Monday, March 15, 2010

New York Times Writer's Swipe At Mommy Bloggers Only Makes Us Stronger

by Janis Brett Elspas

There's nothing like yet another controversial article published in a well-respected traditional media outlet to ignite a strong reaction among moms like me who blog.  This was definitely the case in the fallout response to The New York Times yesterday from a story by Jennifer Mendelsohn, titled Honey, Don't Bother Mommy. I'm Too Busy Building My Brand. that ran in the paper's Sunday New York Edition 

Before I recap my own take on all that has transpired since first reading this article, it's important that readers understand that I come from a background of more than 25 years in agency and corporate media relations interspersed with some work as a published traditional journalist.  I'm also a real mom of four kids who is now reshaping my prior experience into a professional mommy blogging career via my own blog MommyBlogExpert .

Now that I've fully disclosed the origins of my perspective, I'm not going to tip toe around as if walking on eggs.  Instead, I'll come right out and say what my initial reaction was to this The Times story about Mommy Bloggers and the recent Bloggy Boot Camp in Baltimore -- I felt that it was nothing short of insulting.  At first I viewed it as destructive not only to us moms who blog professionally and to women without children who make their livings as bloggers, I considered it particularly damaging to consumer brands (and their public relations representatives), large and small, regional and global, who seek to connect with us.

Certainly the initial backlash from the offended parties has been staggering.  Just since news of the article first began to spread across the Internet less than 48 hours ago (the story was actually posted online on March 13, the afternoon before the print edition), there have been countless Tweets on Twitter about it and more than 100 posts on individual blogs rising up in revolt. 

Danielle Wiley of Edelman Digital - Chicago was an early responder to the above mentioned article.  In a commentary blogpost on Edelman Digital's site Wiley, who also writes the blog FoodMomiac , speaks with the level head of a PR pro navigating the murky waters between her clients and the media she works with to get those companies' messages disseminated.  She alludes to the patronizing downright demeaning way Mendelsohn refers to the women bloggers with kids who made up about 90 percent of the attendees at the prior weekend's boot camp.  Wiley is far from being alone in what she thinks about all this.

Here's just a few of the many responses moms have posted to date on their own blogs, generally indicating the feeling that mommy bloggers are being talked down to, almost as if they are being mocked for acting like children in an adult world.
My own knee jerk reaction was to push the publish button right there for this post and agree with the prevailing opinion.  But before I did, I luckily switched from my mommy blog mind over to thinking like an investigative journalist to dig and discover the back story of how this negative portrayal of mommy bloggers originated in the first place.  From the condescending tone of the article I had wrongly assumed -- before checking out the facts -- that the author was strictly a traditional journalist on staff at The Times who ldid not even have kids of her own.  What I have found instead was the complete opposite: Mendelsohn is a freelance journalist who is also a former People magazine correspondent covering celebrities.  And gasp... she's a mom of two young boys herself according to her blog JenMen.  

As we have all seen, stirring up controversy where comraderie previously existed isn't always perceived as being productive. Mendelsohn is one of us.  Yet, she takes so many swings at her fellow moms who also blog that it's easy to imagine her blindfolded swinging at a pinata in the backyard.  With each belittling or below-the-belt quip in this The Times article she figuratively slices clumsily through the air with her stick missing the target -- spinning herself faster and lunging more wildly with every misguided stroke.   What I've concluded in this particular instance is that the article at issue here was written by a mom that blogs (just like me) that is projecting the personal, negative way she views her mommy blogging self upon the rest of us.  

In summary, The Times -- at least temporarily -- gets a spike in its readership which sells more newspapers.  But where does that leave the rest of us? Suffice it to say that I don't think injecting one's own opinions so strongly into a piece that should have been a whole lot more objective and factual can be considered good journalism.  Mendelsohn with her national writing background should have known better.

The Times story isn't the first and it won't be the last attempt to tread on the nascent colorful mommy blogger and brand interactive conversation which is finally beginning to blossom and flourish.  But one thing is for certain, at least in the short run.  The current debate has unleashed another uproar among the tightly knit mommy blogger community, a sector which is unfortunately far too accustomed to having to respond collectively to attacks appearing in traditional powerhouse media outlets such as this.  This is a struggle which is also spilling over into potentially offending consumer brands, their advertising representatives, and public relations agencies -- ultimately disrupting the synergy they (and us mommy bloggers) are working so hard to build.

The good news is that in all this friction there is a silver lining to the gray cloud that has been cast upon us. Mommy bloggers, consumer brands, and the representative agencies enduring challenges to their legitimacy such as this will only strengthen us all.  We've proved it with the current onslaught, as surely as we have in the past and we will again do in the future.  Just like being a kid, we are starting to grow up -- collectively maturing -- beginning to come into our own.

What are your thoughts on this? Please leave a comment and share it.

FTC Disclosure: MommyBlogExpert did not receive any payment or other compensation associated with any of the individuals or companies mentioned in this post.  See complete FTC Disclosure information that appears at the bottom of MommyBlogExpert's main page and at the bottom of every individual post on this blog, including this one.


  1. I read another bloggers comments and you say the same thing here-why must we account for what we do as SAHMs? We have the right like anyone else to find hobbies and sources of income that we can benefit from. I am glad to see the mommy bloggers coming together to defend themselves. We are coming into our own.

  2. Janis,

    I'm not "one of us" but still wanted to weigh in with a perspective.

    No question, the Mommy Blogger cavalcade is a force. As a PR company, we regularly work with this audience and like any writing segment, there are A+ players, poor players and everything in between.

    But I actually took away a different impression of the New York Times article.

    I figured if a heavyweight media property like the NYT was willing to devote its precious Sunday space to the topic -- not all of it flattering -- it reflects the increasing reach (and influence) of Mommy Bloggers.

    One last point--

    Rightly or wrongly, acerbic sells and Ms. Mendelsohn knows how to turn a phrase:

    "... she steered the proceedings with the good-natured sass of a sorority social chairwoman and the enthusiasm of a, well, summer-camp director. (She went barefoot for much of the day and said “You guys!” a lot.)"

    She's striving to amuse rather than inform. In this context, it seems thick skin might be in order.

  3. I am a proud mommy blogger.. I embrace the name and see no point in trying to change it or fight it. I think the name is perfect.

    But stirring up controversy to get hits or ratings or whatever is nothing new... this gal is just doing what she things her bosses want.

    Sad. But probably something we have all done along the way.

    Oh! P.S. I have a series that I think ties into this called Things Successful Bloggers Do. Its worth checking out.

  4. Thx, italianmamachef for commenting. I do view my post (like all the others) as being one that speaks with a unique voice. It's really true that it takes times like now for the Mommy Blogging niche (including mom bloggers, PR/ad agencies, and brands)to grow stronger. As the old saying pain, no gain.

  5. Such a well written post, Janis!

  6. Heather and Lou,

    Thanks to you both. I realize you each represent two very diverse thinking on this. Nevertheless, I appreciate the time each of you took to read this post and comment. A good conversation like this is an excellent boost to the industry.

    I look forward to a continuing discussion as the world of mommy bloggers continues to evolve.