Note to Bloggers: Fight Bad Content, Not Martha Stewart
Leave it to Martha Stewart to dredge up Digital Age drama.
Some bloggers are up in arms over an off-the-cuff remark Stewart made in an interview with a Bloomberg reporter last week, highlighting the friction that still exists between traditional and online media.
When asked about social media and poor taste, Stewart said: “Who are these bloggers? They’re not trained editors and writers at Vogue magazine. I mean, there are bloggers writing recipes that aren’t tested, that aren’t necessarily very good or are copies of everything that really good editors have created and done. Bloggers create kind of a popularity. But they are not the experts and we have to understand that.”
This didn’t go over well, with some bloggers feeling belittled and dismissed. Others were “disgusted and appalled.” And possibly confused. One woman wrote: “Someone who has learned to sew or craft and has created great new, creative things is not an expert without a degree from the Martha Stewart school of trained pretentious wax figures.” (I ask: Is that a real school? And do the wax figures attend or just teach, possibly in an adjunct capacity? I have so many questions. But I digress.)
What this tiff reveals is an interesting reality: a tension still exists between independent bloggers and legacy brands. There’s a latent insecurity in the lifestyle space that seeks legacy validation.
Part of this friction stems from the long history of established women’s lifestyle brands. For more than a century, women’s magazines provided the ultimate -- and only -- lifestyle filter. To give you a sense of how long the history stretches back, Good Housekeeping was founded in 1885 (Woodrow Wilson’s daughter once directed coverage there) and Cosmopolitan came a year later. Ladies Home Journal, a relative spring chicken, is 106, but still older than the production Model T (which rolled off the assembly line in 1908).
Martha Stewart’s additions are far newer, with her first cookbook and magazine coming in the 1980s and ‘90s. Her contributions are important, however, because she tied lifestyle to personality, and expanded a personal brand to television, home goods and even home developments themselves. Women not only looked up to Stewart -- they felt inspired by her. So much so that when personal blogging tools became readily available and people could create their own mini online magazines, bloggers built their brands with the template she made famous. After all, if she created her empire by hand and reinvented herself through cooking and homemaking, why couldn’t they?
The illusion lies in the ease of the new tools. Online seems like the great equalizer, since it can make you believe there is a level playing field. Unfortunately, that’s never the case. Everyone with a piano will not play it well any more than everyone with an online platform can sustain a lifestyle brand. It comes down not to pedigree or trade (which never hurts) but talent and hard work (which always helps). This is not to say there aren’t many amazing blogs, including many created by current and former legacy editors. But even the bloggers agree that there are many more that aren’t, packed with errors and bad advice.
Bloggers feel stung because they are talented and enthusiastic and supported Stewart after her legal troubles several years ago. However, the friction here does not come from who made whom or who owes whom. Independent bloggers and legacy media feed each other in many ways. Legacy media is happy to tap into the blogosphere for a fast track to the zeitgeist just as bloggers are happy to have their profiles elevated and validated by print profiles, contributing staff positions, books and movies.
At issue is quality. Bloggers think they are fighting traditional media for respect. That’s not the case. The battle they should be waging is against bad content. Legacy media charges up this hill, too, and there are few victors.
The curious part for me is the amount of time put into online tiffs like this one. Does the Internet need more open letters? As a writer, I look at this and think: We all have the same challenge, which is time, and using that to create what we think is the most meaningful. Do tiffs produce great content? They certainly don’t further personal lifestyle brands. I’ll point out that some of the best lifestyle bloggers, the ones who’ve learned to navigate online and traditional media the most successfully, didn’t participate in this particular debate. They likely had their heads down working. For content creators of any stripe, I personally believe they’re setting the right example.