Bloggers Need to Act Professionally to be Taken Seriously

Yesterday, Deb Ng put a big smackdown on self-entitled bloggers who think that conference hotels need to fawn all over their guests or face the wrath of thousands of angry mommy bloggers armed with smartphones and hashtags.

I found a post filled with nothing but entitlement. The blogger, whose name is Jen, posted an open letter to the Sheraton Chicago who will be hosting BlogHer in a few weeks.  She wanted to prepare hotel management for what’s to come.

After explaining what a blogger is, because apparently hotel staff aren’t hip or in touch enough to know, Jen goes on to tell the hotel what to expect if BlogHer attendees aren’t treated super special.

Ng’s disgust is understandable. Bloggers want to be taken seriously as writers and journalists, and the problems Jen warns the Sheraton about make it that much harder. It doesn’t help when bloggers are on their worst behavior, not by being loud and obnoxious — every conference in every industry does that — but by being unreasonable and demanding.

If we want to be taken seriously as professionals, and not just a hobbyist with a laptop, we need to act like professionals. Here’s how:

1) Act Like You’re Supposed To Be There

Indy 500 Media Center

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Media Center. I’ve covered the Indy 500 since 2009.

Don’t fawn, don’t gush, don’t geek out, don’t ask for autographs. Red Hot Mama, a baseball blogger, once told me the Cincinnati Reds won’t give access to bloggers anymore, because one blogger in the mid-2000s was given media access and instead acted like a total fanboy. He got pictures taken with players, asked for autographs, the whole works. He was the first and last blogger allowed in the clubhouse. Similarly, when I started covering the Indianapolis 500 for my personal blog, I was told the Speedway would yank the credentials of any journalist who ever asked a driver for an autograph or a photo.

Journalists don’t gush, they act like they’re supposed to be there. They have a job to do, and they get it done. Do the same. Act like this is your job, not a once-in-a-lifetime special treat. Because if you don’t, it truly will only happen once. Act like a pro and they’ll ask you back.

2) You’re Not Entitled To Anything

You don’t deserve the things you’re given. They’re not given to you because you’re special. They’re given to you as part of a media and PR campaign. You can’t march into a conference or special event and demand a swag bag or a VIP pass. (See “You’re Not A Celebrity” below.) Don’t act entitled, be humble. If someone gives you a gift, accept it in the spirit it’s given: it’s a gift. Be grateful for it.

This issue is a sticky wicket, because bloggers will often get free things that journalists are not allowed to receive. It’s one area of ethics that separates bloggers from the pros, and may need to change one day. But in the meantime, if you act like you deserve it, you’ll soon be blackballed by the people you’re trying to write about.

3) Don’t Tweet Your Tantrums

If you don’t get something you want, don’t be a passive-aggressive whiner. Don’t throw a Twitter tantrum. Be a mature and responsible adult. Speak to a real person about your complaint. If they don’t make it right, speak to a manager. If they still don’t make it right, then you can take it outside. Tweeting that a restaurant burned your meal or forgot to put cream in your coffee without giving them a chance to make it right first just makes you look like a brat.

There are a couple of times where going straight to Twitter is not a bad thing. Any company that has a Twitter customer service account can be more easily reached this way than spending 20 minutes on the phone. @Delta has fixed a couple of problems for me in the past this way. But publicly complaining about something that could have been fixed with a 15 second conversation is not the way to do it.

4) You’re Not A Celebrity

I’ve never known a journalist to play the “do you know who I am?” card. They don’t expect to be recognized. Many go out of their way to avoid it. Which means, they never threaten people with “exposure” in their newspaper or on their news program when they’re displeased.

Conversely, I’ve known bloggers and book authors who expect immediate name recognition, believing that people regularly peruse the blogosphere or study a bookstore’s shelves in the hopes that they’ll one day meet those writers. When that recognition doesn’t come, said writers will drop their job title or accomplishments about as casually as a college freshman trying not to act drunk, in the hopes of intimidating the other person into giving them free stuff.

You may have thousands of people who gush about you online or shake your hand after you speak at a conference, but until your face shows up on a gossip rag at the supermarket checkout, you’re not a real celebrity.

5) Don’t Be A Bully

When things don’t go your way, don’t be a bully (i.e. don’t play the “do you know who I am?” card here either). Don’t get all your friends to join forces and tweet someone else into submission.

