critique.

by Liz on 03.01

Recently, I was discussing a very popular blog and my surprise at the stale content. I sit somewhere between bemused and enraged by the fact that some blogs are incredibly lucrative despite never offering anything new. During this conversation, someone (with good intentions) chided me that my words were public and not very nice.

There are few accusations that stop me in my tracks. I’ve been called many things on the internet (ugly, fat, stupid, cheap) and people disagree with my opinions often. Those sorts of things honestly don’t ruffle my feathers. But, as a person who specifically tries to not be a jerk, I really take it to heart when someone insinuates that I’m being hurtful, insensitive, or mean.

So- was I?

Around this same time, there was a heated discussion going on about a different popular blog- specifically, about the blogger and her personally held political views. These weren’t views that she published on her blog, but ones that she privately endorsed and that eventually came to light.Very outspoken and directed critiques flew about her personal financial contributions.

Also in the same time-frame, a third popular blogger announced news about her marriage, after much speculation from readers. She was met with criticism of her marriage- on her own blog, but also on other blogs, websites and social media sites.

 

My question is- where do we draw the line? Was my critique of the content of a blog the same as a dissection of someone’s political views or the criticism of someone’s marital issues? In a field that’s dependent on building connections, and one that is mostly comprised of 1) people working for themselves and 2) women (in my spheres at least), it’s imperative that we ensure that we’re not needlessly tearing one another down.

I’ve given it some thought, and I think I have some hard lines drawn for myself- but they’re far from perfect. I’m really interested in hearing your thoughts.

 

Content vs. Personal Life

As blog readers, we’re all (in a sense) customers and consumers. Critiquing the content that we’re ingesting is not only normal, it’s healthy. That’s the point of reading, you guys. To weigh and analyze and filter what’s read for value and validity. It’s the whole damn point. If you’re absorbing internet content without measuring it for truth and worth, I’m concerned for you.

But, in my mind, there is a huge difference between examining blog content for value versus parsing and critiquing the personal decisions of a blogger- or worse, needlessly hurling personal insults.

Tricky

When it gets tricky, of course, is when a blogger publishes the details of her personal life. Once a blogger writes about it, doesn’t she call her personal life into question? You can’t put something into the public eye and then be dismayed that there’s an audience. I feel comfortable discussing and weighing anything that a blogger deems fit for my reading.

 

Monetization vs. Ethics

I’m tired of readers feeling put-upon and used because a blogger has found a way to make money via blogging. It’s an old, sad line of thinking and- as I mentioned- truly a feminist issue. We argue about how a woman can raise children and still work for herself, but then are angered when a woman finds a way to stay at home with her littles and manage to have an income. Outrageous. I don’t think it’s up for discussion. Bloggers make money sometimes. You get to read things for free. Stop complaining about it. Women deserve compensation for work.

Critiquing the honesty and policy of collecting that compensation is another matter altogether. The ethics of monetizing should always be up for discussion. Well-known bloggers who endorse a certain brand because they are compensated to do so? Totally should be telling their readers such valuable information. Are you recommending this cherry lipgloss because you like cherry lipgloss, or because they’re PAYING you to say you like cherry lipgloss? A valid question. While we shouldn’t criticize the fact that some bloggers do make money, we can criticize the ways in which they choose to do so.

Tricky

The tricky thing here is that blogging builds what feels like personal connections.  If someone feels like your “friend”- you’ve watched their children grow, rejoiced with them in their good times and were driven to tears by their bad- it can feel like betrayal when they try to make money off of your emotional investment in their lives. I think it’s important that we guard how we see bloggers- not as public figures, heroes, or celebrities- but also not as best pals.

 

 

What do you think? How can we fairly critique blogs and bloggers? How do we make sure we aren’t tearing one another down without removing our ability to weigh and measure the value of what’s published?

 

 

Your Comments | Add a Comment

Naurnie says:
Mar 1, 2012 11:32 am

Well, here’s my thing… I always try and treat people how I would want to be treated. If I don’t have anything nice to say, I just don’t put it on the internet. (That’s not to say I don’t say things to my husband or friends when we’re discussing certain things.) I would feel really sad if someone was attacking me for my blog content or opinions. I just try not to criticize anyone in a malicious way.

Also, I don’t think anything is wrong about monetizing a blog. Heck, I wish I could do it!

