I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions. But sometimes an exception makes sense.
This is one such time.
Dorothea Salo at CavLec posted about an odd but growing phenomenon: Pseudo-personal email to bloggers touting specific items or studies with the suggestion that, you know, the blogger might want to write about it.
Quoting a bit of her post about the email she got:
It addressed me specifically. It indicated more or less how my name came up and why I was chosen. No quid pro quo, not even wink-wink-nudge-nudge style. No arrogance. Really nicely done.
And it still bugs the crap out of me. Iâ€™m sorry, it just does.
One of the nice things about using blogs as a professional filter is the confidence I had that I was following peopleâ€™s genuine interests, influenced by no more than their own curiosity and intelligence and the environment they exist in and interact with. These werenâ€™t, in a word, people who were being told what to think, much less paid to think it. They werenâ€™t being filtered, in turn, by any particular establishment, no matter how well-meaning, much less a vendor or other organization with enough dogs in the hunt to create actual bias. Thatâ€™s useful, that is.
And now I donâ€™t know how far I can trust the filter any more, and thatâ€™s a loss to me.
I wasn’t a recipient of email in the instance Salo discusses. (I dunno. Maybe I’m too small a fry. Maybe I’m not known to be sufficiently adulatory or uncritical about the work of a particular group. Us lackluster veterans can be that way.) As it happens, the item being discussed is one that I’ve printed out (yes, the full study, not the press release) and may discuss later here or in Cites & Insights at some point. If I do discuss it, that will be on its own merits, not because someone I don’t know sent me email suggesting I blog about it.
I think her solution makes a certain amount of sense: “Hereâ€™s the deal. I value my bloggy independence, as I have from the very beginnings of CavLec, and Iâ€™m ornery as a kicked mule. If you push me to read and talk about something you have a direct interest in, not because you think itâ€™s useful to me, and not because you intend to put my input to some sort of practical use (as with, say, a standards draft), but because you want to create buzz? To hell with you. I wonâ€™t just not read or review it, Iâ€™ll be more than a little tempted to call you out in public.”
But it’s not my problem–I’m not high enough profile to get that kind of email.
Second reaction, just a little bit later:
Whoops. I just got email (from some entirely different source, but also from someone who seemed to be addressing me personally, who I didn’t know) praising what I do (it wasn’t clear whether it was this blog or C&I) and suggesting that I really should investigate and write about this library-oriented thing they were involved with. Since it was totally outside the areas I cover (and in an area where I’m at a loss), I wrote a gentle reply saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
So, yes, it is my problem–and now that I think about it, that’s not the first time this has happened.
And then, on my morning blogscan (I thought about watching the Rose Parade and decided…nah), I got Salo’s followup post, beginning:
So, not a day after I ask the hypesters to leave my damn blogosphere the hell alone, I get another tout email. Do you morons not read? (Yes, okay, that one answers itself.)
Hereâ€™s my new policy. Iâ€™m publishing any of those I get. Sans links. With names. Call it my little gesture toward turning over the rock and watching the little grubs squirm.
You know what? I think it’s a reasonable policy. And I resolve to emulate it when I think I’m being hyped: You get identified, but what you’re touting gets soundly ignored.
Doesn’t happen to me very often (that I’m aware of). Press releases are impersonal–also usually a waste of time, but impersonal; those I just delete. Contacts from PR agents (“we can set up an interview”) are mostly related to the print column(s) I write (yes, I’m back in ONLINE this year, so it’s plural); they fall under a different set of guidelines (and are almost always wastes of the agent’s time).
But email directed to me personally, from someone I’ve never met and don’t know professionally, touting something as blogworthy…well, if it feels like hype, then selective exposure makes sense.
As with Dorothea Salo, I trust bloggers–at least some bloggers–as filters of sorts. Hype email reduces that trust. Not a good thing.
Oh, as for Cites & Insights, where the January issue for a new year did not emerge (gasp) during the previous December? Later today…or at least that’s 99% certain.
Update, January 8, 2008: Jenny Levine makes some excellent points in the comments (which see). It’s possible–not certain, but possible–that Dorothea Salo’s view of what constitutes “hype email” differs from mine. And I don’t anticipate doing loads of posts “outing” people for sending me email suggesting that I look into something. (Well, it would certainly improve my posting frequency, but…)
So here’s what I’m really trying to say–and this applies to me, not to Salo or anyone else:
- Want to send me PR information labeled as such? Fine. Do be aware that I’m not much for doing insider interviews (especially for my “disContent” column, where being an outsider is what it’s all about). If you’re generally far outside my range of interests, I’ll let you know; otherwise, I’ll either delete the PR or pay attention to it.
- You’re an actual, honest-to-Gaia, friend or acquaintance and have a head’s-up for me that you’re pretty sure is something I’d like to know about? Great. If I remember, I might even mention you if/when I write about it.
- You’re not an acquaintance or friend, but you want me to view your “tip” as one coming to me personally, rather than as regular PR? Then, well, there’s a chance that I’ll be sufficiently offended to “out” you.
Or not. For some reason I hear the refrain “life is too short” more and more in the back of my head these days, even though I hope to have another three good decades…