I’m always amazed at the number of people who claim to be anti-bullying, but will gang up and publicly shame people who they think are deserving of their scorn. Companies that gave them a bad experience will soon be on the receiving end of several dozen, if not hundreds, of snotty comments on their Facebook page.

If you’re a consumer or social justice advocate, that’s one thing. But slashing people with the swift sword of Twitter justice just because you don’t like the coffee makes you a bully.

(No, seriously, that happens. The story Ng responded to included this little gem: “Don’t water down the coffee you serve us. Don’t. We’ll hunt you down and kill you with hashtags. #WheresTheCaffeineSheraton?” While Jen’s statement was supposed to be a joke, that actually happens way more than it ever should.)

We’re going to see a day when bloggers are seen and accepted as professionals, but that day is going to be a long time coming when they act like whiny little gits who expect the world to fall over themselves trying to please them. I’m not just picking on Jen or BlogHer, I’m talking to any blogger who has ever thought their 2,000 readers a month made them A Force To Be Reckoned With.

Treat people with respect, be kind, be polite, and act like you know what you’re doing. Everyone else knows what that should look like, and when you don’t, you just make the rest of us who are actually doing the work look bad.

Four Journalism Techniques To Incorporate Into Your Blog Writing

If you want to be a successful blogger, you need to write like a journalist. In writing style — short words, short sentences, short paragraphs — as well as story flow — important information first, next important, third important, and so on.

But there are a few other journalism techniques you need for your blog if you want it to flow easily, and attract readers’ attention.

My first training as a writer was actually in journalism. It started with my Journalism 101 class at Ball State University, and then being a columnist and reporter for the Ball State Daily News. Since then

Stack of newspapers(For historic reference, this was back in 1987, when they were still printing out, waxing, and pasting up all the pages of the paper. This method of newspaper layout is also where the terms “cut and paste” came from.)

I’ve also been a newspaper humor columnist for over 18 years, and was a freelance newspaper reporter for a time. So everything I do is with a journalist’s eye — a jaundiced, bloodshot, narrowed-suspiciously eye. (I keep it in a desk drawer at my office.)

There were four important journalism lessons I learned from those early days of my writing career, which I still use in blogging today.

1. Your Lede Should Contain Everything We Need to Know

First, yes, it’s “lede” (pronounced “leed.”) It’s spelled that way so it’s not confused with “lead” (led), which is what the movable type was made from back in the early, early days of newspapers. Some newspaper reporters will call the opening paragraph the “lead,” but they don’t have a flair for historical drama.

Your lede needs to contain the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the story. We should be able to read that and understand everything we need to know about your blog post. Some of it may be implied, some of it may be understood, but most of it should just be put right out there.

Take a look at my opening lede:

If you (who) want to be (when = in the future) a successful (why) blogger (what = blogger and where = on your blog), you need to write like a journalist (how). In writing style (as well as story flow — important information first, next important, third important, and so on (more what and how).

2. Refer To a Person By Their Whole Name First, and Their Last Name Thereafter

If you mention a person in your blog post, mention them by their whole name, give their title or reason for inclusion the first time. Every time you refer to them thereafter, use their last name only. The presumption is, if the reader needs to know who you’re referring to, they can always scroll back up the story to find their first mention. We do this for men and women alike. The New York Times has their own style of referring to people as “Mr. Deckers” or “Ms. Carter,” but the rest of the journalistic world just uses last names only.

3. Write for Coma Patients

As my Journalism 101 professor, Mark Popovich, explained it: “Imagine your reader came out of a two-year coma this morning and has no idea what’s going on. So they open a newspaper to your story, and this is the first they’re hearing about any of this.”

This means you have to explain some issues, or at least refer back to them. You can’t assume that everyone knows what you’re talking about. You have to assume they’re coming to the issue for the first time in their lives, even if you’ve written about this topic for five years.

And while we’re on the subject, please never use “Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know about” or “Unless you’ve been in a coma, you’ve already heard about” as your lede. It’s stupid, and actually a little offensive. I saw that lede in a blog post about some advanced piece on affiliate marketing, and I still had no idea what the guy was talking about even after he was done.

This hypothetical coma patient is why newspaper stories have all the background information at the end of a story, even if it’s a long running story that “everyone knows about.” They explain the details we learned about in the early days of the issue, just in case someone is not up to speed.

