Sunday, April 21, 2013

Pandora's Box: "Official Bloggers"

As the topic heats up over Banai Feldstein's post about the "Official" RootsTech bloggers over at the Genealogy Nitpicker, I have to add my two cents to this one....I've been watching, and reading, and making mental notes about this topic for years...but since Banai opened Pandora's box, let's take a peek inside, shall we?

Disclaimer: I may be a blogger, but I am in no way a super blogger. In fact, I blog when I want to write about something. Which for me, usually means I cannot force anything. I have to be somewhat inspired, or nothing is going to get written. Period. I would like to branch out into shorter, more frequent posts, but to be honest, it's just not my style - which is what I ADORE about blogging! I don't have to fit anyone's mold. I can be ME here, and if folks come to read it, fantastic...if not, I still have a place to exercise the writing demon, as it were, to let it out, before the pressure becomes too much for the host - most writers will know what I mean by this! Therefore, I am not speaking from a place that is seeking the designation - but I notice how many others should be considered for this honor based on their hard work, and who continue to be passed over.

In regards to Banai's post, I feel her frustration....not as one trying to be an "Official" blogger, but from a reader's perspective. I've been researching my family history and studying history for over 20 years, but I've been attending conferences for only about 5 years, and blogging for about 3 (2010). What I have observed has been both wonderful and perplexing.

When my adventure into blogging began, I was immediately enraptured by the concept! I love this creative space, and I LOVE reading the varied creative spaces of others! I began prior to this blog, in the library and gardening fields, but when I found the genealogy bloggers, I knew I was home. They were such an amazing group - unlike anything I had encountered before. And this group continues to amaze me! I learn from them at such an astounding rate. If something new comes out in our field, or if I need help with a tricky standard resource, the blogging community will usually have a post about it somewhere. This is something that I never want to see change - as they say, you are perfect the way you are - keep up the remarkable work!

However, the reaction to Banai's post has me a little concerned. As I have attended many national conferences these past few years (RootsTech twice in person - once virtually), I am one that loves reading the "Official" blog posts, and also, if there are any new "Official" bloggers, I love discovering these as well. But I understand the growing frustration over the same list being given to us as "Official" bloggers, year after year.

Here's why I too get a little frustrated:

1. Hobby versus Profession: Let me begin by saying that those chosen are 90% awesome choices! The genealogy blogging community has produced several blogging "celebrities" who continue to rise in popularity and put so much time and work into what they are doing, that NO ONE can compete with this level of production or quality. These upper-crust bloggers deserve to be there, but they have gotten there from a dedication level that is on the professional side, and not the occasional/hobby blogger side. As much as I love Thomas MacEntee, he has admitted that this is a job for him (a job he is very passionate about and loves), he is a professional at this, and he is not alone in that role. Many of the high ranking bloggers are now full-time social media professionals. Most may still be approachable on a social level, but they operate at a different blogging level. Period.

2. Blogger versus Social Media Guru: One thing that Banai mentioned was the low number of blog posts and low session attendance because of the time pressures involved in interviews, pod-casting,  video segments, Twitter, etc. (Reason given by the bloggers themselves) These are all wonderful, and I admit to using Twitter probably more than any of the Social Media tools out there....but hey, aren't "Official Bloggers" supposed to blog? I love the new video elements that are now easy and cost effective to produce, but to be honest, I'm not such a big fan of this new fad that is producing a gazillion new "interviews" in video format. I'm with Banai on this one: if you are an "Official Blogger", please attend a good portion of sessions and blog about what you learned or didn't learn. Staying in the exhibit hall and interviewing vendors is not really attending the conference, it's jumping on a band wagon that feels like pandering to a bigger crowd in the hopes of getting more "exposure". (Not talking about the video veterans out there that have been pioneering this wonderful element for years - I'm talking about the scads of copy-cats, or fantastic bloggers who think they have to rely on new video/interview segments to keep reader attention.)