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liz says:
Mar 1, 2012 11:41 am

That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot- because, yeah. It would SUCK if I hopped on Twitter and the conversation of the morning was “Liz hasn’t posted anything good in months,” “Yeah, I know, I don’t read that blog any more.” But, as much as that would suck, it would be alright. Because, by blogging, that’s what I open myself up to. And I’m okay with that.

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tamerajane says:
Mar 1, 2012 11:36 am

There HAS to be room for (polite, thought-out) critique online. Period. I know what you’re talking about and you were not being rude, at all. It’s valid and examining the ethics and economics of blogging, even using exact examples, is something we all need to be doing. Politely. And rationally.

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nikki says:
Mar 1, 2012 11:41 am

For me, it totally depends on the vibe I get from the blog. If a blogger obviously makes her living by blogging, putting up sponsored posts and calling for advertizers at least once a month, then I find myself getting annoyed if they post lame content regurgitated from another blog, or when they go on unmentioned hiatuses. But I also realize it’s unfair for me to feel disgruntled about it, if the people who pay them to blog are okay with their content.

At the same time, when Big Bloggers post personal content, I feel like they’re asking for comments on it (that’s the point, right?). I also read personal blogs that were obviously started by people who just wanted to write, and I feel differently about those. I’m not irritated when they don’t post, I’m concerned. And I’m probably less likely to judge that person’s personal life because it feels more intimate that she’s talking about it, because she doesn’t have a million readers.

If I suddenly had a million readers, I suspect my posts would become a million times less personal because of that. I’d probably be too scared to blog.

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Erin says:
Mar 1, 2012 11:54 am

I’ve bitten my tongue when I’m tempted to put a snarky opinion out on Twitter. I actually found it hard to resist because it’s so rewarding to hear that other people agree with you (agreement = the internet coin of the realm). But I agree with Naurnie — if you can’t say something nice, I was taught, don’t say it at all.
BUT I don’t think that authentic critique counts as “not nice”. If it’s valid, critique helps creators know what their audience wants. And what is art/writing without an audience? It’s Cosmo, trotting out the same stale cycle of sex positions and “What Every Guy Thinks When He Sees You Naked” articles every six months.

I do think that “lifestyle blogging” slides into strange territory sometimes when sites rely heavily on the star quality of their author/characters. There’s a fine line between as-it-happens memoir, and providing the narrative for the celebrity rag you write about yourself. Some people do this really well, and some people descend quickly into depending on drama for hits. At a certain point, if your life is your product, then you’re responsible for what you put out there. The author isn’t necessarily responsible for how readers respond (see first paragraph).

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kathleen says:
Mar 1, 2012 12:25 pm

(This is a GREAT post, Liz. Seriously. Thank you for bringing this up.)

There are SO MANY THINGS to say regarding this issue. Most importantly, though, is that the internet is a forum. As with all forums, the potential for trolling and just being downright rude is always high. Unfortunately, on the internet, anonymity is easy and unbased courage (more accurately: cowardice) is encouraged because there are no consequences. (Obviously everyone knows this, but I think it’s an important fact to emphasize because it’s often forgotten. When you put something out in a forum, you subject it to everyone’s opinions.)

I know of the situations you mentioned above. I struggled with the one surrounding political views, specifically, because we’re all entitled to our beliefs. If someone chooses to side with their church on an issue, that’s their right (even if I disagree with the stance). The person’s stance on an issue doesn’t necessarily make them a terrible person.

Regarding Original Content & Monetezation:
This is something that I struggle with all the time. I started a blog because I needed an outlet. I’m not trying to promote it or monetize it because I don’t even know what it is yet. If you’ve been to it, you’d know it’s pretty much shit compared to everything else that’s out there. But I’m ok with that because even if there’s no real theme or idea behind it, I’m gaining something from it because I can just ramble on to the general silent public. My blog is (currently) for me. If I someday figure out what I want my blog to be, I may pursue monetizing and promotion, but for now, holy crap that would be a bad idea.

But for those people that have poured hours and hours into their blog, their *product*, reaping the rewards is justified. (if you’re not sure about how hard and time consuming blogging is, I suggest you go to Young House Love and check out their posts about the subject. HOLY CRAP.)