For bloggers, that means link to your past posts about your topic, so our coma patient can go back to that story to catch up. (e.g. “I previously discussed the eight writer archetypes back in March.”)

(It also helps if you have the link open up in a new tab, rather than letting them leave the current page.)

4. Spell Out ALL Jargon The First Time In Every Blog Post

I don’t care if you’re THE leading expert in the industry, and you happen to know that every reader who comes across your blog knows exactly who you are and what you’re talking about. You always spell out abbreviations, acronyms, and jargon terms.

ALWAYS!

Because one day, someone who is not in your industry is going to stumble upon your blog, have no idea what you’re talking about, and they’re going to leave.

It could be our coma patient, or it could be the person who was newly-promoted to the position where they need to give a big fat check to someone with your expertise, but it’s not going to be you, because they have no idea what you do.

If you can make your beginning reader feel smart, without talking down to your advanced reader — and that’s a difficult balance to strike sometimes — you’ll be the person that everyone turns to, rather than just reaching a slice of your potential audience.

Most of our reading habits and reading styles have been shaped and influenced by newspapers. The Boomers and Generation Xers got there by reading actual newspapers. And because that writing style continues on, the Gen Yers are reading the same kinds of news stories online, and being similarly influenced.

Writing and reading styles are still changing as we gather more content online. We skim to read now, rather than reading entire blocks of text.

But one thing will remain the same: journalistic writing is effective for information gathering, because it gives people the most amount of information in the shortest amount of time.

As more people skim to read, if you can write like a journalist, you’ll get more information into their brains

Photo credit: NS Newsflash (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Brevity vs. Poetry: A Writer’s Dilemma

Writer E.B. White “was troubled by the absolutism of such rules” as set out in Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, says BrainPickings.org*.

White would respond to letter writers who had questions, comments, complaints, and compliments about the different rules and dictums set forth in the book that every college freshman buys, skims, and then never reads again.

“Avoid needless words,” was S&W’s admonishment to the blatherers in English Comp classes.

“Write down to the bones,” said every college journalism professor. “Scrape off all the fat.”

Problem is, this approach oftentimes results in the very life of the language being sucked right out of the piece. It’s the rhythm of the language that makes it enjoyable to read.

Ernest Hemingway

“I think that I shall never see/a lion as lovely as one shot by me.”

Would Ernest Hemingway Make a Good Poet?

I decided a long time ago that my writing style would be concise and simple. Hemingway-esque. Avoid adverbs, that sort of thing. (Although I’m still a sucker for a well-placed adjective.)

This contradicts the writing style students are being taught in colleges and universities: utilizing multi-syllabic, complex words that very few people, including the professor truly understood, but make you sound erudite; long, meandering sentences that endeavor to explain and clarify one’s thoughts with as many extraneous words as possible, which make you sound educated; and, whackingly long Faulkner-esque paragraphs that, when printed out on standard paper, can wipe out an entire rain forest, with bonus points being granted if you can use one sentence for a multi-line paragraph, like this sentence here.

This isn’t writing, it’s vocabulary vomiting. Students are being told that in order to communicate “effectively,” they have to use big words. As a result, when I meet a new graduate who wants to be a writer, this is the first habit I break them of, and teach them to use simpler, more vivid picturesque language. There’s a place for simplicity, but also a place for the beauty of the language.

This usually brings us to a different problem, where writers — especially nonfiction writers — are taught to avoid all adverbs and adjectives, even metaphors and similes, for the sake of simple, scientific, logical writing. (They are all then put into boxes and delivered by the truckload to the Creative Writing department, but that’s a different blog post.)

Use Language’s Natural Rhythm

The problem with this oversimple, journalistic-style writing is the language tends to be dry. Describe the facts, without hyperbole or exaggeration. Present them in the fewest words as possible to save on column inches and to keep readers involved as long as possible.

But, what about the poetry of language? Language has a natural rhythm that makes some words a better fit than others. Some writers are masters at this, and Hemingway was one of the few who could find the rhythm in his sparse style. Other people who do it well are speechwriters. Ted Sorensen, John F. Kennedy’s speechwriter, excelled at it, as did Reagan and Clinton’s speechwriters.

As White said in a letter in his book, The Letters of E.B. White:

It comes down to the meaning of ‘needless.’ Often a word can be removed without destroying the structure of a sentence, but that does not necessarily mean that the word is needless or that the sentence has gained by its removal.

