Anatomy of a Blogspat

earthWhen you look from space you see flare ups across the earth, weather systems, lightning, fires. The skies are always in motion and the earth is revolving. The same with the blogosphere. Little flare ups across the globe sometimes lead to bigger questions, resolutions, or all out war.  This keyboard I am typing on is merely the hardware, emotion still goes into it and that can make blogspats downright ugly. The Kathy Sierra fiasco (read Strumpette’s excellent dissection) is like the O.J. Simpson of blogspats. As ugly and bizarre and sensationalist as you can get in a virtual world. Then there are the little schoolyard brawls that are constantly brewing – like the one I inadvertently (or intentionally?) kicked off here last week.

Rosen says Mark Rose is a clown

There it is, Jay, that’s the headline you wanted to see here to counter the headline to the post I wrote on your presentation at the New York Social Media Club last week. See post: Jay Rosen - I Can Do Whatever The F%#k I Want

Now, I never met Jay Rosen before his presentation. Nothing personal. And this all may seem trivial and forgettable. It is, especially when you rockem socken robotsstare at the picture of the earth for a few seconds. But we play it out in some variation all day on the blogosphere and at the end of the day, when I finally turn off the computer, I sometimes feel I’ve been through one of those rock em sock em games where you’re trying to punch the other guy’s head off but you’re too weak from incessant body shots to muster the strength.

Why did I write a snide, dismissive post on Jay Rosen?

Sometimes I feel like a nut, sometimes I don’t? Bad hair day? ‘Cause I could? Because I have a not-too-well-disguised aversion to academic conceit? Any or all of the above. It’s opinion. I don’t really have to justify it.

This is the blogosphere – that’s the beauty and terror of it. You own the printing press, you have no editor, you can say whatever you want. I can insinuate that Jay Rosen doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about and he can call me a clown. This does not damn blogs to the realm of amateur hacks. It places us squarely in the power spot of our historical preference for advocacy in journalism.

Advocacy journalism and citizen journalism and opinion have always been an essential backbone of free speech in our democracy. Go back to the days of Thomas Paine who sparked a revolution with “Common Sense” and Abraham Lincoln’s speech at Cooper Union in Manhattan that was distributed widely and propelled an unknown to the Presidency. The power of the word cannot be denied. It will find its equilibrium and it will seep through, no matter how it is delivered and distributed.

Abraham LincolnWhen Lincoln came to New York to speak at Cooper Union (he was originally booked to speak at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights) there were highly partisan media wars. There was no pretense to “objective” media.  Lincoln was lauded by the Republican-leaning papers and he took it on the chin from the others.  Lincoln learned to become a master PR guy who lived by the maxim “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” long before Don Vito Corleone ever dreamed it. He knew how to “frame” his story (“spin”) and charm the press, despite his gangly, frightful visage. He had to stay on message with the likes of New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley who alternately praised and damned him, and the New York Herald editor who labeled Lincoln a “joke,” a “buffoon,” and a “pigmy.”

“Freedom of press belongs to those who own one,” we used to say in my early days in PR, and I am sure Abraham Lincoln knew that. Well, yeah.  Now we all have printing presses. Scarey.

To the point. I am skeptical of Jay Rosen’s Assignment Zero project because I don’t understand the objective or the payoff.  I have written for mainstream media like Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, citizen journalism sites like OhMyNews, this blog, other blogs, and yes, of course, that novel.  I have seen mainstream media adapt to the digital age with robust web-based news that includes commentary and analysis from readers, content from other blogs, 24 hour deadline blogs by reporters. Isn’t that the ‘Pro-Am’ – professional and citizen journalists combining to produce news – concept that Jay is espousing functioning on the Washington Post website? I know there is a difference in the “crowdsourcing” method Jay is experimenting with but is that it? Maybe there is a difference and maybe there is something I am missing. I admit that I dozed during Jay’s presentation but I saw no reason to wake up. I am looking for a reason to wake up.

The real wake up call came a few days later when the moderator of the New York Social Media Club listserv, Chris Heuer, wrote a post condemning my post on Jay Rosen. “Can’t tell if he is attacking for the sake of getting attention or if he has a real point to make that was not properly articulated,” wrote Heuer to Social Media Club list members. In any case, Heuer determined that my post “is not the sort of effort that deserves much merit or attention.” Then the kicker: “Please don’t link to it or write about it at all – it’s not a story.”

