

  • Well. Said. It’s a depressing fact of our now business lives and something I’m not about to be willing to let pass by untouched.

  • Amy, it is as if you are living inside my head with your comments like that gene we share and the fact I’m looking at a laundry basket full of clean, neatly folded clothing in my room.

    As for the rest of your message, I agree, we all must help keep each other accountable and no unicorns will die in the process.

  • “Then last week a prominent blogger asked her community to work for weeks for a ‘chance’ to be hired and paid”

    Is this the “offer” of a “3-month training internship” I read yesterday?

    Also, I talk to my kids (all young adults) regularly about their “digital image” and the fact that possible employers (not to mention possible spouses) can and will see everything they put online about themselves. “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches . . .” (Prov. 22:1)

    • That wasn’t it, but I hate to say that this type of situation isn’t unique. I did believe, however, that we had stopped doing this to our own community. It’s bad enough when a marketing firm or brand comes in and asks for this type of thing.

  • Sadly I don’t think this is unique to blogging, but it is more obvious because we are socially connected and information travels faster than it does via the good old water cooler.

    As a leader in the field I am glad you stood up and shared this piece. It’s not about calling out a particular person (though we all have to call out our colleagues-sometimes in private- when they mess up), it’s about giving the field credibility as a whole.

    If one person doesn’t consider the long-term effects of their choices, and doesn’t act ethically than the rest of the field hurts as well.

    Thank you for standing up for all of us.

    • Yes to this: “(though we all have to call out our colleagues-sometimes in private- when they mess up).”

      I felt the same way about the Disney publicist debacle and said as much. When someone in your community screws up, the appropriate way to handle it is by saying, “hey, I think you screwed up,” and giving them a chance to rectify the mistake. I see a lot of people I’ve worked with, a lot of people I like, and a lot of people I respect commenting on this post. When I see one of you screw up, I will reach out to you personally and let you know because I like and respect you and you are a member of my community. I like pageviews as much as the next blogger. But I like my community more.

      • Yes, I value feedback from my colleagues for everything from a messed up link to a typo to a crazy, bad decision. This is also why there aren’t names and links in this post. That’s not the point at all.

        • I’m not sure how pointing out specific examples (with or without names) of “bloggers behaving badly” elevates the discourse. Frankly, I think creating unnecessary drama is and has always been the downfall of the blogging community.

          • I completely disagree. I’ve been blogging about blogging for years and have always received positive feedback. It is just as valid a platform for discussion as any Social Media Club meeting or blog conference. I value thinking reflectively about what I do – the good and the bad – and believe that most bloggers feel the same way. What you call drama, some of us call a professional discussion about the field in which we work.

          • I’m not sure how this post is creating drama. Yes, it calls out some less than pleasant things, but without that context it’s a pointless post. Examples need to be made of “what not to do” or people are going to continue to do them and feed the fire that DOES create drama within the community.

          • For the record, plagiarism does not count as creating drama, IMO. It is completely unethical, unprofessional and for anyone who has a job as a writer it’s a fire-able offense, in my opinion.

            As for this post, I think it’s effectively tamping down the drama instead of pushing it up. Talking about controversy doesn’t create it if you keep your tone steady and professional.

    • “it’s about giving the field credibility as a whole.” Exactly. The sometimes intense discussions with brands and agencies around legitimacy, value, money, etc. are all the more difficult to have if they turn to us and say they aren’t setting the tone, we are…and doing so badly.

  • I think you have an excellent point because people only know what you show them. Not even about bloggers as a group, but simply about you as an individual. I have to say I try and stay out of these big controversies and totally missed the babble thing, but I did hear all about the WSJ article.

  • I couldn’t agree more!! Very well said!

  • Excellent post! I come from 20 years in a corporate background and I am shocked by some in the blogsphere. I do not understand why some bloggers call people out personally in such vicious ways. Isn’t it better to take a stand on issues without directly vitriol towards others personally? And, please whatever you do, don’t kill unicorns (my favorite part of the post!)

