I’m going to tell you right up front that this may be a little ranty. (Rants in my pants!) I’m angry and I’m not going to try to hide that. I’m angry because it aggravates me when people who are supposedly my colleagues do things that sell themselves short, and—by extension—reflect badly on our industry. It upsets me when someone makes a poor choice, sure, but it enrages me when those poor choices start coloring how potential clients might view me. To the people who respond to this stuff with “Why does someone else’s behavior even matter to you?” I say this: It matters to me because it affects the expectations projected onto me. No man is an island, they say, and I’m here to say no freelancer lives in a sanitized bubble. What you do does indeed sometimes affect my livelihood. So you’d better believe it matters to me.
There are two (completely separate) issues stuck in my craw this week that I think bear further examination. Maybe you’ll take a look and disagree with me, and that’s fine. For me, both issues really go to the heart of what it means to have integrity. And if you’ve been reading me for any time at all, you know that I believe you can’t make it in this business for very long without your integrity; you may get by for a while, but eventually it will make you unhireable and/or unreadable.
The first issue: BlogHer sponsored tweets and Facebooking.
If you want an excellent rundown of this one, check out Anna Viele’s post entitled How Much Does BlogHer Think Your Trust Capital Is Worth? Five Bucks. The upshot is that the BlogHer Ad Network reached out to its members to offer a campaign wherein four sponsored tweets or Facebook updates a month would earn members an extra $20.
I can’t even begin to tell you how sad this made me.
To put this in context, let me tell you this: I was one of the inaugural members of the BlogHer Ad Network. I love BlogHer, truly. I think a ton of good has come out of the BlogHer site, their conferences, and even the ad network. I have a deep respect for the founders and many women I call friends are BlogHer employees. I’m a contributing editor on the site and I believe in their mission. This is not about saying “BlogHer is bad!” In fact, I think it would be a lot easier for me if that’s what I believed. I don’t.
But this sponsored tweet thing hit me wrong on multiple levels. As Anna points out, you’re selling your trust capital for just $5/tweet. Now—to be fair—BlogHer has always been extremely good about proper disclosure and encouraging transparency in their bloggers. So I feel confident they’re not looking for people to be dishonest about this campaign. But it still feels… icky. $5 for a sponsored tweet?
I have a very vivid memory of being at one of the first BlogHer conferences, talking about Pay Per Post (which has since changed its name, I believe at least in part due to the backlash aimed their way about their business model). A blogger I used to read occasionally had written an entire post about a garden rake (scintillating!); it was a sponsored post, and she was paid $5. I never read her blog again. Later, I wrote an impassioned post about how you shouldn’t be selling yourself short, you shouldn’t give up your writing for just $5, and received a few “How dare you judge me on how I choose to support my family” responses.
No one can support a family on $5. Every time you choose the $5 option, you are:
1) Making it more okay for companies to make those (cheap) offers and expect people will take them,
2) Making more work for yourself (because how many of those do you have to take to cobble together a livable income?),
3) Eroding your credibility. Period.
When I received that email from BlogHer, at first I just deleted it because I knew I didn’t want to participate in that campaign. But after thinking about it for a day, I elected to remove my blog from their network. It bothered me that much. I’m not saying I’m right and they’re wrong, I’m just saying that the idea of tweeting for five bucks makes me think about that post about how awesome this particular rake is… and that’s just not something I want to be a part of, no matter how much respect I have for the BlogHer organization as a whole.
The second issue: “Corn sugar” on blog tour.
Did you know that High Fructose Corn Syrup is lobbying to be officially renamed “corn sugar?” Because that will ease consumer confusion, you know, given that this product is completely natural and good for you and just like sugar, plus a lot of people think HFCS is bad for you for some reason. (And by “for some reason” I of course mean “according to multiple scientific studies.”)
This morning I read Liz Gumbinner’s post about the Corn Refiner’s Association-sponsored blog tour through Mom Central that has bloggers writing about how really, HFCS is just fine, and they know this because the CRA brought them in for a presentation that told them so. Liz covers this so much more eloquently than I ever could; please do read her post. But prepare to be shocked and amazed, and not in a good way.
The best (?) part of this whole debacle is that the participants are being paid in gift certificates. Not even actual money, folks. People are standing up to vouch for a controversial food additive in return for gift certificates.
This one upsets me on a much deeper level, because—in addition to a business model I find questionable, and women not being paid what they’re worth—HFCS happens to be a product I abhor. Liz really says it best, what the dietary and economic ramifications are with this particular industry, but the bottom line for me is that this is a product that hurts our children. And no matter what the Corn Refiners Association tells us, it is not the same as sugar. The fact that they have anyone believing this tripe is upsetting to me, but the fact that they have people in my industry schilling for them in return for gift certificates, on top of that… well, I may need to go curl up in the corner for a few minutes.
I want to live in a world where people are paid what they’re worth, and where professionals only endorse products they actually believe in (and which aren’t harmful). Is that so much to ask?
It starts with me. It starts with you. It starts with everyone who calls themselves a writer not selling themselves short. It’s not worth it. It will damage your career and obliterate your credibility. And then at the end of the day you’ll still have… well, your gift certificate or your $5. Is that really enough?