The very first research paper I ever wrote was in seventh grade for Mr. Mackler’s Social Studies class. We were studying colonial America and I chose to write about the lost colony of Roanoke Island. I sweated for a long hot Indian Summer week writing up note cards and then typing up the first draft on my portable Smith-Corona. When I was done, I proudly showed it to my mother, a first grade teacher and former editor of her high school newspaper. After carefully reading it she gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received.
“This is good, but who are you writing it for?”
I probably did some sort of early adolescent shrug because her question was clearly too subtle for me.
She then said something like this:
“Don’t ever forget about who you are writing for. This paper is for Mr. Mackler. He’s your teacher, not your pen pal. Write like you are a scholar just like him. When you write for your school paper, you write the news like you are a newspaper reporter because that is who you are. When you write your short stories, think about who you readers will be. Who is going to buy your books? Always remember who your audience is.”
Kelly Blazek forgot who her audience was.
Ms. Blazek is a Cleveland based marketer who in her spare time, runs a job bank for marketers in north eastern Ohio. Apparently she is very picky about who she adds to her email list. That’s certainly her prerogative.
But when the 26-year-old Diana Merkota broke the rules about how to approach Ms. Blazek, the job board founder unloaded on Merkota with a passionate and brutal take down that clearly included some “Baby Boomer” ire pointed at the younger “Millennial” generation.
“I love the sense of entitlement of your generation” she wrote, “And therefore I enjoy Denying your invite, and giving you the dreaded “I Don’t Know” … because it’s the truth.”
This is an easy trick bag to get caught up in, especially for those of us who came up in a time when inter office communication was created on an IBM Selectric and then transferred from office to office a yellow envelope that slowly moved from desk to desk. We tend to forget how easy it is for our recipient to forward what we wrote to the entire world. And if you don’t think carefully about what you say, it can be a career killer.
Like the Justine Saco blow up late last year, the Blazek-Merkota internet kerfuffle has a life of it’s own with parody twitter accounts, and some pretty brutal memes. None of us would know anything about this, of course, if the receiver of the poison email hadn’t been a twenty-something millennial with easy access to Twitter, Imgur and Reddit. It also didn’t help that this wasn’t a one-off experience. Other victims of Ms. Blazek’s steel tipped email responses chimed have chimed in with their own stories.
I don’t think it’s fair for me to try to guess Ms. Blazek’s reason for writing this type of message or why she apparently has a tendancy to do so. In my own world, I often have to stop, think and consider who it is I am writing to and why. It’s a hard thing to remember to do. Especially when you also want to try to edit your work and there’s thirty other things you need to complete that afternoon.
But the message is simple, and sadly easy to forget. Don’t forget who you’re writing to. Write it out once, read it out loud, edit, edit, edit.
In the great state of Texas, they advise people to “Drive Friendly.” Clearly out on the internet we should be advising people to “Write Friendly.”