If you were to put a narrow construction on the word ‘needless,’ you would have to remove tens of thousands of words from Shakespeare, who seldom said anything in six words that could be said in twenty. Writing is not an exercise in excision, it’s a journey into sound. How about ‘tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’*? One tomorrow would suffice, but it’s the other two that have made the thing immortal.

Writing is a “journey into sound.” That’s the natural rhythm of language. Tap into it, and people will read your work, long after they swore they would quit. Many times I’ve found myself promising to only read 10 pages before I go to sleep, only to look at the clock and see that two hours have passed.

Roger Angell, the baseball writer for The New Yorker, is a master at finding rhythm, but doing it in long sentences. He uses 80 words to weave an Appalachian Trail of a sentence to make you feel like you’re sitting at the ballpark with him. He still needs every word to do it though. There are very few “needless words” in a Roger Angell article.

Simple Writing is Not Stripped Down Writing

Simple writing is not just striking out everything but nouns and verbs. It means choosing the very best words.

It’s like how a minimalist decorates their house: they don’t have just a TV and a couch in the living room. They’ll also have books on a bookshelf, but only 50 of their most favorite books in all the world.

Simple writers may use only a few words, but they use the right words that convey exactly what they want to say. They don’t explain the words they use, they use the richest words that hold the most meaning.

The secret to writing poetically and with brevity is to find the most vivid words with the deepest meaning to properly convey the message, and tap into the their rhythm to carry your thoughts.

* If you’re a writer, or you care about words, read BrainPickings.org every day, and subscribe to the newsletter. Also, follow @BrainPicker on the Twitter.

How Google Caught a Plagiarizing Newspaper Editor and Ended His Career

I’m baffled at the fact that, when we live in a day and age where you can find anything — anything! — on Google, people will still try to plagiarize and steal your stuff.

It just happened to me yesterday, when I was alerted by a fellow humor writer, Dave Fox, that 28-year newspaper veteran, Jon Flatland, had stolen at least two of my past humor columns, word for word, and passed them off as his own.Photo of a raccoon on a trash can

To make matters worse, Flatland had done the same to Dave and four other writers, including a friend of mine.

Flatland didn’t just paraphrase our ideas, or copy a joke or two. He copied-and-pasted entire columns, changed a couple of details, like replacing his wife’s name for my wife’s, or changing the name of a city where an event took place.

Dave immediately got in touch with the publisher, as well as a state newspaper association who had given the writer an award for best humor last year (I’d love to know whose columns actually won the award for him).

One of the writers also called Flatland up and confronted him. Flatland said he didn’t believe he had plagiarized, but that he had found the stories in an old folder, thought he had written them, and published them as his own.

I’m not buying it. One of my stolen stories, ‘Twas the Month Before Christmas, was written in the exact same rhythm and rhyming pattern as the original Night Before Christmas. You don’t forget writing something like that, as much as I’ve tried.

Apparently Flatland knew something was about to hit the fan, because he sent an email of resignation to the publisher — admitting to only one column, even though we have proof of eight — and was gone before the publisher ever got into work. The publisher has since removed all of Flatland’s columns, and has notified his state’s newspaper association about the incident, blackballing Flatland and preventing him from working in newspapers ever again.

That all went down yesterday. I heard about it at 11:30 am, and by 11 pm, it was done. A career died in less than 12 hours.

What’s sad about this is Flatland was a 28 year veteran of the industry. He’s someone who knew better. He was one of the people who was supposed to teach young writers all about journalistic ethics. Flatland has had a long and impressive career in the community newspaper business, and has been the president of at least two state newspaper associations. So his name has carried a little weight in his corner of the world.

And he ended his career in disgrace, because he violated the one rule, the one foundational principle, the entire media business is built on: don’t steal someone else’s shit. In fact, Rule No. 9 on the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics is never plagiarize.

I feel sympathy for Flatland. His career has ended in the most embarrassing manner possible. Former colleagues and association members will be talking about him, shocked that he would do the one thing that journalists are never, ever supposed to do.

But what makes it so stupid and senseless is that WE CAN FIND THESE THINGS OUT! Holy sweet jebus, it’s so freaking easy to find anything on the Internet! There are entire companies that have built multi-billion dollar empires by making it possible to do exactly that.

