Thursday, August 20, 2009

Blogging 101

I've read a few comments on blogs insisting that the blogger needs to "be fair." Here on this blog, a reader once told me that I couldn't "flesh out" one candidate's resume while "summarizing" another's. More recently, a commenter suggested that I should include an "equal number of articles slanted to the opposing view" to balance links to articles at the Christian Science Monitor and Georgetown University.

Is there a perception out there that blogs are legitimate news sources? They are not. Blogs are . . . internet weblogs. Live Journals. Editorial columns. Opinion pages. Bloggers aren't held to the same standards as journalists reporting hard news. Bloggers are not expected to be unbiased.

This is not to say that you can't learn something from reading blogs. I've been exposed to lots of things I might not have learned about any other way, and I've grown from the opportunity to see the world through others' lenses by reading their blogs. But when I want to learn more about something, or to state anything other than a personal experience as fact, I go looking for a legitimate news source to learn more.

I'm pretty clear about what I do here: Yeah, but Houdini didn't have these hips: Life, the universe, and motherhood according to me. I'm a feminist, a liberal, a Presbyterian, and mom to two amazing little girls, one with Down syndrome. All that is reflected here, along with whatever I might be feeling at the moment (quite often, it will be exhaustion).

And I'm a pretty straightforward, open person. What you read is what you get!

So what is the source of the crazy idea that one needs to present all sides of an issue in every conversation?

If I'm selling something, I focus on the best features of my product. And if I'm selling against a competitor, I also point out the competition's weaknesses. We all do that, every day, and not just on sales calls.

When I tell my children that they can't have chocolate milk for supper I don't point out that chocolate milk has just as much calcium as white milk, in addition to added sugar and fat. (Fortunately, this is a hypothetical situation. My children don't yet realize that chocolate milk is an option.)

When I compliment my husband's hair cut, he prefers me NOT to point out if I think parts of his hair are lighter in color or shallower in depth than once they were.

I don't believe that it's appropriate lie or to deliberately mislead. But there's a big difference between making your case and not making someone else's.

Take politics, for example. If I'm blogging about my candidate, I'm going to focus on what I like about her. If I'm blogging about her opponent, I'm going to explain why I don't support his candidacy.

Should I also list my candidate's weaknesses and her opponent's strengths? Maybe. But I have no idea what you might see as my candidate's weaknesses and your candidate's strengths. These things are opinions, not facts. I can only tell you what I feel and why.


Back in the heat of the pre-election season last fall I offended someone. I'm sure that she's a nice woman, and I know that we have some pretty significant things in common (like children with Down syndrome).

But I offended her here and she left angrily and since then a few commenters who care about her have occasionally stopped by this blog under various pseudonyms to lambaste me for it. The whole situation was unfortunate and emotions ran high on all sides, but these folks sure say some ugly things to me.

I am human. And I have my pet peeves. One of them is being told what to do. I can complain about being tired, but the easiest way to insure that I won't go to bed is to tell me to do so. If someone told me, "You have to breathe oxygen!" I'd probably puff out my cheeks, hold my breath, and start composing an essay about what's actually in the air we breathe.

I don't like to be told what to do.

So. A woman I didn't know commented on a blog post and her comment started with, "You have to be fair!"

I quoted her as I was replying to her, but I was having a really hard time getting past the "you have to" part. So I left it out. But I left in her typos/grammatical errors. Then that felt petty. So I fixed them. Then it just felt really weird to have edited her remarks as I replied to them (I left her original comment as she posted it; I edited only in my reply).

And of course she was offended. And her friend(s) were offended, and here we sit. Every few months, someone comes by and instead of disagreeing with me respectfully - a good way to have a conversation with me, for the record - they start off with hatred and derision and insults and point out that I once corrected the grammar of a really nice lady.

I'm sorry for that. I hope we can get past it. In future, I'd prefer constructive, respectful disagreement here.


Dawn said...

I once read that if two people agree on everything, one of them is redundant.

Orange said...

You *do* have to be fair, Sarahlynn. So does Barney Frank. Why, he should have responded to the woman at his town-hall meeting by seeking out the commonalities between Obama and Hitler. I don't know what those commonalities might *be*, mind you, because Obama doesn't have a mustache, he's not a failed artist, and he's not a genocidal megalomaniacal despot.

It seems silly, during a heated campaign season, to instruct a personal blogger to attempt to be more "fair and balanced" than Fox News. Thinking back to last summer and fall...I recall a lot of heated rhetoric on all sides and very little of this "be fair!" business. That ain't the way to stump for your candidate—that's the way to stump for your candidate's opponent. Say what??

ShutThe said...

Since my quote has been mentioned here I'm going to respond. This will be the last time you'll have to put up with me commenting on your blog. I'm going to be brutally honest because 1) I can and 2) I'm really not sure you're aware of the way you can come across to people. As a writer and as a person, maybe you need to hear it for your benefit in the long run. Whether you choose to believe it or not, I have absolutely nothing to do with that lady you "edited" and I have no idea who she is. I have been reading your blog on occasion for a long time. I decided early on never to comment. I came across it via For all I know you may be perfectly nice in person, but here you very often come off as condescending, controlling, pompous, know-it-all and extremely judgmental. The most disturbing thing to me that I've seen on here was when you were having problems with your husband and would air painfully private arguments and say terrible things about him without him having a chance to have a voice. Meanwhile people that were apparently family friends and church members were reading and responding. Sure, some people get on their blog to vent their negative feelings about their spouse, but this to me wasn't at all typical. I thought it was horrible and I thought you could have just as easily taken it to a counselor or put it in a notebook. I started feeling sorry for him. Ever since then, frankly I've read the blog for what I consider the trainwreck factor and to be aware of what a leftist who is far too rigid and prideful to admit shades of gray types about politics. Yep. Just like a little bloggy reality show.

