Archives for 2009

Rules for Being a Media Blogger

This was originally posted at the DeckersMarketing.com blog on May 28, 2009.

I was really honored to be selected as a media blogger for the Indianapolis 500 this year (I’m covering it at my Laughing Stalk humor blog). I’m sitting up here with a lot of local talent, although there are a lot of empty seats right now (I’m in Dennis Neal’s seat from WLW radio in Cincinnati).Indy 500 Media Center

I learned a long time ago that there are a couple of unwritten (and written) rules for media people. And if you’re interested in being a guest blogger for a sports team or major event, you need to follow these rules. They’re the same ones the big-J Journalists follow every day. (“Big-J Journalist” implies that these people are serious journalists who make their living writing and producing important work. These guys look down on bloggers, because we’re not serious or well accepted in journalistic circles.)

  1. Never geek out. You were probably invited because you’ve got a passion for writing and for the team you’re covering. However, you’re the media now. You’re not a fanboy who bumped into your favorite player at a McDonald’s. Play it cool, be mature, and don’t try to be their buddy. You’re there to get a story, just like the real Journalists (see, I even used a big J), so act your age and get it done.
  2. Never ask for autographs or photos. My friend Amanda, who writes Red Hot Mama, the Cincinnati Reds/National League Central fan blog, said she once tried to get some media credentials for a Reds game, and was told it would never happen. It seems the year before, they allowed a blogger into the locker room, but the guy geeked out and asked for autographs and photos with the players. The guy turned into a total fanboy and gave the PR staff the only reason they would ever need to not invite bloggers to cover the team again. Now, we can argue the Reds are missing some great PR and coverage, but until that PR director leaves, he’s willing to give it up to avoid the hassles and headaches.
  3. Blogging is not big-J Journalism. And it never will be if you don’t act like it. Sure there are writers like Chris Brogan, Jason Falls, and even political writers like Matt Drudge and the Daily Kos are all professional bloggers and speakers. They take their reputations and brands seriously, and work hard to make blogging an accepted form of media. If you’re going to be a serious blogger — and maybe we should start calling ourselves big-B Bloggers — write your blog as if you have a serious brand to promote.
  4. On the other hand, you’re not there to write fluff either. Don’t feel like you have to be the company yes man on anything. I was eating lunch today with a reporter who had also been a blogger for his newspaper. He wrote a not-so-nice post about one of the racers and his wife last year, and was griped at by the racer’s staff via email. While he is no longer blogging for his paper, he is still employed by them. He still writes critical pieces if he needs to, and realizes he’s not there to be the PR mouthpiece of the racers or their teams. The takeaway: if you find or see something that could be seen as negative, write about it anyway. Do it respectfully, and treat it like a big-J Journalist would. Write the facts, keep your opinion out of it, and be a professional.

Bloggers are still getting a bad rap from most of the mainstream media as being an unreliable source of news. And it will be, until we change our reputation and quality of work. That, and when the newspapers all go out of business, and network news is replaced by cable news and, well, blogs.

Until that time, as you grow your reputation and reach as a quality Big-B Blogger, practice journalistic techniques. Read books on newspaper writing (it’s still the gold standard of writing quality and ability), use Associated Press writing style, and study as many newspaper writers as you can.

But most importantly, for the love of God, don’t geek out.

9 Books That Will Improve Your Writing

Demian Farnworth over at CopyBlogger came up with a list of the 10 Books That Will Transform Your Writing. Ten books, that if you read them, will help improve your writing just by reading some examples of what is good, and then modeling them

A few of Farnworth’s 10 transforming books:

  • King James Bible
  • Barbarians at the Gate – Bryan Burrough and John Helyar
  • Complete Odes and Epodes of Horace
  • Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell

While I’ve only read a couple of Farnworth’s recommendations, I have a few recommendations of my own. These are my own favorite books and the ones I read more than once just to get an idea of how I want my writing to look.