    • Thanks, Andrea. The vitriol is what I don’t understand. I’m a life-long holder of righteous indignation and have worked for years to find the balance between asking more of myself and people around me and casting judgement. I probably walk the line a little more dangerously at times than I’d like. But with that said, the ill will and anger displayed publicly towards complete strangers is frightening. A friend recently compared it to honking your horn at and whipping off another driver on the street. We can ask the people around us to drive safely without slashing their tires.

  • ::slow clap::
    First, I love the way you explain the importance of homework to your kids. I’m totally saving that line for when the inevitable “But I don’t wanna do my homework!” arguments begin.
    Just yesterday, I received a pitch from a very popular blogger in her field who also works with brands that was essentially asking me to do a lot of work for absolutely nothing. I know she wouldn’t accept that pitch, so I’ve spent the last day stewing about how to respectfully reply. It’s just disappointing: is she telling her client we don’t deserve to be paid? does she value her time more than mine?
    In any case, thanks for this post. It’s spot on and, unfortunately, a much needed reminder to our community.

    • Just be honest with her. When I first started my blog network in early 2009, we held blog to win contests. We did it because it was what everyone else was doing, but because of the feedback from our bloggers and posts like this calling out how damaging it was to the blogging community, we immediately stopped doing them. I think these conversations are always worth having!

    • I know exactly the pitch you are speaking of and my disappointment matches yours.

      • The worst part of that is people will do it hoping it wins them favor when really they should be hoping for contracts, solid work they can be proud of, and appropriate payment.

  • Good insight, as always.

  • I love this. This is excellent advice. You should always think carefully before you post or do anything in a public space because you never know who is watching and you don’t know what their interpretation of what you do and say will be. It really is a sad way to live. Maybe that is why celebrities are compensated the way that they are. They get paid to go through this kind of thing on a daily basis.

    Lying and cheating is never the way to play this game of life. You should always treat others with respect and treat them the way you would want to be treated. When we falter, it is always best to admit your mistake, apologize, and move on.

    It’s been said time and time again, people will always remember the way you treated them and the way you made them feel. Something for us all to think about is how are we making others feel? Are we building them up or supporting them? What kind of person are we showing them we are?

    Great things to think about, Amy.

  • little island studios

    Well said! I recently worked on a project for a healthy lifestyle blogger on an Earth Day Pinterest Project. I was moved by her “winner is chosen based on work not popularity” bit. I liked the blogger & the project idea, so I participated and actually did a fabulous job. However, the “winners” chosen had not even bothered to meet the requirements and two hadn’t even bothered with the project at all. That was a lot of free advertising for her and her client. Lesson learned. Moms that are bloggers are super busy and our time is valuable. Our work being “borrowed” or “work for a chance at getting paid” is absolutely not okay. Thanks for supporting us!

  • I am not sure how many times I need to say this but … Umm… Babble says this:

    “This morning, it came to our attention that the Babble blogger cited here did not properly credit her inspiration for her post. This news was, obviously, surprising to us and we moved quickly to address to it. The blogger has added a credit to the source and our editorial team has added a disclosure that reflects that the post has been edited from its original version.”

    CREDIT IS NOT PERMISSION.

    Or, if this is how we are rolling on the internet, perhaps I should just start publishing Babble posts? I mean, I will be sure to end each one with an “Inspired by Babble” attribution at the bottom.

    Also, this wasn’t “inspired.” This was copied word for word. That is plagiarism, not inspiration. This isn’t even a fine line where she paraphrased or rewrote the original content. She used the original content word for word, and added a little of her own words, too.

    If all we need to do is credit, my next step will be to publish some bestsellers on Amazon Kindle. I will be sure to give proper credit. I doubt Stephen King will mind.

