Hiding Behind the Facade

    April 26, 2006

Anonymity makes a lot of things easier. Personal attacks and inaccurate representations, for example, don’t present much of an issue if nobody really knows who you are when you invoke them.

For some reason that isn’t very clear to me, “Amanda Chapel,” s/he of “Strumpette,” has singled me out from all of those who blogged about the blog de plume for savaging. (It’s not clear because I only referenced the Strumpette blog in two posts. Maybe Amanda doesn’t like being ignored.) In a rather lengthy and meandering piece that rejects the importance of transparency, Amanda tosses out this bit of narrative:

“…look at certain PR Bloggers and lead zealots like Shel Holtz and friends. These are the same geeky misfits that made up the high-school AV club. Now listen to Shel and others self righteously proclaim that “Online credibility is based on transparency.” These web-thug fundamentalists would surely mug Mini Mouse at Disney World and throw her into the Seven Seas Lagoon.

“Why does the dynamic persist and where does it get its power?

“Sadly this is the PR’s Blogging “A” team. They were the “pioneers” (their words). As such, their perceptions and misperceptions have been raised up as gospel. When they say the word “podcasting,” i.e. a simple procedure of recording and putting that file on the web, you’d think you’d have heard an interview with Reinhart Stroodle, the famous international brain surgeon, on NPR.

“It is self reinforcing because they promote and protect each other. Also, as the fundamentalists are loud, they give off the appearance of general consensus.

“Bottom line: their real motive is to maintain their power. As such any threat is reduced.”

The inaccuracies and fallacies in this brief passage are so many and deep that it’s startling to ponder how one person could fit so many into so few words.

The AV club? Not me

First, let’s dispense with the personal attack. I was not a geek and I was never a member of the high-school AV club. I wish I had been; I might be rich today. But from the time I was eight, I wanted to be a newspaper reporter. I worked on the high school newspaper and was a member of the debate team. I was not a jock, but played a lot of tennis. (I will not stoop to guessing Amanda’s high school activities. It’s none of my business, irrelevant to the discussion of transparency, and frankly rather juvenile.) Oh, and my father worked for Disney when I was growing up. Mickey put dinner on our table.

The transparency debate

The fact that Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and their friends are costumed and anonymous is a non sequitur. Nobody will make critical business decisions based on anything Mickey or Donald say. I have no problem with the New York bouncer who blogs anonymously. His blog is primarily an entertainment and there is no reason I need to know that he is genuinely a bouncer and not, in fact, a 75-year-old widow living out a fantasy. Even Mini Microsoft is in good shape blogging anonymously. He displays enough information to assure me he truly does work for Microsoft, fellow Microsoft employees have confirmed it, and his criticism requires no special background or knowledge beyond that which comes from being an employee.

In other words, in none of these cases is credibility an issue.

When a medical blogger writes about opting for a surgical procedure instead of a course of medication, however, people may make life-altering decisions based on that advice. It would be nice-make that necessary-to know they have the background, training, and skill to offer such an opinion. While similar decisions based on the writings of PR bloggers are not equally momentous, they can be career-affecting. Before I make a decision based on what I read from a PR blogger, I’d like to know their credentials. I’m far more inclined to trust what I read from Josh Hallett or John Wagner or Kami Huyse than I am from somebody unwilling to identify themselves. It’s more troubling to consider taking advice from someone without the strength of their conviction to put their name to their words.

The key message in Amanda’s post is that the transparency “movement” has gone too far. This so-called movement is grass-roots in nature and has inspired, among other things, Sarbanes-Oxley. It grew from the abuses of Enron and WorldComm and Tyco and Adelphia and a host of others who secretly engaged in wildly unethical behavior that caused untold grief for hundreds of thousands of innocent people, from employees to investors. The widespread public demand for transparency is a backlash against such behavior. It is the business watchword of the decade. Neither I nor my PR blogging colleagues made it so. We simply advise our own clients based on our recognition that it is so.

Edelman’s blogger relations effort on behalf of Wal*Mart would not have suffered any serious criticism if not for the perceived failures in transparency. And it wasn’t the PR blogosphere that pointed the finger at Edelman. The PR blogosphere simply reported and analyzed what was being said by Wal*Mart’s critics.

My place in the blogosphere

I am flattered that Amanda considers me part of PR blogging’s “A” team. I never viewed myself that way. I started blogging back in 2004 with a couple of goals. One was to learn about blogging so I could advise my clients intelligently about it (the same reason, incidentally, that I started podcasting). Another was to help me clarify my own thinking but putting my thoughts into words. I never sought power and do not believe that I wield any. If I do, perhaps Amanda can enlighten me as to how that power is exercised. All I have are my own words and my name behind them.

Amanda displays a remarkable degree of ignorance in her characterization of podcasting. That surprised me. I wrote that I didn’t like Strumpette, but never doubted Amanda’s intelligence. Between the personal attack and the failure to understand the distinction between podcasting and downloadable audio, however, I’ve been forced to change my assessment.

Dear Amanda, it’s the ability to subscribe to a podcast so you don’t have to go get it that distinguishes it from downloadable audio. Further, neither I nor any other PR blogger or podcaster I know is responsible for articulating that distinction. Rather, authorities from the Oxford English Dictionary to the Wiley and McGraw-Hill publishing houses to venture capital firms like Sequoia Investments and Kleiner Perkins have taken the lead, not to mention the 30,000 or so podcasters who are more than just producers of downloadable audio.

As for me, I see my role simply as helping my clients and anyone who wants to listen figure out how to use podcasting as a channel for reaching and influencing publics.

I was also amused at the notion that we supposed “A” list bloggers support and reinforce each other. Interestingly, a report was issued just today by the Blogads network that found “There are multiple blogospheres,” according to Blogads CEO Henry Copeland. “These people actually run in packs and the packs have very distinct characteristics.”

I run in two packs, in fact. My travel blog is part of the travel pack. Most of the people who comment there have their own travel blogs. Mostly, though, I run in the PR pack. I am aware of the PR blogs that I am aware of. As I learn of new ones, I read them and decide whether they resonate with me. If they do, I add them to my feeds. When someone says something I want to comment on, I link to them. I do not defend them unless I believe an attack on them is fundamentally wrong. I have also disagreed publicly with bloggers who are part of my pack. BL Ochman and I don’t always see eye to eye, but I still respect her and like her.

This linking back and forth among various blogs that address the same themes and issues is exactly what makes the blogosphere the blogosphere. It is not a circling of the wagons or an effort to defend a position of power. One cannot defend something one does not have. I blog as a form of self-expression, not, as Amanda would have it, as “the weapon of Taliban Militia-like Net geeks who bully others to impose their fundamentalist beliefs.” How in the world do I (or any other PR bloggers) do that, for God’s sake? Sounds to me like Amanda has some issues she really should address. And if she doesn’t like what I write, nobody’s twisting her arm to read it. I don’t read her. In fact, the only reason I read this particular post is because she emailed me directly pointing to it with a message bearing the cryptic subject line, “FYI: You’re Mentioned.” Indeed.

On credibility

I assume that if anyone takes what I write seriously, it is because what I write makes sense to some (certainly not all), and for some people, knowing who I am lends credibility to my words. As for what I write, my background and my credentials are on my website for anyone to see. These are the source of my credibility, not the imagined support of my fellow PR bloggers.

In the end, though, I really don’t care what Amanda says about me, because Amanda has zero credibility. I did, however, want to make sure that inaccuracies in her post were addressed and the source of my “proclamations” explained.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

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Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.