As you said above, there will always be issues surrounding sponsors and the ethics of those sponsorships. And re-posting someone else’s content is sometimes inevitable, because let’s face it, there’s cool stuff out there that deserves the attention. I think the line needs to be drawn when the majority of your content is from other people’s sites. There are a few out there that are constantly posting images and work that isn’t theirs with (sometimes) a quick backlink saying “I saw this on [Fancy Style Lady's] blog.” These are the ones which with I have a problem – when you earn money from others’ content (without due credit or royalties). But it’s inevitable, I guess. It goes back to all the talk surrounding Pinterest and proper crediting (also discussed by Chelsea Fuss of {Frolic!}).

And we *should* critique. Responsibly. Respectfully. With valid arguments. Which means that no, I don’t think you were rude at all. It’s a valid point, and one that a blogger should take into consideration, because they have an audience that ensures their revenue. And the audience will notice when the product is stale.

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Emily says:
Mar 1, 2012 1:05 pm

Shoot, I totally tweeted something the other day about how I don’t understand people monetizing blogs that are riddled with typos. Now I feel mean.

BUT. It bothers me, actually, *because* of my support for women living off their blogs. Heck, even if someone wants to be a huge jerk with horrible writing skills and ugly pictures and try to monetize their site – good for them! I just won’t be visiting. Ever.

We have total control over what we look at online. That fact makes me think that there’s almost no room for complaining or critiquing; if you don’t like it, just stop visiting. I get that it can feel disappointing or even betraying when a blogger is using her readers to make some cash, but if there’s controversy over the ethics of that then just stop reading her site altogether. Isn’t it that simple? Maybe not. Hm.

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liz says:
Mar 1, 2012 1:36 pm

As a reader, I agree. As a blogger… Not so much. I’d rather there be a dialogue about what I’m doing wrong so I can improve rather than everyone abandon ship and I’m left wondering why.

But I have just stopped reading a few blogs that were, meh.

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Erin says:
Mar 1, 2012 1:43 pm

Yes, I agree with this as someone who has a blog. If someone stops reading because they feel a blog isn’t reaching it’s potential, as the author, I’d like to know why. If they leave because they think it’s just so-so and will always be so, perhaps it’s better left unsaid?

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liz says:
Mar 1, 2012 5:12 pm

I never responded to the typo thing!

I think that’s entirely valid criticism- exactly what I’m talking about, and not mean at all.

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Alycia says:
Mar 2, 2012 10:04 am

I think this is similar to your post about putting your artwork on display and worrying about criticism. Anytime you put yourself out there, either as an artist, or an actress, or a blogger, you are going to have deal with criticism. And some of it is going to be so harsh, and maybe unnecessarily mean, but that’s part of publicly presenting yourself to the world.

I think a lot of people in our generation have jumped on the Blogger/Etsy/Tumblr bandwagon and think because they can type, paint, or use a camera, that makes them a writer, an artist,or a photographer. And it doesn’t. Talent makes those things. Before, we never saw these folks because they didn’t have a forum. Now they do, and they need to be prepared for people who are not their mothers or best friends to tell them what they honestly think. We have been told for years that we are all SPECIAL and UNIQUE and everything we do is SO GREAT. And now we are all in for a rude awakening because the real world doesn’t know what to do with us. So when we hear the truth, it all hurts and it’s all mean, even when it’s a valid complaint about typos.

I think if someone is able to create a successful blog and make money off of it, that’s really cool. Even better if it’s authentic. Liz, I love your blog because it’s well written, clever, and seems so real. I don’t agree with everything you write, but that’s not the point. So many other blogs seem to just be for the money and popularity, and that’s just boring. And if there is anything a blogger doesn’t want to be, it’s boring!

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Siobhan says:
Mar 7, 2012 7:04 am

Oh this is very thought provoking. I recently stopped reading a blog as it started having more sponsored posts than posts from the blog author and I found the sponsored posts to normal posts ratio out of whack – I don’t have a problem with sponsored posts though or people making money from their blogs. I also started limiting what I shared about my personal life once more people started reading my blog as I had other people to think about.

Having said all that I don’t tend to think I can comment on the personal choices of bloggers as I don’t know them off-line and therefore there does not seem to be a strong place to make those comments from. I did dtop reading a blog a year or so ago as it suddenly became very personal and I felt uncomfortable reading that much about someone I did not know. It made me feel icky.

I think a lot of people struggle with the authenticity versus overshare thing though and I have no idea what the best route is. I think you get it right though!

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