3. Valuing Many Voices: Let's put aside the "celebrity" bloggers/Social Media gurus for a second and think about why we chose blogging to begin with. Our first love was sharing, both our experiences and stories, and thereby learning from each other. I love the welcoming community that developed from this genea-blogging journey! I have made so many amazing friends from this community, but it is sad to see the diverse voices not celebrated nor given the same opportunities to share their knowledge and experience. I agree with Banai about the RootsTech selections this year, and I mentioned it in my 2013 RootsTech post - the selections were expected on one level - and ridiculous on another. Yes, the main blogger staples were expected and as always do a wonderful job, but instead of expanding WITHIN the genea-blogging community, RootsTech chose to expand outward into non-genealogy bloggers. At first, I was very open-minded about this. As a librarian in a state research/genealogy library, I am constantly watching our patron base and looking for new ways to reach the younger, non-genealogy, audience. Which means, I was initially excited about this move to see how this new group of bloggers would react to RootsTech.....and then the opposite happened: They ignored, or in my book, snubbed the honor, and did not write ONE post about this conference! (With the exceptions noted by Banai and myself in an earlier post) If they were not going to even mention this conference in their blog as an "Official Blogger", they get an automatic "FAIL" from me....I was shocked by this and severely disappointed. If that is the reaction of the non-genealogy bloggers chosen for this honor, then PLEASE, RootsTech, next year, branch out WITHIN the genealogy community and reward those who have also worked hard by blogging their experiences, so we can learn from a much more diverse community!

4. Numbers: Ummm, yeah, when conferences branch out and consider their list of "Official" bloggers, could they please focus less on traffic volume and more on quality of blog content? **Note** I am NOT dissing the "celebrities'" content, but rather criticizing RootsTech's choice to use traffic as a main component for selection - they are seriously missing some great genealogy gems out there by picking the same list year after year. Newsflash, RootsTech, I understand marketing principles, and driving Social Media traffic your way to grow the conference, but let's play a little fair and sprinkle your list with some new genealogy voices to BALANCE the offerings and increase the content quality!

5. If you can't say anything nice....: First of all - Hey genea-celebrities - We LOVE you guys!! You teach us SO much ALL the time! You have dedicated your time and resources to educating us and bringing us together as a formidable group! This community would not exist as it does today without your dedication and we THANK YOU! However, this is not a community that should be afraid to criticize a bit when needed. In fact, I will never stay silent (regardless of low reader numbers) if I see an area that should be tweaked in our community. We are all members of this community, and despite non-celebrity status, we ALL have voices. I was just a bit disturbed by the attacks coming to Banai in the comments field. Sorry guys, but in the "Official Blogger" issue, she's right - and most of you know it. Let's not shoot the messenger. Instead, let's continue our respectable community by being self-critical where needed, which fosters growth.


Here's how I think we can fix this issue:
1. Conferences - Back off of the "Official Blogger" title, unless the field rotates more and embraces

diversity - how about a teen genea-blogger - do we have any of those we could feature? You betcha! As I said, there are so many gems out there - let's celebrate our amazing voices! BTW, I will give kudos to NGS and FGS as they seem to be getting this principle pretty well. They appear to be experimenting with this designation over the past couple of years. Last year, NGS allowed anyone who wanted to sign up be designated as an "Official Blogger" and who therefore had access to the media booth for writing. I signed up for this last year, but as a speaker, and host at two different booths, I was way too busy to put my best blogging foot forward, which I fully admit and regret. Also, that poor media space was so empty. I used it a few times, but it ended up being  a bit too noisy as several folks used it as a lunch break area - no one was monitoring its use. However, I was so thrilled to see the big list, and found some great new bloggers this way! FGS coming up in August is experimenting with the "Ambassador" role which anyone can sign up for, and from that list they will select their "Official Bloggers" - that sounds like a great idea! Let folks compete for this status on an equal playing field!

2. New Designation? On the other hand, some really amazing personalities/celebrities have emerged over the years due to their hard work, dedication, and lifelong experiences. While we have rewarded a few with speaking and most with the automatic "Official Blogger" status, I think they have surpassed this role. They have truly become our Social Media and journalistic representatives - many on a professional basis. If they are going to spend more time on interviews, videos, etc, and leaving their first love, blogging, as a second thought, maybe this designation does not really fit them as it did once before? (obviously there are some exceptions here!) I know this might make some others mad, and maybe this is perpetuating the problem, but maybe something a bit more prestigious to honor their work? Leave the "Official Blogger" designation to those who really have kept blogging as their main focus and who will truly honor that designation by blogging their way through the conferences? Perhaps the upper-crust group fits more into a Social Media Press class, and not just bloggers? We are growing with the rate of technology, so why shouldn't our conference designations grow in the same manner? Or, on second thought, as Thomas mentioned, maybe it's time to forget the whole thing and chuck any designation? Hmmm, the two values I see in the designation: 1. Honors hard work and quality of commentary. 2. Brings attention to a new crop of great bloggers - if done right!

