Tuesday, April 25, 2006

If I'm Already Transparent, Do I Have to Get Naked, Too?

The whole L.A.Times/Michale Hiltzik hoo-ha brought up the whole transparency thing yet again (Jeff Jarvis blogged it twice so it's pretty high on the meter.) There's pretty much agreement across a great number of blogs that transparency wouldn't have hurt Hiltzik all that much, and his lack thereof, not his feuds with fellow bloggers nor the medium of blogging, is to blame for his woes...

Yet barely a month ago, the delightfully curmudgeonly Nick Carr offered Seven Rules for Corporate blogging in response to something Scoble either did or said (I'm not sure and I haven't been following their level of hoo-ha to parse it all out.) Carr, however, offered two salient points about corporate blogging: 1) don't do it and 2)"People blogging on behalf of their employers don't need to wear suits, but they should wear clothes. Independent bloggers can afford to blog "naked." Corporate bloggers can't."

And then today Steve Outing pens
this piece about giving journalists their own spaces (like MySpace spaces) so that they can be a bit more personal with the public and also suggests that people might want to have personal pages on the websites of various newspapers.

all I can say, in my best New Jersey bagleshop vernacular is "oy vai!"

Now, let's start by getting a few things straight here. Transparency is a good thing. Transparency means that people know who you are, know something about you, your opinion, and maybe a few other things. You don't have to be naked to be transparent. You can, like a fan dancer in a burlesque show, still keep some things a mystery while still letting people know some things about you.

Being naked, however, has different implications and might be interpreted in a much broader sense than being transparent. I sometimes think the guys who lobby for more nakedness (as opposed to nudity) in blogging are rather blind to a lot of the human condition. First, just how naked IS naked? If I blog about my personal life, I'm definitely being naked--but the fact of the matter is that my personal life just might have a bit more spice to it than a lot of other folks' lives and my attempts at being naked may be just a tad TMI for most....

So, then, is the degree to with we are naked determined by our professional standing, by our creative pursuits, or by the fact that we have rather regular bourgeois lives with not a hint of scandal?

From my experience, it's usually those with the nice bourgeois lives that love to be naked and like to urge others to do the same. Then again, what are they losing if they blog about their wonderful romantic dinner with the wife/husband, the camping trip with the kids, or what their friend of a billion years said over coffee and donuts? All they are doing is re-affirming an American ideal and reflecting the life experience of many others. Their nakedness is kind of like being naked in a nudist colony.

So, basically, by calling for more folks to be naked what we're really asking for is a lot of folks to tell us about their fairly bourgeois lives....

Because if you live something of a rather spicy bohemian life as I do, you just might risk your credibility--and worse, your corporate hire-ability.

Yet I'm sure some are thinking that I'm missing the point about businesses blogging naked. Not really. If a business gets too naked in its blogging--if it goes the way of the topless and bottomless dancer--it too risks credibility. If a corporate blogger gives away too much about a product or about internal squabbles, the corporate credibility or product credibility could be put at risk.

Likewise with a journalist. Do we really want to know about Marureen Dowd's most recent date or the dinner Tom Friedman had with his wife? Knowing these details about these individuals can leave them open for some real credibility pot shots--if anything it would turn them in to paparazzi-worthy Personalities. Perhaps what the newsroom doesn't need is more Personalities...nor paparazzi.

And, it would also be a disaster for the journalist who isn't quite cut from the same cloth as the guy who goes to little league games and charity fundraisers. Being naked sometimes calls for values judgements about others based on how "normal" their life happens to be...and that is hardly the measure of a good, if not superb, journalist (Ernest Hemingway.)

So, perhaps the better term, when it comes to anyone who's blogging for a business, or for a newspaper, or for anyone whose professional life might be impacted, the concept of transparency might do a lot better than being naked.

Just a thought.

Note: Susan Mernit once commented to me that I was gutsy for linking my personal and professional blogs...I'm not sure if it's been a measure of guts or a lack of brains on my part. I do know that it has, to some degree, had a negative impact among some business folk in the area. Yet there are others who think that it's wonderful and I should be praised for being open about my life (and that my "naked" writing is far better than my "transparent" writing.) Yet once the geni is out of the bottle, it's damned hard to get that sucker back in...

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