Want to see Portlandia’s “Put a Bird On It” video? Google it.

Want the lyrics to Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida? Google it.

Want to see if a phrase you used in a humor column in 2006 has been used anywhere else? Google. It.

Enter a unique or uncommon phrase from one of your posts or columns, and put quotes around it. That tells Google to look for exactly that phrase, with all those words, in that particular order.

If the phrase, along with most of your words other words, shows up without your name on it, it was stolen. If it doesn’t, it wasn’t.

It truly is that easy. And why Flatland didn’t know that or couldn’t figure it out is probably the most staggeringly disappointing part of this whole mess. He didn’t think he would get caught. He didn’t think that people might/could/would look to see if any of their stuff was appearing anywhere that it shouldn’t be.

And now, because Flatland didn’t know that one basic fact — that, and he’s a column-stealing thief who benefitted financially from my years of hard work, while I got nothing — he’s ended his career in the worst possible way, ensuring he’s never going to work in that industry again.

If you get nothing else from this column, please burn these two lessons into your memory forever.

First, don’t steal people’s work.

Second, if you do steal, please know that there are giant f—ing search engines that will find you out, no matter what tiny part of the globe you’re in.

Just write your own stuff, or don’t turn it in at all.

Photo credit: Adam Thomas (Flickr)

Some Bloggers Are Journalists. Get Over It

Should journalists be licensed? Should they be given some sort of special card that says they have undergone the rigorous training necessary to objectively report the news, and thus be given special access to government officials, sporting events, and other newsworthy goings-on?

Christine St-Pierre, Quebec’s culture minister, believes so. She is creating a plan for “a new model of regulation of Quebec media.”

In other words, she wants the government to determine who is worthy of being a “journalist,” and thus excluding people who don’t work for traditional media outlets.

As in, not bloggers.

It’s a familiar refrain: newspaper writers and other big-J Journalists don’t like bloggers. We’re not real journalists, they say. We haven’t had the education or training. We’re not held to the same rigorous editing and writing standards that they are. And so, this makes them the arbiter of deciding what is real journalism and what isn’t.

Australian writer and web developer Aaron Holesgrove echoes St-Pierre’s sentiments, claiming some moral high ground that bloggers may not occupy, simply because we don’t work for newspapers or TV stations.

We’re not objective. We present opinion as fact. We use anonymous sources.

I guess in that sense, most cable news stations aren’t journalism either. Neither Keith Olberman and Sean Hannity are objective, and both present opinion as fact. And as far as anonymous sources go, I see them quoted in news articles all the time. They’re the ones called “someone familiar with the facts” or “someone not at liberty to speak to the media.”

But there are plenty of bloggers who report the news objectively. They report on nothing but facts. They don’t use anonymous sources any more than the real newspapers. And when it comes to writing and editing, they’re the masters of their craft.

The American Reporter is an online-only newspaper that, by the strictest definition, could be considered a blog. They’re the first Internet-only newspaper, as well as the largest online alternative newspaper. But they’re a newspaper first, and a blog second. So what does that make them? (Full disclosure: I’ve been their humor columnist since 1997.)

Apparently You Lose Your Journalism Card When You Go Online

So what’s the deciding factor between a journalist and an online hack who is looked down upon by the very people he seeks to emulate? Is it the writer’s employer? Are we journalists because we’re paid by newspapers and TV stations? Are we non-journalists because we’re freelancers and free writers? Is it our education, or lack thereof? And what about the people who used to be journalists but aren’t any longer?

There are plenty of examples here in Central Indiana of people who took their work from the print and broadcast world to the online world. They were laid off or removed from their positions, found a home online, and became bloggers.

Ruth Holladay, former firecracker columnist for the Indianapolis Star has held her former employer’s feet to the fire for more than four years now on her own blog. Paul Poteet is a former meteorologist for WRTV, the local ABC affiliate, and found a second home online, parlaying his TV celebrityship into an online presence most of us would kill for.

But neither of them work for the large media conglomerates that once employed them. Does that mean that they are no longer worthy of the term “journalist?” Did Ruth have to hand in her journalist card when she started publishing her words online? Did Paul get suddenly struck stupid, and no longer able to read a weather map, when he left his TV station?

On the national scale, a couple years ago the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Denver Times became online-only newspapers. The P-I folded their print edition and went online only, while the Denver Times was born out of the ashes of the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News.