I think maybe you've received feedback from people about being "fair" or evenhanded when that almost never happens on other political blog posts for a reason. The reason being because when you make these sort of posts, you somehow make it seem as if your posts are not just your own political rants, but some sort of "handy political guide" for public consumption. You act like its some kind of educational blog seminar. If you just got on and spouted a whole bunch of rants like most people do, it might be a lot easier for people to swallow. I can't speak for anyone else, but that's why I finally lost my temper and went off on you. I really don't give a shit what you write, but maybe if you wrote it more like it isn't the Ten Commandments and you aren't some sort of Blog Goddess o' Knowledge, no one else will give a flying crap enough to write in and criticize how ridiculously short-sighted and biased it is.

Sarahlynn said...

Dawn, my writing teachers would agree with that!

Orange, I'm holding my breath.

ShutThe, the way you've behaved here is inexcusable. Rather than participating constructively you've attacked me personally and repeatedly. You might feel that you know me, but I know absolutely nothing about you except that you came here anonymously spewing vitriol and generalized attacks.


For the record, because others might be interested too, Paul has read all of my posts. And during the hardest part of our marriage struggles, he read my posts before I posted them. He has always had right of refusal. (And he has exercised it; I have posts still in "Draft" that will never be published because he was not comfortable with them.) He also comments here regularly and has his own blog/voice.

I am honest here. I shared a little about the difficult time Paul and I were having a few years ago - including acknowledging that we went through therapy - but it was never about hurling accusations and insults. Spouse-bashing is something that makes me very uncomfortable and I do not engage in it, nor do I chose to spend much time with people who do.

I shared my own pain and our struggles. That's honest and important and all too frequently swept under the rug.

I believe there's real value in acknowledging the hard things. Marriages are extremely hard work but as a society we spend so much time pretending that struggle ends with the fairy tale wedding, there's little wonder that so many couples are unprepared for what comes after.

A good summary of all the marriage stuff:

As I said in another post about marriage: Blogging openly about a marriage's struggles is just not done much, especially in a mama blog like this one, where Paul and I know so many of the people who read it. But I don't think that silence helps anything; I don't think that hiding the fact that we're struggling helps anything. Honesty and transparency are how we're trying to put the pieces back together. I'm not going to write here about every step of the process, but I think it's important to acknowledge openly that even people like us, people with a marriage we always thought was unshakably solid, can have real problems that require real work to fix.

We've worked hard to be where we are, and we're proud of it.

Brian said...

Holy hell! How does this even become an issue?

It's a BLOG, people! It's one individual's place to write whatever she feels like. The whole point is that it's individual, idiosyncratic, and not beholden to anybody else. If you don't like any given one, there are TWO HUNDRED MILLION OTHERS to go and read instead.

Why is this always such a difficult concept to grasp?

RobMonroe said...

Oh for crying out loud.

I have written more than one blog post about how useless the "click it or ticket" program is as if I were the Governor of the State of Maryland. I am clearly not, nor will I ever be in a position of authority over things like that. That's what blogs are for - to voice your take on things as if it matters - because it DOES matter to hear from other people.

Opinions do matter, and when you are passionate they matter even more. That is not a bad thing. I appreciate that you write about both the good and the bad, that you post silly pictures and very lengthy posts about being "fair" all in the span of 36 hours.

If I want news I will go to a news website. If I want hockey I will go to a hockey website. I want to hear what you have to say, and thus I read your blog. IF NOT - STOP READING IT!

p.s. I really want hockey to start. September 14th can not come too quickly for me!

RobMonroe said...

Oh - I just realized you titled it with "101" - does that mean your blog is now a college and you are a professor, too? Sheesh, you really do think a lot of yourself.


Sarahlynn said...

Brian, or, I could have said that. Much more succinct.

Rob, thanks. :) I think the professor thing fits in nicely with my pompous faux intellectualism. You can tell it's faux because I've been blogging for more than 5 years and am still at the "101" level. ;)

I don't enjoy blog attacks, but they're an inevitable risk of putting myself out here like this. And this one has been oddly flattering.

I used to complain about Laurell K. Hamilton's writing, but I bought all of her books in hardcover. Similarly, "ShutThe" hates everything I say, but has been reading for three years! I must be doing something right.

ccw said...

I'm in complete agreeance with Brian.

I don't "know" you and yet in all the years that I have been reading your blog I have never thought you came across as any of those things (ShutThe's assery) said.

I loved your honesty about your marriage. Sure it was from your point of view but you did not bash nor did you go in to specifics. Writing about your marriage when there is trouble is something not many do and once one does you always get others sharing.

Sarahlynn said...

Thanks, CCW, I've particularly enjoyed your honesty, too. Perhaps this is why we're still reading each other!

sarah said...

I hope your blog never changes, I always find it interesting, insightful and intellectual

Sarahlynn said...

Thank you, Sarah!

Jennifer said...

My thoughts . . it is your blog, continue to share your thoughts and opinions! Life is not fair, people! Get over it!

Sarahlynn- so sorry you have to put up with such delightful people who obviously type things on your comment section that they would never say in person! I totally disagree with "shutthe" and hope that she does stop commenting! If she can't be decent and constructive it is best that she stay away!

Sarahlynn said...

Thanks, Jennifer. :-)