Thank heavens I don't make the rules! But from the words of a great comic, years ago: "It's good talk" (insert New York accent here)

P.S. Thanks Banai for pointing out the terrible search function for Blogger! Mine sucks too! It  may have pulled up any time I mentioned RootsTech, but did so out of date order. I am a librarian, so I tend to tag EVERYTHING - probably too much, but hopefully that will snag many. Great observation!


Banai Lynn Feldstein said...

Thank you for this response! Finally someone who read my blog post and understood the point of it.

I was called out for saying that "I write what I want" as if I don't care if anyone reads it. (Then why would I bother posting it?) Right before I say that I want people to read it, but I'm not in it for a popularity contest; I don't need everyone to read it. My point was that each blogger does what they want, but it's on RootsTech for who they choose as their Official Bloggers. Everyone is trying to defend the bloggers, but I already did that. Did I not word it strongly enough?

#2 - A few people said that it wasn't just their blog, but all of social media. But... Official Blogger. Yes! And your solution of a new designation is great; I thought of that today too.

#3 - Again, yes. I didn't complain that the "celebrities" were chosen again, because they mostly do a great job every time. But even the good ones are defending themselves against my... approval of their blogging of RootsTech?

In your solutions, I didn't remember that NGS allowed anyone to sign up as OB (I've only been once), but I do remember being a 1940 Census Ambassador. Did I analyze that? No. We were on equal footing. Did everyone blog well for it? I don't know. But nobody was singled out for special treatment and then didn't follow through. Why not RootsTech? Both are FamilySearch.

Also, your comment on teen bloggers makes perfect sense. The last day, they had 2000 local students at the conference. One of them as an OB may have had great reach, and us non-teens would be able to find that blog easily to see that perspective.

And from your other post, mentioning the Sistas in Zion, it's good to know that one (or rather two) of those non-genealogy bloggers "rocked it". I wasn't following their Twitter feed, I just looked at their blog, but I'm glad to know that at least one was good. (And I've added a note to my blog about it.)

Thomas MacEntee said...

Thanks Cheri for your post and your ideas. I don't agree with the approach that Banai took but sometimes it is necessary to generate talk about the issues. See my post for more insignts.

Stephanie said...

I just now clicked on your link to your blog and see that we are of the same train of thought (even the 2cents comments) but I wanted to let you know I didn't copy you in anyway when I posted on Banai's site. I saw Thomas's link and clicked on Banai and gave my layman's opinion. In fact I don't even know you but now feel some sort of kinship with you b/c clearly we are of the same brain...hee hee. Seriously, I am glad there was another voice out there beside me that sees both sides and all their stickiness! I think I am going to have to follow you now!!! Great, another late night reading your blog!!

Cheri Daniels said...

Sorry I couldn't get back to everyone until this late date/hour...

Banai: Now that I think of it, I do have one correction. I know NGS let anyone sign-up or nominate themselves for the designation, but they then reviewed your blog to make sure you were a consistent blogger before giving you the thumbs up. Which meant most everyone got the title if they were a blogger. I also think the Sistas is what RootsTech was hoping for with the new bloggers - but sadly, they were the only one.

Thomas: As I said before, we all love you guys, and yes, feelings can get heated about this one, but none of us wants to cast a negative light on your hard work. I will head over to your site for another little tidbit.

Stephanie: Great to meet you and thanks for the follow! Like you, I see the necessity in trying to see things from both sides, and respecting the complexity of an issue - this one is definitely complex! Reading late at night is such a bad but awesome habit :-)

Amanda (the librarian) said...

Agree with you, Cheri. I was very disappointed in the lack of posts ABOUT the conference sessions (I don't care about the parties and extracurricular activities) in BLOG format (I don't want to follow people on Facebook or Google+ or Twitter or watch YouTube videos or listen to podcasts). I'd also like to see some fresh faces in these rolls as some (not all) of the old-timers, if you will, have gotten rather lazy in their blogs of late (not just conference posting), and I have to scratch my head when I see they've been chosen YET AGAIN to be an official blogger! Please, FamilySearch, NGS etc. - for those of us who can't be there, pick some enthusiastic new folks who will blog about the sessions we can't attend!

Claudia said...

I have not been or will be an official blogger of anything. I blog for my own enjoyment and read many to come up with new ideas in researching my ancestors.

I am glad you waited till the dust settled to post this enjoyable post.


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