Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A journalist's take on the mom blogger vs. media controversy

There's a fair amount of outrage right now over the New York Times piece that ran this weekend: Honey, Don't Bother Mommy. I'm Too Busy Building My Brand. I'm over at Work It, Mom! and The 36-Hour Day, looking at the controversy from the perspective of both a journalist and a mom who blogs.

In the article, Jennifer Mendelsohn (a mom blogger herself) attended Bloggy Boot Camp -- a blogging and social-media how-to conference for women -- and ended up offending mom bloggers across the country with what some people saw as snarky quips and condescending comments about the very thing that keeps their families afloat.

Three small things I have to mention about the way things work at a big-name newspaper, things I haven't seen mentioned yet in any of the reactions I've read so far. First, the writer almost never has anything to do with the headline. Second, anything that runs in the New York Times (or any other major metropolitan publication) goes through several layers of editing -- much of it without the writer's input -- before the piece hits the page. And, third, the writer rarely, if ever, has any input into the accompanying graphics or photos, and usually doesn't even see them until the article is published.

That said...

I'm straddling a fine line here, but as both a journalist and a mom blogger I think that the problem has less to do with being a mom, and more to do with being a blogger.

Yes, moms are a hot commodity right now -- a coveted demographic, one that marketers and advertisers pursue to such an extent that mainstream media outlets are either creating niches that specifically target moms or buying up existing websites that do so. But newspapers in particular were slow to get on the blogging bandwagon, and many editors still view it as something less important than what appears on the printed page, despite the obvious advantages of being able to post online. Also: While no one disputes that there is some extremely well-written blogs out there, there's an ongoing discussion/argument in the newsroom about whether blogging can be considered journalism, as well as some fear over the feeling that professional, trained journalists are obsolete or easily replaceable. There's also a disconnect between what many mom bloggers do (offer up valuable information, perspective, and networking, as Liz points out in a great post at Mom-101) and what many people think they do: Why would "that kind of content" (personal, the assumption is, and probably much too much so) warrant SEO optimization or a media kit?

Journalists are supposed to be unbiased and impartial, and there's an ongoing battle between the newsroom and the ad department over the way ads are increasingly affecting the presentation of the news. So I wonder: If more bloggers were more vocal about turning down requests from companies who insist on undisclosed, positive reviews of their products, maybe the mainstream media would take them more seriously?

In the comments for my post at The 36-Hour Day, Christy of Quirky Fusion points out that most bloggers do turn down such requests. "I think there are plenty of bloggers turning down undisclosed, positive reviews. In fact, I think most of us are. Are there “bad apples?” Yes. But that’s true in traditional media outlets as well. Mom bloggers aren’t the first to be given swag and trips. We won’t be the last."

Personally, I thought the illustration that ran with the article was far more offensive that the article itself. It showed harried moms neglecting their cranky, crying kids in favor of their computers and smart phones at every turn -- underscoring the misconception that all moms blog in order to escape their unrewarding, isolated stay-at-home lives. No image of a mom trying to pay the bills. No image of a mom at or on the way to her office. No image of a mom with teens or tweens. No image of a mom trying to juggle work and family. That, in my opinion, is a better example of the ignorance and attitude women in general, and moms in particular, are up against.

"There is still no excuse for the NY Times or any other media outlet to continue to bash women in general, and sometimes mothers in particular, for not sticking to their “mommy” roles," commented Joanne Bamberger, who blogs at Pundit Mom. "The headline suggested mothers who are interested in building their businesses and maybe making a buck were neglectful, egocentric mothers. Fathers doing the same thing would be described as entrepreneurial breadwinners. And, in my opinion, the way mothers are described is just an extension of how women political candidates are described by MSM. Sexism is sexism."

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