No one would (seriously and credibly) argue that these two newspapers are no longer journalistic sources just because they are online-only. And yet, there are people who will say that Holladay and Poteet are no longer journalists because they’re not employed by large media conglomerates.

So where does that line get drawn? I’m a professional blogger, but I’ve published a newspaper column for nearly 18 years. Am I only a journalist when my words appear on dead trees? Or do I carry that mantle and responsibility in every kind of writing, including here?

Bloggers Are the Pamphleteers of Old

Back in the 1700s, pamphleteers were those people who wanted to express their opinions to a large group of people, and did so in their own proprietary platform. Today’s bloggers are yesterday’s pamphleteers — we don’t have access to the machines or process to broadcast our opinions via mass media, but we do have the communication channels through WordPress, Blogger, Posterous, and about 40 other blog platforms.

We use blogs to express our opinions and stories, the same way Thomas Paine expressed his support for the Americans during the Revolutionary War.

Is blogging messy? Yes.

Is it prone to misuse and abuse? Of course.

Do we make mistakes or go overboard in our opinions? You bet.

I see the same thing from professional journalists too. Slanted news stories, over-hyping and sensationalizing news (and weather!), and even plagiarism and fabrication (anyone remember Jayson Blair?).

Still, I think journalists hold themselves to their self-imposed standards, while most bloggers do not. That’s what makes journalism an institution to be trusted as reporter and watchdog. But if bloggers want to be taken seriously as a form of communication, we need to step up and start following those practices as well.

In the meantime, you big-J journalists, blogging isn’t going to go away. No matter how much you deride the form, it’s only getting bigger and more powerful. You know what’s going away? Print media. You have a choice. Teach us how to do it right, teach us how to do it well, so you have a place to land when your employer figures out that two 20-somethings can do your job for a fraction of your salary.

To paraphrase an old quote by writer Rex Huppke, “It’s funny when journalists mock (blogging). It’s also funny when people about to be eaten by a bear mock the bear.”

Bloggers who want to be journalists need to step up their game. Journalists who are destined to be bloggers need to get over themselves. Because one day, just like newspapers replaced pamphleteers, blogging is going to do the same thing to the newspapers.

Photo credit: Manin The Moon (Flickr)

The Newspaper Industry Isn’t in a Position to Sneer at the Blogosphere

The Indianapolis Star just suffered another round of layoffs this week, losing 81 jobs to Gannett’s ineptitude and bean counting. Of these cuts, 26 of them were in the newsroom — including 8 reporters and 12 editors — and 19 were unfilled jobs, all made in the name of budgetary concerns and profitability. The cuts were part of Gannett’s larger bloodletting of 700 employees nationwide.

Meanwhile, their CEO raked in $9.4 million in 2010, doubling his pay from 2009, including a $1.75 million blood moneybonus that was partly a result of his “restructuring costs and creating efficiencies.” Translation: ruin the lives of 700 people, and we’ll give you their salaries.

Newspaper machines

You

Believe me, even though I’ve called for more citizen journalism — and this is exactly why — I have complete sympathy for the Star employees who just lost their livelihood because Gannett wasn’t making enough of a profit. I worry about them and their families. Gannett seems to excel at accounting and numbers, but they suck at news reporting and suffer from a complete lack of understanding of community. Where Indianapolis readers see stories and personalities, Gannett sees dollar signs.

But Bobby King, president of the Indianapolis Newspaper Guild, managed to throw a damper on my sympathies stick his thumb in my eye with this line from his latest blog post.

So, the answer that Star publisher Karen Crotchfelt came up with was to gut suburban coverage, eliminate an entire layer of copy editors (that last line of defense which separates us from the animals in the blogosphere) and make a nip here and a tuck there to reduce expenses.

Animals in the blogosphere?

The one thing I can’t stand from journalists is the way they look down on bloggers with this sense of smug superiority. Look, you guys don’t have any special knowledge or skills that any other writer can’t get. You have editors who save you from misspellings and continuity issues. Without them, you’re no better than we are. You print your words on dead trees, we print ours on a free software platform. Your printers cost millions of dollars, and without them, you’re dead in the water. I run my entire corporate blogging business on a $1,000 laptop, and if it breaks, I can get another one and never miss a beat. Our industry is growing, yours is shrinking.

