While thumbing through the letters to the editor in one of my favorite magazines, I made a troubling observation. Nobody seemed to congratulate the authors on a job well done, or expressed appreciation for all their hard work.
Some letters highlighted an important point that the author missed, while others had the temerity to disagree with the author’s conclusion. How very rude, I thought!
Indignant, I perused the other newsstand periodicals for validation of my feelings. I found none. From obscure technical journals to USA Today, every professionally edited publication followed the same pattern.
Rather than showing gratitude for tight prose and well-researched reporting, readers seemed to expect them; and they spoke up only when writers failed to meet this high standard.
Walking away from the kiosk, I realized that I was judging these professional authors by the standards of an amateur blogger. Anyone who aspires to creating high-quality content and a respectable audience, through a blog or any other medium, should appreciate the difference.
Every Writer Needs an Editor
Offline newspapers and magazines employ an editor, whose function is to ensure the publication meets a baseline quality level. An editor might make minor grammar and punctuation tweaks, or send an article back to its author with suggestions for revision. In some cases, an editor will reject an article entirely because it just isn’t good enough.
The relationship between writer and editor is intended to be symbiotic, not sado-masochistic. Working together, they produce the best possible content. Writers who refuse an editor’s criticism are generally unwelcome in the publishing industry.
Editors also decide what public feedback, if any, will be published. By and large, they decline to print simple kudos and congratulations. There are a few reasons for this policy; the most important is that such comments do not serve the readers.
Blogging has changed this time-honored equation, for better and for worse. Rare is the blogger that submits their work to a separate editor. Instead, bloggers rely on themselves and their readers to perform the editing function.
Before publishing, bloggers receive no independent review of their content. Afterwards, they find themselves in a position to sanction anyone who expresses a dissenting opinion. In the print world, this is seen as a conflict of interest; on the Internet, it’s standard operating procedure. Blogger habits, from questionable to despicable, include:
- Disabling all reader comments;
- Deleting individual comments that cast their work in an unflattering light;
- “Astroturfing”, or employing shills for an illusion of popular support;
- Ad-hominem attacks on commentators (editors); and
- Rewriting inconvenient comments so that they support the blogger’s own opinion.
The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum
Bloggers exercise complete control over their editors’ comments. Editors receive no pay, only a backlink next to their comment, and the opportunity for more prominent links in the future if their feedback is acceptably positive.
Considering this system of incentives, it should be no surprise that the most popular blog comment is simply “Great post.” Despite the fact that the value of the average blog post is too low for publishing in any offline newspaper or magazine.
Professional writers exchange value, while amateur bloggers exchange flattery. That is the difference.
None is this is intended to discourage the readers who have left a comment to compliment my work. On the contrary, I appreciate it very much! Reasoned and civil disagreement is also welcome.