writing naked: disclosing for your audience

Disclosure. It’s a vital component to building trust with an audience (that’s you) and not being a jerk-ass writer (potentially me). In an effort to not be a jerk-ass, I’ll disclose my biases and motivation(s) for writing this post.

  • I love the CBC. As a contract columnist, the CBC asks me to disclose any connection to, freebie from, or incentive by a winery. I like that.
  • I dislike advertorials. As a freelance writer I’m asked to pen all sorts of things – I (now) decline these. It’s a hard stand to take when the mortgage is due, but it’s where I planted my feet.
  • I don’t like to ask for free stuff. The result is that I’m invited to WAY fewer events/places/etc, but it means that when I write about something it’s because I genuinely want to.
  • Readers should have the straight goods. A writer/blogger/whatever that’s invited on a media trip (and is comped anything) should disclose it in her/his writing. Period.

Feel free to agree or disagree – but now you know where I stand before I get into the thick of things. This could be a messy one, so hang on.

I wanted to take a short trip with my fella; somewhere close by so we could maximize our Friday-to-Sunday time schedule. The goal: a weekend away, possibly playing double-duty as writing inspiration, and absolutely involving wine.

We were looking to stretch our dollars and a close acquaintance had once said “come stay with us if you’re ever in Chelan”. I contacted our new friend Katy and arranged an overnighter. Not wanting to outstay our welcome, I sought additional accommodation for a second night – but high season in a tourist destination meant spending significant coin. Damn. So I got in touch with the visitor’s centre and asked if any local accommodators could offer a discounted rate for “media”.

I rarely play the media card; I’d rather stay under the radar. But when it came to the only real away-time I’d have with my honey for the season, I caved. The nice people at Lake Chelan found a hotel willing to discount a one-night stay. While this was going on, I pitched a little something for online publication to legitimize the whole thing. My editor said yes, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

After dodging what I felt was a fraud-bullet, a writer colleague told me to get off my high-moral horse: I was providing a return benefit to the area – it wasn’t a handout – and other writers do this all the time. Ugh. Or as I’d tweet: #lesigh. I disclosed the freebies in the article where appropriate and when it didn’t sound like an infomercial.

What concerns me about I-give-you-something-and-you-give-us-something relationships between writers and those offering is a lack of disclosure on the part of the writer. It’s our responsibility to give it up. I disclose perks or gratis anything, yet I find it challenging to stay balanced on the narrow bridge between advertorial-ick and a glowing response to a well-hosted good time.

Do I feel my article stayed on course? Well, I didn’t omit the negative because I was given a few perks – we had a poor breakfast experience at a location I won’t name because if you know anything about me you know I don’t play that way. I felt encouraged to write positively about the area because we had a great visit.

Any good article or prose should leave the reader asking questions – if not about the content, then about what motivated the writer to tell that story. In an earlier post I mention how travel can often be on the dime of the writer seeking the experience, so I don’t begrudge anyone a complimentary anything. I’d love to take a sponsored trip and see how much that inner voice nags at me while I write. I’ll tell you all about it.

Meanwhile, I ask that the audience (that’s you) read with a critical eye – and I hope my fellow writers write nakedly. Perhaps not literally, because that could get weird.

~ Jeannette

writer-as-photog: painting the picture with more than words

Hello, my name is Jeannette and I’m a writer. <insert chorus of “Hi, Jeannette”>

Writers have a sweet gig – it’s a tough slog most of the time, but it’s also pretty rad. I work harder at this than at any other job I’ve had and earn the least amount of money I’ve ever made (if I sit down and calculate the hourly wage, which I try hard to avoid), but generally we get to be at / experience / talk to / investigate / research the coolest events / places / people / subject matter you can think of. And when we’re the person who came up with the idea, it’s magical.

Increasingly often in the digital realm, freelance writers are asked to provide photographs to accompany an article or story. With digital SLRs and pre-programmed shutter speeds, it’s getting easier for us to accommodate those requests. But does that make it right? Are we taking a piece of the photographer’s market? Probably. For that, I’m sorry.

Here’s the thing: writers largely remain underpaid – if paid at all – for online content. It takes no less time to craft a story for a digital platform than it does for print, yet it doesn’t command the same compensation – and many writers are contributing online content for free (or really cheap). So when we’re asked to provide passable images, we will – because we want to keep the gig.

To my photographer friends and friends-to-be, please accept my apologies. I don’t pretend to be one of you and I never will. I’m somewhere between a hobbyist and an enthusiast, and I struggle with the technical aspects of photography that you learned at school because I didn’t study photography like you did. Your time is worth money, and I totally get it.