If journalists want to survive this, they’ll quit looking down on the blogosphere as the gathering of the great unwashed and recognize it’s the future of news. They’ll quit acting like the crew of the Titanic and sneering, “ew, a rescue boat? How droll.”

Look, Bobby, I know you’re pissed, and scared, and are watching the dismantling of a once-great newspaper by some clueless nimrod 1,000 miles away. But don’t attack bloggers or refer to us as animals. Sure, we didn’t go to J-school or spend 20 years honing our craft. But blogging is more than 15 years old, and there are some bloggers who can outwrite most newspaper reporters. Hell, a lot of reporters and columnists have found a new career and a new voice as a blogger. (And it wasn’t lost on me that your “animal” comment was made on a blog.) But these former journalists are the ones who make blogging better.

So you can sneer at bloggers all you want, but we’re going to be here for a long time. You can look down on us, or you can join us.

Photo credit: evelynyll (Flickr)

Inc. Magazine is NOT Charging You to Write Their Story

Hi Erik, this is Ken Lehman of Winning Workplace. You wrote that blog post about Inc. Magazine’s Top Small Company Workplaces.

Uh-oh.

I recognized the company name, even if I didn’t recognize Ken’s name.

Photo of Ken LehmanKen had read my blog post where I questioned the ethics of Inc. Magazine’s Top Small Company Workplaces story, and the fact that they were charging $149 for the application review just to be considered for the TSCW review.

Turns out I was barking up the wrong tree. And I have to thank Ken for patiently, and kindly, setting the record straight. Here’s what he told me:

Winning Workplaces is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded by his family in 2001. They were the Fel-Pro family, a business that was started and run by his family for more than 80 years, before they were sold.

Winning Workplaces was created to help small and mid-sized enterprises to become great places to work. They have done this project for 8 years. This is their 9th year for the award.

2010 was the first year Inc. was their media partner. Prior to that, they worked with the Wall Street Journal, and prior to that with Fortune Small Business.

In other words, Winning Workplaces gives the awards, and they have a relationship for Inc. Magazine to write the article. From there, other journalists pick it up, and it gets published in other news outlets.

The fees that are assessed — and they didn’t assess for the first several years — are paid to Winning Workplaces, not to Inc. They are nominal and cover the administrative costs to do the project. They are not any kind of editorial or advertorial, as I had previously thought. No one needs to apply without seeing the application first, and on the website, you can preview the application before you put any money up.

Winning Workplaces is made up of a small staff and his family has put a lot of money into the project over the years. Ken doesn’t even get paid for this. He does it for the satisfaction of helping other companies.

Ken said that the people who complete the application will often tell Winning Workplaces that the process is very instructive to their own businesses, and it helps them think about their workplaces differently. It gives them ideas about how they can improve themselves, regardless of whether they win, become a finalist, or even miss the first cut.

This year, they have 28 people lined up to do the initial reviewing and screening. Some of them volunteer, and others get paid nominal amounts to follow their whole methodology to do it. That’s where the money goes, not to Inc. Magazine.

When Ken’s family started Winning Workplaces, they did it because there was no recognition project for smaller organizations. In the 90s, when Ken was working for Fel-Pro, they made Forbes list of one of the good places to work in America. And when Fortune magazine started its 100 best companies to work for list, Fel-Pro was #4. When Fel-Pro was sold in 1998, one of the things they did was to share what they had learned with others, so they hit upon starting an organization. That’s where WW came from.

However, in 2000, Fortune Magazine stopped accepting applications from companies under 1,000 employees, and there was nowhere for smaller companies to go for this kind of recognition. That’s where the Top Small Company Workplaces project came from.

Since that time, it has proliferated, and there are now a number of recognition projects and lists around the country.

But — and this is where Winning Workplaces is different — theirs is the only ones where you can win once. Then you go into their hall of fame, and you can’t repeat.

Everyone else, on the other hand, has a business model where they sell their feedback to help companies move up the list, and earn a higher number, or at least to not fall off the list. In other words, companies will “sell” you consulting to keep you on the list; Winning Workplaces purposely avoids that kind of contamination.

So, having learned all that from Ken Lehman, I can see how the Top Small Company Workplaces award is actually worthwhile and beneficial to companies. I have to say a special thank you to Ken for calling me and setting me straight.

And now I want to enter the contest myself. But since we just moved into our new space 2 days ago (and we’re sharing it), I don’t know that we qualify.