    1. On Writing – Stephen King. I’m not a big fan of writing books and try to avoid them whenever possible. But more than a few writing friends recommended this one. Stephen King talks more about the desires and itch to write, and how he pursued his love of writing, even when he was first starting out. His story is inspiring and makes believe I can be successful.
    2. Fool – Christopher Moore. Really, any Christopher Moore book will do. The guy is a comic genius and knows how to write humor that catches you off-guard and makes you laugh out loud. Moore writes off-the-wall, exaggerated characters who seem so natural in their setting, and their descriptions and his jokes seem so effortless. He doesn’t crowbar anything into his stories, they just flow.Cover of My Beautiful Idol by Pete Gall - I recommend this if you want to improve your writing. Pete has sentences tight enough you could drum on them.
    3. My Beautiful Idol – Pete Gall. Pete is a writer here in Indianapolis, and has such tight writing that, after I read the first chapter, I started working to tighten up my own writing. I typically don’t notice the quality of writing unless it leaps out at me, good or bad. I’m more carried away by the story. But Pete’s writing just grabbed my attention, and made me pay attention to the quality of the words.
    4. My Other Life – Paul Theroux. I read this novella in an issue of Granta, and became a fan of Theroux. I’m not a big fan of creative writing and the emotional angst anyone with an MFA feels compelled to flog, but Theroux is one of the few I actually enjoy. He’s got a mastery of the language that I wish I could reach.
    5. Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut. Indianapolis’ son is a world-famous wordsmith whose mastery of the language shines through, even when he’s writing some of the weirdest stuff. While most of his novels are fairly weird, Breakfast of Champions turns the Weirdness amp up to 11 . But even in this opus of oddity, the brilliance of his writing is obvious.
    6. Leaves of Grass – Walt Whitman. The Romantic poet sure knew how to turn a phrase. He and a few other of the Romantic poets are great inspiration when you want to capture the flavor of language, and tap into its rhythm and energy, read someone like Whitman, Burns, or Lord Byron to get the creative juices flowing.
    7. Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain. I worked in a restaurant for a few months when I first moved here to Indianapolis, and while I didn’t spend much time in the kitchen, I can tell you it’s hot, sweaty, unpleasant work. But Bourdain is able to make it sound glamorous, cool, and even enjoyable. If he can make kitchen grunt work sound fun and exciting, what can you do with your blog with his influence?
    8. The Naming of the Dead – Ian Rankin. You can actually pick any Inspector Rebus novel by this Scottish writer to get a look at what good dialog looks (he’s written 20 Rebus novels alone; he’s written 12 others) like. The dialog is tight, believable, and sounds like real people. I figure Rankin knows what he’s doing, because according to literary legend, Rankin lives on the same street as J.K. Rowling, who lives in a damn castle. If he made enough money to be her neighbor, he must be doing something right.
    9. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson. The man’s crazed drug and alcohol addictions notwithstanding, HST was a brilliant writer in his early days. His writing suffered as he slipped deeper into his addictions, but his earlier stuff was brilliant. It packed all the punch of a Chuck Norris movie, and was as tight as a drum. That’s because Hunter would write a series of ledes (newspaper talk for “lead,” or the opening sentence of a story), and string them together. Rather than having only one punchy attention-grabbing sentence, he had a dozen of them. If you want to add power to your writing, get the early Thompson works. (Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail is another recommended read.)

Other writers I could have included, but didn’t — for no particular reason include — Douglas Adams, Dave Barry, Dick Francis. These writers are also great, and worth studying. I like them for their humor (Adams and Barry), and their ability to tell a good story (Adams, Francis). Plus, they all have a large body of work to draw from. Check any and all of these writers out and start learning from them as a fun way to improve your writing.

Want to Make Your Writing More Vivid? Use Metaphors

If you want to add some life to your writing, to give it breath and a heartbeat, use metaphors. They’re the lifeblood of any vibrant, vivid writing, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.