When I can encourage a publication – online or print – to spring for a photographer, I do. Yet the demand for photographs has forced me to practice and (I think) improve my picture-taking abilities. Will any of my images win awards, receive notoriety, or make anyone other than my publisher/editor and me happy? Probably not. Okay, maybe my mom – but she’s supposed to like everything I do. I’ve been fortunate to find a photographer whose style of photography is similar to how I write: the talented Melissa Voth McHugh and I have worked together for a few years, and I’m grateful to learn from her as we grow together.

Writers try to paint pictures with words – and sometimes, we get it right. But the same rule applies for photography as it does for writing: you get what you pay for. So when I’m asked to provide images, my photographs won’t be in the same stratosphere as those of a professional photographer. Hopefully my readers understand this and can forgive my photographic indiscretions.

Research for my latest writing involves hanging out with chefs Cam and Dana of Joy Road Catering (see? rad). As I tried to remain unobtrusive yet ready to snap a photo of culinary awesomeness, I realized that writers see things differently than photographers. I happily shelved my photographer-to-be and snapped away. Thank you Cam & Dana, for trusting me enough to allow me to sneak into the kitchen while you prepared for a marathon catering weekend.

Here’s a glimpse of how a writer thinks while she’s playing photographer-wannabe.

This is one of the largest rubber band balls I’ve ever seen. It was huge, so they’ve started a new one. Where did all those rubber bands come from? Answer: produce.
As a writer, these little jars caught my attention. I had created an entire backstory for them the moment I saw them.
Photographically awkward, but compelling hidden story. Where did this come from, and who has used it? This is how we (well, I) see things before I write.
What a photographer sees: a cluttered image. What I see: chef Cam and chef Dana, working within feet of one another… but in completely different worlds.
Awkward perspective, yes. I should have been focusing on chef Dana’s hands, but I was distracted by this wee little wire chair on the knife rack.
Too many intersecting lines = visual confusion. I cop to that. I intended to capture Joy Road’s beautiful nature-surrounded outdoor kitchen. Instead, the writer in me thought: “how do they keep the wasps away?”.

**  want more? watch for my article with EAT Magazine – online as of Aug/Sept.

three bottles in

I love how conversation evolves when I’m with friends who are imbibing, especially if some of the friendships are newer than others.

Generally (and although I dislike generalizations this one has fit many of my scenarios fairly well), friendship conversations have three phases: research, experimentation, and development. Yes, these are phases of many things scientific – but they can also be used to describe the evolution of conversation among newly acquainting people.

For example, this weekend my fella and I met a new-to-us couple and a current (mutual) friend for dinner. The new-to-us couple cooked and I provided wine – it was to be a merry-making evening under the guise of event planning (we’re all involved in our local art gallery).

Phase I: research (“When I lived in a warehouse in Australia…”)

The first wine of the night was a 2009 Pinot Gris from Wild Goose Vineyards. My fella and I chatted with the new-to-us couple while we awaited the mutual friend. Bright, with light acidity, playful and not entirely serious, the wine was a perfect accompaniment to our learning about each other. We eventually remembered to include some snacks after most of the bottle was consumed – a good sign of things to come.

Phase II: experimentation (Me: “I’m going to make shoes this winter – I have a pair I think I can copy.” New friend: “Really? I want to do that, too!” <runs to get example>)

Our second wine of the night was the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Fairview Cellars. I love Bill’s wine (Bill Eggert is the proprietor, grower, and winemaker). We sipped this big, earthy cab while noshing on roast venison – a stellar combination. It’s at the second bottle in that the newly acquainted start to experiment a bit more, finding areas of relating and testing the waters to see how deep those connections might go.

Phase III: development (“…and that’s the last time I ran drugs for anyone.”)

By the third bottle, it’s game on. Once the initial research has met specific criteria, and the parties involved have experimented to determine the strength of those connections, the new friendship is forged. There’s no going back now. It’s during the third bottle – Poplar Grove Wine’s 2006 The Legacy (Bordeaux-style blend); large, round, and lingering – that entering a conversation half-way can provide an excellent soundbite out of context. See example above.

There were more than three glasses consumed in this evening, and I believe it was fruitful yet productive. We explored fundraising ideas (from gala auctions to occupied public spaces with graffiti art), exchanged tall tales (that drug-running story), and laughed way too much. An existing friendship was reinforced, and a new one was solidified.

I won’t delve into the Chilean pinot noir that arrived sometime during dinner, nor will I remark in detail about the Australian botrytis-affected semillion that appeared for dessert. In this experiment, those would be considered a “lurking variable” whose influence may skew the outcomes.

~ Jeannette