Edit Thyself! Some Advice for Kelly Blazek from a Former First Grade Teacher

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.”

You can read more about this marvelous blow up by clicking on the highlighted links.

Careful now! You don't want your face all over Twitter, do you? Source: Inc.com
Careful now! You don’t want your face all over Twitter, do you? Source: Inc.com

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.”

The Ballad of Justine Saco

Editor’s Note: This is a blog about magazines and the future of the magazine circulation industry. However, I do from time to time stray into other waters that seem relevant to the industry. Often they may be my own personal experiences and observations that relate to professional and personal development. Hopefully, you will enjoy this diversion from the shallow single copy seas.

My own personal Twitter world is busy, but not extensive. There’s a reason for that.  It’s called time. There are only so many hours in the day and only so much time that I want to devote to “work” things that only impact “work” indirectly. Social media is a wonderful invention. It has aided me in developing my “brand identity” and brought me a few clients. For my clients it should directly impact the sales of magazines in any format: digital, print or web. That the impact is limited right now says a lot about how new social media still is. We have a long way to go in figuring out how to make it work to our advantage.

Consequently, my time on Twitter each day is measured in minutes, not hours. The people and organizations I follow and pay attention to are related to magazine and book publishing, bricks and mortar retailers and digital retailers.  Because I find the landscape utterly fascinating, I watch what our cousins are doing in the same businesses overseas. The UK and Australia continue to interest me.

Justine Saco and her infamous tweet showed up in a news feed late in the day just before we left for the holidays so it wasn’t until much later that I got to read about what happened and how she got into trouble.

You can find a good recap of how it all developed in these links.

The irony that most reporters of the incident honed in on is the fact that Ms. Saco was in charge of public relations for a major media company (IAC). Theoretically, she should have known better. But as we saw in this year of jaw dropping social media gaffes, the people who should know better are sometimes as clueless as a teenager on his first outing on Facebook.

There were a few things that I found fascinating about this whole story:

The first was how easy it was to interpret and misinterpret her tweet.

Ummm, really?
Ummm, really?

The initial reaction to her tweet, once it got out into the wild, was that she was a horrible racist. It would certainly appear that way, wouldn’t it? Based on that tweet, and a few other lead bottomed tweets she made, it would seem like she was an overly privileged socially foolish person who was bigoted, and most likely a racist.

But Forbes writer Jeff Bercovi, who’s article I cite above felt that it was more of a “self deprecating joke about white guilt and Western privilege…”

Is he right?

The second thing to notice was how quickly the digital world reacted to her tweet. The social organization “Aid for Africa” picked up her name as a URL and then redirected traffic to their own page. The hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet became a trending topic.

Could this have been avoided had the former IAC PR director been on a flight with WiFi? Possibly. The WiFi supplier for airlines, GoGo, certainly got in on the act on their Twitter feed.

Consider this: That same evening, comedian Steve Martin made a rather poorly timed and rather offensive tweet. When he was called out on it, he immediately apologized, removed the tweet, and the world went on. While Ms. Saco may have been reasonably well known within her own circle, Steve Martin is an international “A” list celebrity. Which gaffe did you hear about?

This final thought occurred to me.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of traveling extensively throughout the lower forty eight states. I’ve been to forty seven of them. There are remarkably nice people in all of these states with the people showing wide degrees of niceness, education, social standing and personal warmth. Sometimes these very nice and friendly people hold viewpoints that are, now that we’re in the second decade of the twenty-first century, dated and offensive.

What would have happened if Ms. Saco made her “joke” at the IAC office party? Maybe one of the following outcomes:

In the first, best option: Some of the people around her would have chuckled. If she was within earshot of a superior, he or she would hopefully have taken her aside and said something like, “That was really offensive, Justine, you should think about how you said that and if you meant it. Especially since you’re about to leave for Africa.” Ideally she would have thought about it, apologized for her tone deafness, and maybe even visited and volunteered at an AIDS clinic while she was in Cape Town.

Hey, I’m an idealist. But you already knew that.

In the second most likely option: Some of the people around her would have chuckled. Others would have gaped and thought, “WTF?” The party would have ended, Justine would have cabbed to the airport and gone on her trip.

In the third equally likely option: Many of the people around her, including her superiors would have chuckled. Others would have remained silent. The party would have ended, Justine would have cabbed to the airport and gone on her trip.

Even if we take Mr. Bercovi at face value, what became a firing offense for Ms. Saco was that she publicly attached herself to her employer’s brand via her personal Twitter account. She should have known better. It’s not that we can no longer say rude and offensive things in this day and age (I’m looking at you Phil Robertson and Sarah Palin), it’s that there are often consequences for making such dumbfounding statements. Especially when you’re out there in the public.

Social media is a great way to communicate. I think it could be a great way to sell magazines. It’s also an interesting educational tool.

In the space below, if you want to chime in with your experiences, please do so.

If You Pay Attention, You Can Be Successful

Here is an article that just might perk up your afternoon.

It got picked up from Mr. Magazine’s (Dr. Samir Husni) Twitter feed this afternoon. The article is from a convenience store news website, CSPnet.com and tells the story of a Boston 7/11 franchisee and the success he has with a 20 foot (yes, that’s correct, twenty feet) mainline magazine rack. Why does he have this success? He pays attention to his customers and he has a distribution clerk who also pays attention.

As I often point out in this blog, this is not a paean to the love of print or a rallying cry to Luddites everywhere to begin smashing iPads (mine is well padded). There is no denying the shift that is happening in reading habits, technological advances and demographic patterns.

But the big issue in newsstand distribution has been, and continues to be, the poor job we do in getting our product to market, merchandising it, marketing it, and calling attention to it. Oh, we’ve got all the basics down OK. Heck, we’ve been doing essentially the same thing since the 1960’s. But we can’t seem to coordinate, upsell or get our mixes right. And I can say that because I just spent an afternoon looking at a regional magazine’s distribution and wondered how I, a national distributor, and four different magazine wholesalers could have missed the gaping holes in this particular title. Could it be we’re all looking somewhere else?

What is worse, whenever we as an industry fail, instead of learning from our mistakes, we continue to make the same ones, all the while apologizing for those mistakes and helping the retailer to cut back on display space.

As an industry we really need to look up from our spreadsheets. At our conferences we need to stop talking about “best practices” while huddling in corners and offering discounts to continue with the same old practices. We need to build a better business model.  We need to talk up our story as an industry instead of looking down at our feet, apologizing and cutting costs and cutting space. If we could do that,  this would be a different kind of industry.

Click on the link below and see if you don’t crack a smile:

News Junkie: 7-Eleven franchisee Lane extends love of print to his store.

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