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When you have a bully pulpit

Posted by lpearle on 11 July 2013

A few things have happened recently that left a semi bad taste in my mouth – they revolved around someone using their bully pulpit for what I can only call personal gain.

Without giving away names or exact details, here’s what’s going on: creators advocating for their product, which is completely understandable, but not being open about it.  It’s as thought some guy named Henry Ford is railing against the mess, odor, cost of upkeep and unsightliness of those horse-and-buggy things without mentioning that, oh yeah, he’s manufacturing the Model T.  Legal, yes.  Ethical? Probably.  Smarmy?  Definitely.

Years ago a professional organization I belonged to created tiered membership.  Vendors were welcome to join, but they were not allowed access to the elist.  This was all done because one vendor in particular had been advocating for their services in such a way as to stifle discussion about those services in general.  Again, using the Ford example, every time a colleague asked about purchasing a car, Henry jumped in to the discussion and made it clear that you couldn’t begin to consider any other cars because Ford was The Best and The Only.

The current examples are not that egregious in nature!

If you’re an author and your books are not on selection lists, winning awards or getting big buzz, perhaps the problem isn’t with the committees, it’s with your books.  Maybe what your writing somehow misses the criteria and you should look into that rather than complaining about the lists and awards.  As a former member of the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults award committee, I can testify to the depth of our discussions about the merits of the books we were asked to consider. There were wonderful books on important topics that didn’t cite sources or fictionalized dialog.  There were books on lesser topics that nailed those.   As a voracious reader, I see wonderful fiction books that I really hope win the Printz/Newberry/Alex/Pulitzer/NBA or Carnegie and, well… not every book makes it.  I’m not in those conversations and I don’t know what the  committees saw that I missed.

If you’re a software creator and you don’t have Google, Microsoft, Facebook or Yahoo pounding on your door asking to make you an instant multimillionaire, perhaps the problem is that there are other programs do the same thing only better, or more intuitively.  Perhaps you do have the best program out there, but it doesn’t play well with IT departments.   Sadly, most IT people don’t want to deal with a newcomer – they want the 800lb gorilla who can provide better support.  Or there are so many other, similar products that yours is getting lost in the crowd.

Etc.

The thing is, that it’s absolutely understandable that creators advocate for their products.  What’s not cool is when they have a bully pulpit – a professional space in which to talk about issues, a column where they professionally review similar products, whatever – and they use that to promote their product and/or bash those who aren’t using it, raving about it or giving it awards.  I have a friend who writes operas and books – he’s also a professional critic and has a popular blog.  Not once have I seen him use his bully pulpit to complain about the way his products are received.  Yes, he promotes them (usually via updates on the works-in-progress) and is grateful for good mentions, but I’ve never heard him say anything like “I can’t believe that the committee ignored my work” or complaining that a major opera company won’t consider his work.

Very professional.  Wish others would be the same… especially when they have a bully pulpit.

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One Response to “When you have a bully pulpit”

  1. This is similar to something that happened at ESPN a few years back. Sideline reporter Erin Andrews was at a college football bowl game, and noted that some of the players were having trouble with their Nike football cleats and shoes not holding traction in the ground. Erin Andrews later was announced as a spokeperson for another shoe company, Reebok. http://blog.seattlepi.com/seattlesports/2011/01/27/erin-andrews-at-center-of-sneaker-controversy-oregonian/

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