I’ve been using metaphors in my writing with great success over the last several years. It marks a significant improvement in the quality of my writing, and I’ve garnered more and better opportunities. Whether there’s a connection between the two, I don’t know.

I’m a big fan of metaphors, and I like them better than similes. From the Greek, metaphora means to transfer or to carry over. It basically carries a comparison from one idea or item to another.

There is one difference between metaphors and similes: similes use the words like or as in them, metaphors do not.

Similes

  • Life is like a box of chocolates. (Forrest Gump
  • There was a great shout like the roaring of an airplane.
  • Similes are like metaphors, but only weaker.

Metaphors

I don’t like similes. They’re weak. They’re the pencil-necked milksop of literary devices. They say things are similar, but not quite that item. Life is like a box of chocolates, but not really.

Take a look at the last metaphor example: “Men’s words are bullets.” That’s a powerful phrase. It doesn’t say they’re like bullets, that they remind people of bullets, or “words can hurt people sort of like bullets can hurt people.” That’s just smarmy, wishy-washy pap.

“Men’s words are bullets,” on the other hand, makes you feel the the emotional damage that can be done by words, feeling the piercing, crashing power of a bullet fired from a large gun.

If you want to make your writing more powerful and add more life to your words, sprinkle some metaphors into your articles and watch what they’ll do for you.

Bloggers Are Citizen Journalists

A common complaint I hear from big-J Journalists about bloggers is that we’re not “real” journalists. That we’re somehow beneath their contempt and notice.

Bullshit. We’re citizen journalists!

I first saw this attitude when I worked at the Indiana State Department of Health, and a few of my colleagues said we would never deal with bloggers because they only wanted to put out bad information. And in dealing with other Journalists, they almost seemed to say “blogger” with a sneer. As if “blogger” was something they stepped in on their way to the office.

Bloggers are citizen journalists, like it or not.

Bloggers are citizen journalists, like it or not.

As a result, many Journalists don’t believe things like Reporter Shield Laws should apply to us citizen journalists. For example, if an environmental blog were to uncover environmental violations by a large corporation, that citizen journalist could be forced to reveal who his or her sources were. But if a newspaper wrote the same story, the reporter would not.

The biggest question comes down to who is a real journalist and who is only a blogger/citizen journalists. In the Branzburg v. Hayes case, Justice Byron White said

“Freedom of the press is a ‘fundamental personal right’ which ‘is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It necessarily embraces pamphlets and leaflets. … The press in its historic connotation comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.’ … The informative function asserted by representatives of the organized press in the present cases is also performed by lecturers, political pollsters, novelists, academic researchers, and dramatists.”

— Quote from an article by David Hudson of FirstAmendmentCenter.org

Even back in 1973, when Justice White threw open “The Press” to anyone who produced the printed word, technology has widened the definition to anyone who writes for blogs, the 21st century’s electronic pamphlet.

In his article, Hudson also cited Kurt Opsahl, the staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who mentioned a couple examples where bloggers outperformed the big-J Journalists

“Bloggers hammered on the Trent Lott story (Lott’s comments about Strom Thurmond) until mainstream media was forced to pick it up again,” he said. “Three amateur journalists at the Powerline.com blog were primarily responsible for discrediting the documents used in CBS’s rush-to-air story on President George Bush’s National Guard service. And the list goes on.”

Cox lists several other national-headline stories affected greatly by reporting from blogs, including: Dan Rather and the Texas Air National Guard memos, the White House giving press credentials to James Guckert/Jeff Gannon, the resignation of CNN news executive Eason Jordan after publicity surrounding his remarks at the World Economic Forum and the John Kerry-Swift Boat Veterans for Truth controversy.

Or to put it another way, the big political scoops in the last 5 years have not been by the media, but by bloggers. Also called little-J journalists.

So, other than an overwhelming sense of elitism by the men and women of the dead-tree media, what really separates us from being real Journalists?