Properly articulated? Heaven knows I want to be properly articulated. I started several emails to Chris Heuer, all beginning: GO FUCK YOURSELF. I decided that perhaps this was not the most prudent way for me to introduce myself to the New York Social Media Club listserv so I toned it down a bit. For some reason my post wasn’t making it through moderation (Heuer was the moderator – go figure). I emailed Social Media Club co-founder Howard Greenstein and he intervened and my post was published.

When Chris did not get the point of my first message I sent another that was less circumspect. I did not try to disguise my anger. This was not about the content of my post but my right to engage in the conversation without a filter, a censor, or an arbitrator (different than a monitor), especially as a member of the Social Media Club. Was the irony in all this lost on everbody but me?

Howard Greenstein, co-founder of the Social Media Club stepped in and handled the issue deftly and decisively. He basically said that he thought my post on Jay was idiotic but I had a right to it and we all had a right to discuss it. There would be no censorship at the Social Media Club. The issue was resolved, corrected promptly, end of story. I was impressed with Howard. With a bunch of aggressive kids in a schoolyard, you need a strong referee.

By his third post on this matter Jay Rosen had calmed and tried to explain himself but he had made so many PR blunders by this point that it was meaningless. So, Jay, since my mind is corrupted to believe that all our difficulties can be resolved through smart PR (I know, I need help), I will give you some free advice on how to avoid blogspats in the future, or at least minimize the damage.

Most often the best response is no response

When you are needled, attacked, denigrated (“Mark, you denigrate yourself …” Richard Edelman posted here), humiliated, the first response, and often times the best response, is to do nothing. Remember this: Don’t just do something, sit there. Then ask yourself: do I want to give this energy, do I want to prolong this, do I want to dignify this? Wait a day. See how you feel. The worst punishment you can mete out to a blogger is to ignore him.

Every communication is an opportunity to educate and to sell

What is Assignment Zero, how is it different, what will it show us, how will we benefit? PR messaging works because it is a simple and effective way to organize your most salient points for people who are usually busy and need to think in threes. Instead of emoting, educate us about citizen journalism, sell us on the experiment of Assignment Zero so we get involved and want to tell others about it.

It’s all about your website

Like any good citizen journalist who dozes through an event, I figured I’d graze the nice buffet that Edelman spread out for us and then check out your website for the story, do a little write-up and go off to my real job. The site now has a cursory what, who, why but no context or depth for the driving motivation. I’ll devote my time for a great mission. I’m not into experimentation for its own sake. But that’s me.

Don’t start or end blog posts with negatives

“Explanation? Sure. I thought I gave an explanation but I will repeat it.”

” … it is matter of complete indifference to me whether you, Will, or you, Mark, consider Assignment Zero “new,” “old,” “kinda new but not completely,” “traditional,” or an expression of something that has been happening for a long time.”

If explaining is tiresome and you don’t care if we “get it” then … need I explain?

Don’t hold a grudge 

In other words, Jay, I hope you don’t punch me in the face the next time you see me.


  1. Chris Heuer says:

    You really are a bright person Mark, who has actually articulated something here. Unfortunately, you are wrong in regards to several of your facts and statements about me and our inteactions. So I will let the clarifying parts which I had requested stand on their own merits and instead state:

    I never once said you did not have a right to an opinion – but you took my opinion of the merits of your original piece way too personally, especially for a professional communicator. In that a friend who was there wrote me and said my response on the list seemed harsh, I can understand why you might be upset, but…

    You did not quote yourself here – what you said in the emails on the mailing list added no additional perspective – in fact, far from it – you answered my questions with questions instead of answers. When presented with the opportunity to refute the question I posed about your intentions and articulating your point, you chose neither until another round – you chose to be snarky, which is fine in a group of people who knows when you are being snarky, but in a public list where this is unknown…

    I personally feel that your assumption that I am the moderator for the NYC list (even after speaking with the NYC lead Howard Greenstein) shows a tendency that you really want to pick a fight – am I wrong? Then don’t attack me personally for my concern, refute it and move on. Using technology troubles with posting to the list to cast me as an evil-doer censor is simply untrue. As far as I know, none of the lists are moderated and I would certainly never run a moderated list myself – against my principles mostly, unless we got a few trolls, in which case I would probably be banning people for being assholes instead of moderating. You are clearly not banned or moderated, despite my opinions on what you previously wrote or how you chose to not answer my sincere questions (which were backed up with a couple of paragrphs explanation of my perspective on why I was asking the question)

    As you are entitled to your opinion, I am entitled to mine. I did not (and still do not) believe your misuse of a quote of Jay Rosen completely out of context deserves a link. If what you said here about your concerns was in that post, I would feel very differently about it. Unfortunately, as I also mentioned, I did not think too highly of Jay calling you a clown either – but that was not mentioned above in the selective telling of this tale – which is somewhat understandable because your points about Assignment Zero should be the focus of this clarifying post.

