Dear Martha Stewart, Here's What You SHOULD Have Said About Bloggers
Dear Martha Stewart,
Lots of bloggers are highly miffed with you right now, and I get why.
Key quote: "Who are these bloggers? They’re not trained editors at Vogue magazine. I mean there are bloggers writing recipes that aren’t tested, that aren’t necessarily very good, or are copies of everything that really good editors have created and done. So bloggers create a kind of popularity, but they are not the experts. And we have to understand that."
Martha, I know you love bloggers because you kicked ass at BlogHer '12. Heck, you even have your own blog network. So I'm trying to parse out what you meant with your comments, and I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt.
I think what you were really saying in this interview is that it’s more difficult for you to trust bloggers, because there’s no immediate institutional layer that has vetted and will vouch for them (such as a magazine's exec staff, or a degree in blogging), as there generally is in mainstream media. That makes it a challenge for you--and for all readers--to feel confident that a blogger’s work is trustworthy.
And your snide-sounding remark about “popularity” is probably intended to mean that you consider popularity the only yardstick we currently have of a blogger's trustworthiness, right? Since, again, usually bloggers are single actors, of varying experience levels, with no institution standing behind them. And that even with all the assiduous self-policing within blogging communities--yes, there will be bad actors, and yes, there will be copyright violations.
That’s a very valid point, though I’m still not positive that’s exactly what you meant. And I'd say that with declining revenue and dwindling staff (including your own), and with the constant, headline-chasing news cycle, these concerns are also true of mainstream media to a greater and greater degree. Shoot, the biggest case of plagiarism I found regarding your recipes was alleged to have been perpetrated by Food Network Chef Anne Thornton.
Still, thought-provoking comments. But what I really don’t understand, Martha, is this: Why did you have to add that dismissive “they’re not the experts” hand-wave? Because there’s no excuse for that.
Some bloggers may not meet your (reputedly high) standards for one thing or another, whether it’s AP style or studio photography or test kitchen layout, but there’s no doubt about one thing: They’re experts.
For one thing, they’re experts in blogging itself. They are doing it every day. You are not--and it's clear in your interview that you're not aware, or have forgotten, that blogging is a community activity, and that the community takes its role in upholding standards very seriously. Sure, those standards haven't been 100% agreed upon; social media is still a young media. But it’s also true that bloggers probably know more about, and can better identify, what makes an expert than you can.
For another, it's my experience (and I was brought up in mainstream media, and have been working with BlogHer for over five years) that bloggers, by the time they've been blogging a while, are almost always experts in their content. They have taken pains to be, because they’re most often doing EVERYTHING BY THEMSELVES, EVERY DAY, WITHOUT A TEAM. If they're accused of copyright violation or poor recipes or bad tutorials, they can't just drop a chef like the Food Network can. Their blog is probably toast if they mess up.
And anyway, just last year, in your BlogHer '12 keynote, you noted yourself that many bloggers are good journalists:
You also become reporters. You become a journalist. You might find you are a good writer, good communicator. The more you do it, the more people that will tweet you and communicate with you.
Image: Danielle Tsi Photography
And that’s why you’re getting responses like these today:
From Megan of Country Cleaver (read the entire post, it's great):
We have all come from different roots, background and skill sets. I believe your background did not start in the kitchens and working your way up through the ranks? Yet we all wish to rally people around a common theme of food, friends and family. I don’t see our missions as all that different – just the methods we use to get there. You have created an empire, one that is trusted by millions. Let me have my empire. I’m proud of it, not matter how small it may be. It’s all mine.
From Kimberly of What's That Smell:
Apparently someone who has children cannot possibly have learned anything about parenting without schooling. Someone who has spent years cooking cannot possibly be considered an expert without formal education. Someone who has learned to sew or craft and has created great new, creative things is not an expert without a degree from the Martha Stewart school of trained pretentious wax figures.
And there is this — Martha’s Circle, “a community of the Web’s leading lifestyle blogs, chosen by Martha Stewart editors.” Yes, it’s a whole network of bloggers being totally embraced by Martha. But it looks as if Martha’s Circle isn’t a perfect circle and has a couple of dents and squiggly lines. Sure, not all lifestyle blogs are worthwhile of praise and some recipes may be questionable, but to belittle such a large community, a community that she profits from, wasn’t very nice. And for someone who is all about things that are pretty, these comments come off as rather ugly.
By Fadra of All Things Fadra
Frankly, your statements don’t surprise me. You’ve often shown yourself to feel threatened anytime your “expertise” is challenged. So I guess in retrospect, your concern about the rising popularity of bloggers is simply evidence that we are a powerful force in media.
Martha, what you should have said to bloggers is "I really respect you" or "You're doing such creative work" or even "I could NEVER do what you do by myself." And for supporting you and blogging about you and working with you and naming you as an inspiration over and over and over? You should have told those bloggers, "Thank you. Thank you so much."