Is it the medium? Many former newspaper reporters and columnists have left the printed word, and gone on to start their own blogging career:

  1. Ruth Holladay who is serving brilliantly as a cheerleader for traditional media and a thorn in the side of her former employer, Gannett
  2. Lori Borgman the former arts columnist for the Indianapolis Star
  3. Columnist Saul Friedman who retired from Newsday rather than let his column go up behind a paywall

(I’m curious what their colleagues think? Have these writers somehow fallen from grace, and are no longer “good enough” to be considered Journalists? Are they now mentioned with the same sneer I heard three years ago?)

Maybe the pay is the issue. The fact that bloggers don’t get paid as much as newspaper writers (who, frankly, are not known for their lavish pay and glamorous lifestyle) may be the deciding factor. However, there are some online writers who make a lot more money than most successful businesspeople, let alone Journalists. So that argument doesn’t seem to hold weight.

Maybe it’s the training. The aforementioned paper-turned-pixel writers notwithstanding, Journalists seem to think they have the super-secret training that makes them a font of reliability and trustworthiness. Yet I know a lot of journalists who can’t spell, don’t know grammar, and in some cases, just plain can’t write. I took several journalism classes in college, and I can tell you they don’t teach anything extra special that someone with a penchant for the written word couldn’t pick up.

Even the Washington Post isn’t immune from bad writers. Meanwhile, there are several outstanding bloggers who produce some outstanding prose that would make any big-J Journalist green with envy.

Maybe it’s because the media is trustworthy and bloggers aren’t? You know, trustworthy. People like Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, and Ruth Shalit. Of course, Shalit is back in journalism, Blair is a life coach in Virginia, and Glass is now a multi-millionaire, thanks to the book and movie deals he has gotten.

Admittedly, these three are the exception to the rule, and not the rule themselves. But my point is there are bad apples in blogging and bad apples in Journalism. Still if you’re going to accuse bloggers of not telling the truth, you need to look at the journalists who make stuff up too.

I just don’t see what the big difference is, other than bloggers don’t kill a lot of trees to get their message out through a dying medium. Yes, there are bad bloggers, but there are bad journalists. Yes, there are bloggers who lie, but there are lying journalists as well. (Some people might say that term is redundant.) Yes, journalists are trained as writers, but there are a lot of trained writers who use the electronic medium instead of newsprint.

If the U.S. Supreme Court opened up the definition of Citizen Journalists to pamphleteers and leaflet-writers, then they can certainly open it up to bloggers. And as bloggers, we need to make sure we can meet that expectation. We need to take on the mantle of Citizen Journalist ourselves, and then make sure we live up to that standard. (I’ll discuss that more in the future.)

So what do you think? Are bloggers journalists? Or are we a bunch of cranks sitting in our parents’ basement under bare light bulbs, writing about conspiracy theories and Paris Hilton sightings?

Stacks of newspapers photo: John Thurm
Ann Arbor News photo: mfophoto

Five Punctuation Errors Exploded

We had such great success with our Five Grammar Myths Exploded post, and I’m such an attention whore, that I wanted to follow up with Five Punctuation Errors Exploded. Plus, I’m a bit of a Word Nerd and Punctuation Prude (but not a Grammar Granny), that I wanted to talk about a few of the punctuation errors I see people make over and over.

Unfortunately, a lot of these errors are perpetuated by Microsoft Word’s Grammar Checker. Others are perpetuated by English and writing teachers who are still teaching the same errors they learned when they were writing their lessons on slate tablets. And still others are inexplicable. No one knows why they do it, but they do it.

Here are the five most common ones I’ve seen.

1. Don’t use apostrophes for anything but possessive pluralization: This one sets my teeth on edge, more than any other. An apostrophe is absolutely, positively, without exception used to show possessive or contractions. It is never, ever, ever used to show plurals.

With one exception. (More on that in a minute.)

First, don’t write things like DVD’s, CDs, CEO’s, 1990’s, or any abbreviation or acronym. The proper pluralization is DVDs, CDs, CEOs, and 1990s. No question.

