The following article details the recent and remarkable rise in the status of fashion bloggers from dismissed outsiders, to contemporary arbiters of style. Author Alisa Gould-Simon explores the current fashion media landscape and examines how fashion bloggers have upset the traditional fashion media paradigm.
Personality Rules: The larger Than Life the Better
As the article alludes, and it certainly seems to be the case, a major selling point of the contemporary blogger is the blogger’s unique personality. I don’t know that I would characterize this as a sharp deviation from business as usual per se (Ever heard of Anna Wintour? How about Nina Garcia?), but it does mark a significant point of departure from traditional journalism. Indeed one of key pieces of advice I always give my blogging students is to develop their own unique voice. That is because as a blogger, it’s their lifeblood. Bloggers literally live and die (Ok maybe not “literally” but you get my meaning!) by their voice, and moreover their unique personal sartorial aesthetic. That is, after all, the key reason why we read and follow fashion blogs, for the distinctive voice, personality and taste of the blogger. As readers we seek out bloggers whose aesthetic sensibility matches, or maybe inspires, our own aesthetic sensibility. We seek out their unique tips, and style guides and the like, as no one but they can present them. But does that mean that objective factual reporting is an antiquated construct? Hmmm…I’ll circle back to that one shortly.
Advertorial vs. Editorial
A particular source of handwringing amongst traditional fashion publishers seems to lie in the tendency of contemporary bloggers to blur the line between endorsement and editorial. While this is an important distinction, I’m not sure that I agree that it was bloggers who eradicated the sacrosanct separation of the two. Now don’t get me wrong. There is indeed something to be said about bloggers who fail to disclose that the editorial that they are producing has been commissioned by a particular brand. That is highly unethical and I believe just plain wrong. For reasons why, please see the preceding paragraph. The first “advertorial” that I ever saw, however, was years ago in a traditional print publication – way before fashion bloggers upset the proverbial applecart. Of course the piece was labeled as such, and I had no idea what the heck an advertorial even was, nevertheless fashion bloggers didn’t invent the practice that has traditional publications so peeved. Traditional publications did. In fact, isn’t the ubiquitous infomercial nothing more than a televised advertorial? Dutifully disclosed so as to maintain the established trust with a bloggers readership, established bloggers who accept paid commissions to blog on behalf of brands are doing no more than traditional print publications have been doing all along. There is no inherent conflict here.
Also, what of publications whose editorial is clearly influenced, if indirectly, by the interests of the advertisers they hope to retain or attract? I believe this is a more serious breach of the reader’s trust as the reader is mislead to believe that the writer’s (editor’s, etc.) ideas, information opinions or advice are purely their own and completely uninfluenced. For instance how likely is it that reporter (or an editor, even) for a fashion magazine will truly take a major designer to task in the pages of the magazine if that designer is also a significant or sought after advertiser in that magazine? Not likely. Well, not if they hope to maintain their status as employed, anyway. So their opinions, at the very least have been…nudged. Of course I’m not advocating that reporters start trashing designers publicly. I only aim to point out the illusion of purely unbiased, uninfluenced reporting. I told you I’d circle back.
Stiletto warfare: Traditional vs. New Media
I, for one, am excited to see bloggers stepping up and taking their place among the heretofore closed ranks of traditional fashion media. Though there has been a shift in the media paradigm I believe that shift is much more subtle than most traditional media would have us believe. There is nothing inherently disingenuous about bloggers being compensated for their unique sets of skills and abilities. Traditional and print personalities have always been compensated for theirs. Now, as pointed out in this article that I found recently, there is a distinct need for a standard code of etiquette which may (or may not) include the training of independent bloggers on the myriad ins and outs of professional fashion reporting. That is of course if fashion bloggers aspire to be considered journalists. This disconnect, I believe, is the root source of much of the friction that exists between traditional and online fashion media. Of course I say this as a bona fide media outsider. But what if, as the Mashable article indirectly alludes, fashion bloggers are more interested in becoming media personalities, commodities or walking brands even, than reporters? In that case, might not a different set of ethical rules apply? Whatever the case there is certainly room in the contemporary media landscape for more than one type of fashion media…and it’s about time.