For most bloggers, a press mention is exciting. A quote in a well-known magazine or newspaper confers a stamp of legitimacy to writers who work primarily online. A feature can open up new audiences and even start the dominoes falling toward new writing opportunities.
But with every press mention there comes a risk. Interviewers can be friendly enough, but when the article goes to print, the “spin” calculated to grab attention (and, in some cases, stir a pot that doesn’t exist) can misrepresent people in painful ways. Nuanced stories fade into the background while out-of-context details — the more controversial the better — take center stage.
Well-respected blogger Katherine Stone of Postpartum Progress got burned by Katherine Rosman in a Wall Street Journal article that twisted her interview as part of a condescending ridicule of women-focused conferences. Katherine posted her own apology to her family and colleagues in response, when in fact she is owed an apology from the WSJ for its manipulative “reporting.”
Katherine isn’t the first, nor is she the only blogger to get slapped by a journalistic bait and switch. Here are just a few examples (I’m sure there are many more.)
Publications are misrepresenting and hurting people.
In 2005, New York Magazine‘s Randall Patterson represented his story idea to Isabel Kallman of Alpha Mom as a profile of her new business. But, as Isabel later wrote at the Huffington Post, it “turned out to be a snarky personal ‘expose’ of an exaggerated caricature of a mother that none of my friends or family recognized to be me.”
Apparently that strategy worked for New York Magazine, because just last month Lisa Miller used it again to misrepresent Rebecca Woolf of Girls Gone Child. As Rebecca later told a Jezebel writer, “this has been the most disgusting misrepresentation of what I do and who I am and what Miller and I spoke for an hour on the phone about.”
[Note to self: NEVER respond to an email from New York Magazine.]
I’m sure we all remember Jamie Lynne Grumet of I Am Not the Babysitter, whose picture on the cover of Time lit up the Internet. Surprise, surprise, the story was a little more complicated.
Even I have had the dubious honor of being misrepresented in the press, albeit in a minor way. In a Times of London article about my book Minimalist Parenting, my co-author, Christine, and I were described as “neurotic ubermothers who were practising extreme parenting” (that was, until we came to our senses). I was quoted as saying “I even learnt how to change a nappy from diagrams.” Right.
There are those who would dismiss the issue, citing the public nature of blogging and bloggers’ status as media figures themselves. It’s a weak response that ignores the reality of what’s happening:
Publications are intentionally misrepresenting and hurting people in order to sell a product.
Sure, this has been happening ever since the first tabloid hit the street. But I don’t think Katherine, Rebecca or Isabel realized they were dealing with tabloids. I didn’t. These are publications with supposedly higher standards.
Hopefully no lasting harm will come of the WSJ article. It’s a blip that will soon disappear in the ever-churning bowels of the news/entertainment machine. But in each of these cases, good people got burned. And the reporters and publications responsible need to hear that we won’t stand for it.
This post first appeared on my Babble Voices blog, The Accidental Expert, in 2013.