The one exception is if you are pluralizing a single letter. The Oakland A’s, five Model T’s.

So the rule for apostrophes is just to leave it out for plurals, unless you’re pluralizing a single letter.

(Update: More than a few people pointed out that apostrophes are also used for contractions, which I knew, but forgot to mention. Thanks for the reminder, everyone.)

2. I give a f— about the Oxford comma: This one is actually optional, but I love the Oxford Comma. So if you were to ask me the first line of the Oxford Comma song by Vampire Weekend, the answer is “I do!”

The Oxford comma — also called the Harvard comma or Serial comma — is the comma that appears before “and” in a list. Red, white, and blue. Moe, Larry, and Curly. That comma there before “and” is the Oxford comma.

There are some writing styles that forbid it, like AP Style. Others allow it, like MLA and APA.

The problem is some Oxford comma-haters will remove it as a knee jerk reaction. See an Oxford comma, yank it out. That leads to problems, like the famous example of the book author who wrote in his dedication, “To my parents, the Pope and Mother Teresa.” Or the gay church in Dallas that has “3,500 members, a full choir, a violinist and long-stemmed roses in the bathroom.”

Punctuation is designed to make language more readable and understandable. And sometimes removing a comma just because you’re “supposed to” can make the problem worse.

Bottom line: Using the Oxford comma isn’t wrong. It’s strictly a style issue.

3. Hyphens are dying: Some people say the hyphen is old-fashioned. Others would say it’s old fashioned. Either way, the hyphen is falling out of favor with most grammarians and editors. In fact, the sixth edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, editors removed hyphens from 16,000 entries. An article in the BBC said words like fig-leaf, pot-belly, and pigeon-hole are now fig leaf, pot belly, and pigeonhole.

The Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue is very thorough on the subject of hyphens. They have eight examples of when it should be used. The three most important are:

  • Use a hyphen to join two or more words serving as a single adjective before a noun:

a one-way street
chocolate-covered peanuts
well-known author

  • However, when compound modifiers come after a noun, they are not hyphenated:

The peanuts were chocolate covered.
The author was well known.

  • Use a hyphen to avoid confusion or an awkward combination of letters:

re-sign a petition (vs. resign from a job)
semi-independent (but semiconscious)
shell-like (but childlike)

Unfortunately, there’s no one rule that will explain all hyphens. If you’re not sure what to do, check Purdue’s OWL.

4. Proper use of the en (–) and em (—) dash: I love dashes. More powerful than commas, but not as sentence-stopping as a period. An em dash — which is the really long dash; so called because it’s the approximate width of the letter m — is used to separate parenthetical thoughts in your writing.

The en dash — it’s the approximate width of the letter n — is used to show a range between numbers.

I will be in Orlando, Florida from January 21 – 28.
Admission is $3 for ages 4 – 12.

Create the em dash with SHIFT+OPT+hyphen (Mac)/CTRL+ALT+hyphen (Windows). Create the en dash with OPT+hyphen (Mac)/ALT+hyphen (Windows). You can also turn on “Create em dash” in Word; anytime you type a double dash (–), Word will replace it with an em dash.

The other question I see a lot is whether to put a space between the em dash and a word. There doesn’t seem to be any consensus on whether to do it or not. The Chicago Manual of Style says there shouldn’t be any spaces—like this—between dashes and text. But the AP Stylebook — which is correct in all things except my beloved Oxford comma — says it’s okay to have a space between dashes and text (like I just did there).

The basic rule is the em dash is used in text, the en dash is used to show a range between numbers.

5. Punctuation always goes inside quotation marks: This is a simple one, but one that people don’t always understand. Basically, all punctuation goes inside quotation marks when you’re writing a quote.

“Where are you going?” she asked.
“None of your business!” he said.
“Jeez, you’re always such a jerk,” she said.