  • What Babble has done is absolutely not sufficient. I am not one bit surprised and it happens a heck of a lot more than Andrea is letting on. And the “fix” she claims in her email isn’t even what happened. One small like at the very end of the piece linking back to the original is not fixing the problem. She might have gotten away with fair use if she had quoted the parts which she took verbatim. She however did not do that and as the blog post stands Babble is still opening themselves up to a copyright lawsuit. And the whole we’re far too busy and have too much content to possibly look over is weak. You can’t say yeah we broke the law, but it’s because we have too much going on to monitor things. Nope, that’s just as bad as a “the dog ate my homework” excuse given in school.

  • To quote an earlier comment (I’d reply directly but I’m on my phone), copyright issues are not “unnecessary drama.” They are a valid legal issue. Laws are written about them. Companies go to court over them. This issue is a professional one, with real consequences. This isn’t petty, gossipy stuff.

    • Full disclosure (in case anyone commenting on this post doesn’t already know), I am friends with the bloggers in question. I have worked with the bloggers in question. I have had drinks with the bloggers in question. I’ve also worked/had drinks/hung out with a number of the bloggers commenting on this post.

      That said, if I had known about the Babble post, or if I had seen any of you doing something unethical that had the potential to be a blemish on the business of blogging, I would have handled it by personally, privately asking you, “WTF?”

      Copyright issues ARE a valid legal issue. Plagiarism IS a fire-able offense. The post in question DOES constitute plagiarism.

      I agree 100% with all of that.

      What I don’t agree with is the idea that it benefits the profession of blogging to publicly out bloggers behaving unprofessionally.

      If someone at my day job does something reckless, irresponsible, unethical that has the potential to make my company look bad, I don’t write a blog post telling everyone about how bad they’re making the company look. I pull them aside and say, “Hey, jackass…”

      • Before writing this post I did communicate with the author and because I believe her response is damning to her character, I won’t post it here. Unfortunately, me giving her the opportunity to rectify the situation did not translate into her doing so.

  • That response is so not satisfactory! It shouldn’t have been edited! It should have been replaced with an apology and a link to the YouTube video!! All with the same URL so that people being redirected would get the TRUE content.
    That’s really upsetting, not just that the plagiarism happened, but that Babble didn’t stand up for the value of original content. Bah.

  • Smuggling Zima….lol … Do they even make that anymore??

    On a serious note though– GREAT post. 100% right. The online space in general tends to be so casual, that I think people who want to be professional sometimes forget to act (or how to act?) professional.

    I hadn’t heard about the Babble thing until this post, but the WSJ thing was just SO unfortunate – but sadly not surprising as we know this is the story that traditional media LOVE to tell about new media. … and the Disney thing? BLOWS . MY. MIND.
    I wasn’t offended by the picture at all, personally. And after questioning “Why this was such a big deal” I thought maybe if the women’s faces in the pic were more “scared” as they are in the actual movie poster- it may not have been so “controversial”?… But still…. To take down someone’s professional reputation so publicly? Just horrible.

    How can we expect brands to respect and value us when we are not respecting each other (or the PR reps)?

  • So first my disclosure, I write for Babble. My other disclosure is that I am friends with and or familiar with almost everyone commenting on this post.

    Taking someone else’s content and using it as your own is NOT ok. It is never ok.

    There are so many blurred lined happening online right now that I wish we could take a moment and somehow agree on a universal truths of online writing. If someone else’s work has inspired you to write something that is awesome! I am all for an homage with a proper link back to where you got the idea from.

  • Hi everyone, thank you so much for first, bringing this matter to our attention, and second, for keeping the conversation alive. We take plagiarism very seriously, but we also take our relationships with our bloggers just as seriously. It is our duty to take the time to investigate matters like this rather than act too quickly. We have tried to work with the blogger on mending the mistakes, which we truly believe were not malicious on her part. However, we feel at this point the best course of action is to remove the post; we’re exploring further courses of action, which include, of course, reminding our community of our editorial policies. Please understand just how much we care about your opinion and the community at large.

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