    You did a much better job of articulating your point here despite the inaccuracies and half truths about me (obviously you spent some time thinking about the real issues and writing it) I wish I was in NYC this weekend for PodcampNYC as I would enjoy the opportunity to meet you F2F and really discuss this.

    My problem here is that this appears to be a classic tactic some people in the blogosphere often use to get links and build an audience. Whether it is or isn’t is not within my control or ability to decide without knowing you really, so it is up to others – all I can do is express my concern that it might be. Even if this is not your intention, it is indeed the appearance of impropriety that is often worse than the actions themselves – this is why I suggested people not link to you – which is different than censorship as anyone who has been censored will tell you.

    Linkbaiting is childish. If this was not your intention, I apologize. From your initial response to my questions though, you seemingly confirmed my concerns rather than alleviating them. Talking of yourself in 3rd person and not articulating with any further clarity your point about Assignment Zero was not helping your case. I did not see your post accusing me of censorship until today (too funny IMHO because you clearly don’t know me, or the intentions of Social Media Club and you obviously did not understand my point or reach out to me either). Perhaps you were vulnerable from being called a clown – I certainly would not be in a good state of mind from that myself, so I guess I can understand and forgive somewhat.

    Bottom line – I would have preferred to follow your advice and not said anything further here, but your completely false accusations and partial telling of this story required correction and clarification. Double Bottom Line – you are clearly more articulate than my first impression of you and I do not know your intent, but your innacurate painting of me as someone who encourages censorship is wrong and indicative of less than benevolent intentions. Tripple bottom line – with the effort above to explain your real concerns about Assignment Zero, and the valid questions for which you seek answers, I at least understand the concerns you have about the project, though I still object to the way in which you chose to attack Jay’s reputation by misusing his offhanded comment for Yellow Blogging…

    Very much looking forward to meeting in person, despite this all.

  2. Mark,

    I read your original post about Rosen’s speech several days ago. I reread it this morning just to make sure I wasn’t missing something. I don’t really get the big deal. You had an opinion, which you expressed in an entertaining manner. The tone of your post doesn’t appear to me to be all that different from many op-ed pieces that I read in daily papers and magazines.

    Professor Rosen had every right to refute your points. In fact, I disagree with you in a couple of areas. However, his calling you a clown, while entertaining, came off as a tad sophomoric.

    What really concerns me is any attempt to squelch your opinions. As long as you were making a point and not simply attacking someone, why would you be censored?

    Is the tagline for the NY Social Media Club, “If you get it, share it…as long as we agree with you?” It sounds like the issue was resolved correctly, but what a terrible precedent.

  3. Mark Rose says:

    You were listed as moderator earlier on the list, so I assumed you were. One post announcing the interview with R. Edelman went through moderation, the other one questioning you did not. Those were the facts I based my assumption on. Thanks for the clarification. Sorry if I was mistaken.

    I look forward to meeting you in person, and Jay Rosen as well. Blogspats happen all the time and I try to live it through, let go, move on to the real (physical) world. I was not aware of linkbaiting but I live in New York where “Headless Body In Topless Bar” is the sort of headline that gets a story read. I also have clients who complain that the media constantly takes what they say out of context to sensationalize or fulfill their own story agenda. So what else is new? We all approach a story from our own assumptions and prejudices, despite the morally self-righteous veil of objectivity.

    To me, this expansive post on the blogspat is just as valid as the earlier, short commentary on Jay’s presentation. Screaming in the town square, juggling a bowling ball, knives and a torch, or delivering a critique at the podium all have the power to educate, entertain, and spur to action. Sometimes it takes an instigator to get things moving, before the philosophers step in to make sense of it.


  4. Mark Rose says:

    Hey Shannon: How is FetchWire coming? Go to PodCamp if it tours around near you, it’s really cool.


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