The punctuation in the last example is the one that usually trips people up. The entire sentence actually ends with “she said,” which is why the period goes at the very end. The actual quote — Jeez, you’re always such a jerk — ends with a comma, which goes inside the quote.

Now, if she says something else afterward, that’s actually a separate sentence, and doesn’t need a “she said” to go with it.

“Jeez, you’re always such a jerk,” she said. “I don’t know why I married you in the first place.”

Even other quotation marks will go inside the final quotation mark.

“And then I said, ‘that sounds like a load of BS!'” he shouted over the music.

Notice the use of the single quotation mark around ‘that sounds like a load of BS!’ That’s how you show you’re quoting something within another quote. But then if you look very closely at the end of the example, you’ll see the single quote and the double quote mashed together. It’s a little sloppy and hard to see, but that’s just how it is.

Bottom line: All punctuation goes inside a quotation mark, including other quotation marks.

(Special thanks to Bil Browning of the Bilerico Project for recommending this final item for the list.)

What about you? What are some of your punctuation pet peeves? What bugs you, or what do you struggle with? Leave a comment, and we’ll do a followup post.

Apostrophe photo: Melita Dennett
Comma photo: Leo Reynolds

Five Grammar Myths Exploded

I love language, and I’m a stickler for grammar and punctuation. I don’t always know the names of the rules, or how to diagram a sentence, but I know what’s right, and what’s not.

So as a professional wordsmith, and self-confessed know-it-all, I want to explode five common grammar myths I hear rather frequently.

  1. You can’t end your sentences with a preposition: According to Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette, hosts of at A Way With Words, an NPR radio show for Word Nerds, this is a tired old proscriptiondating back from the 17th century.Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty said it best in her podcast:

    A key point, you might say the Quick and Dirty Tip, is that the sentence doesn’t work if you leave off the preposition. You can’t say, “What did you step?” You need to say, “What did you step on?” to make a grammatical sentence.

    I can hear some of you gnashing your teeth right now, while you think, “What about saying, ‘On what did you step?’”

    But really, have you ever heard anyone talk that way? I’ve read long, contorted arguments from noted grammarians about why it’s OK to end sentences with prepositions when the preposition isn’t extraneous (1), but the driving point still seems to be, “Nobody in their right mind talks this way.” Yes, you could say, “On what did you step?” but not even grammarians think you should.

    Or in the famous words of Winston Churchill, “this is utter nonsense, up with which I shall not put.

  2. Don’t split infinitives: Patricia O’Connor, author of Woe Is I, says this is a bunch of hooey. She lays the blame at the feet of Henry Alford, a Latinist and Dean of Canterbury in the 1800s, for foisting this crap on us.Alford published a grammar book in 1864, A Plea for the Queen’s English, where he used several Latin rules to create English rules, like the idea that the word “to” is part of an infinitive, and thus should be inseparable. O’Connor’s book is much bigger and more popular, and she says Alford is dead wrong.

    Part of the problem is that infinitives in Latin are single words, while they’re two words in English: to go, to run, to lift, to look. Alford figured if they can’t be split in his dead language of choice, they shouldn’t be split in the language everyone else was using.

    Look, English isn’t Latin, so we shouldn’t be bound by rules that guys with funny beards tried to impose on us, especially when they had no foundation to begin with. (This same kind of Latin = English is the reason for the “don’t end your sentences with a preposition” myth too.)

  3. It’s an historic occasion: Use “an” when a word starts with a vowel sound, like “an NBA referee.” Bottom line: does “historic” start with a vowel sound? No. So stop saying “an historic.” The reason some people do it is because the British do it. Why do the British do it? Because in some regions of the country, and with a Cockney accent, they sometimes drop the H sound from words like her, he, or his. (And yet they stick it on words like herbal. Go figure) A dropped H means a word starts with a vowel sound, and hence the “an” in front of it. So people who want to sound like they’re educated in England will do the whole “an historic” thing.
  4. Alright isn’t all right:Turns out it is, much to my relief. I have been using “alright” for years, and was told recently it was wrong. It was a dark day.However, Gabe Doyle, a 4th year computational psycholinguistics graduate student at UC-San Diego (i.e. he’s smarter than you) and owner of the Motivated Grammar blog, says you can. “Alright is a common, 100-year-old alternate spelling of all right, presumably created on analogy to already and although.” So if a 4th year computational psycholinguist on the Internet says it’s true, that’s good enough for me.
  5. Don’t start sentences with And, But, or Or: That might have been true once, but not anymore. It’s a modern invention of writing and language, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Patricia O’Connor says we’ve been starting sentences with And and other conjunctions since the 10th century. She says that other than a bunch of high school English teachers driving themselves to hysterics, there’s no proof we can’t do this.

Explosion photo: Veo

Making the Argument for Ghost Blogging. Yet Again.

My good friend Lindsay Manfredi and I were both interviewed about ghost blogging last week, and asked whether we thought it carried any ethical dilemmas.

The answer is no, it doesn’t. Not if it’s done correctly.

I’ve talked about ghost blogging before, and said if it follows a few basic procedures, it’s as ethical as, say, public relations. (Er, on second thought. . . )social media ninjas

Yet, the issue keeps getting brought up, as if we’re committing some unpardonable ethical sin, like medical testing on baby seals. But the only people who seem to care are social media purists and “social media ninjas” who talk about transparency, yet work in industries where their efforts, if done correctly, are anonymous and behind the scenes as well.

Ghostwriting = copywriting

Anyone who does freelance copywriting can tell you that their name doesn’t go on squat when it comes to their efforts. Sales brochures, web copy, sales letters, speeches, you name it, the writer’s name is not-so-noticeably absent from the final copy. And that’s fine. That’s the life we choose.

Marketing agencies don’t get their names on their clients’ campaigns. No one whines that “my name isn’t on that sales brochure I wrote” or “my name isn’t in the newspaper article I sent the press release about.” Frankly, if you’re worried about getting credit for your work, you’re in the wrong business. If you want a byline, be a journalist.

Maintaining Ethical Boundaries for Ghost Blogging

A good ghost has procedures they follow with their clients:

  1. I interview the client, who tells me — in his own words — his thoughts about their industry-specific issues.
  2. I transcribe the interview and clean it up, turning it into 350 – 450 words of clear, informative copy.
  3. The client approves the article.
  4. I publish the article on their blog.

It’s the clients thoughts, the client’s words. I just transcribe it. Or as we like to say, “we do the work so you can go to your meetings.”

How is this any different from the CEO’s letter at the front of the company’s annual report? Or a politician’s speech to her constituents? Or the catalog copy that was supposedly written by the company’s founder? How is it any different from a PR flak’s press release that becomes the basis for a news article? (I say this as a former flak whose press releases were often turned into “Staff Wire Reports” by one county newspaper.)

Answer: It isn’t. Not a bit. They are exactly the same thing. (In fact, Jason Falls says that we’re not ghostwriters, we’re copywriters, and that it’s okay.)

These are the same steps that every other copywriter, speechwriter, and marketing director in the world follows when they produce work for a client. This has been an acceptable practice since well before Judson Welliver ghosted for Warren G. Harding, thus becoming the first presidential speechwriter.

The only place ghostwriting isn’t acceptable is journalism and academia, as it should be. Your merit is based on the work you produce; in business, it’s based on the results you achieve. (Although academia seems to have some of its own ghostwriting issues.)

So if you are against ghost blogging, you need to be against all ghostwriting. You need to speak out against speechwriters for politicians. You need to put an end to all freelance copywriting. You need to stop sending out press releases that don’t include your name as a quoted source.

Otherwise, it’s a non-issue. The people who hire me are the ones I’m concerned with. The social media purists? Well, you just give me something to blog about, thus boosting my own search engine rankings.

So, thanks for that.