Bad news for ‘professional’ bloggers

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As a blogger, I’m one in a million. Or perhaps a billion.

Back in 2013, I started a personal blog in order to promote my memoir, Truth Be Told: Adam Becomes Audrey. Two years later, I launched my business, In Brief Legal Writing Services, and created this site in order to establish a digital (virtual presence). I also started this blog in order to promote it.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

As it stands, I’m glad I did. I happen to enjoy writing about the law, animal advocacy and related issues.

Having said that, I never harbored any illusions about getting thousands of hits or attracting tons of readers. Writing a blog that generates that sort of interest requires expertise that I simply don’t have, money I don’t want to spend (for SEO classes and so forth) and time that I can’t afford to waste. After all, I am busy working for a living…

Which brings me to my point. Finally.

Not too long ago, a New York court dealt a big blow to “professional bloggers.” Specifically, Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department of the State of New York ruled that a freelance writer and blogger is not eligible for unemployment benefits.

As forbes.com reports, “the case involved Gregory Mitchell, a freelance writer, who entered into a contract in 2010 with The Nation to author regular blog posts for the company’s website.”

Everything was fine for a few years. But as we all know, nothing lasts forever. And in 2014, management at The Nation decided not to renew Mitchell’s contract. That’s when he applied for unemployment benefits.

At first, state officials tasked with determining who is eligible for said benefits sided with Mitchell, saying that he was actually an employee. Representatives for The Nation disagreed and pursued an appeal.

Needless to say, a legal battle ensued with the outcome hinging on a key issue. Was Mitchell an employee in the legal sense, or an independent contractor?

With the shift in the economy since the Great Recession, making the distinction has become even more difficult. As a result, the government and courts have established specific criteria to differentiate between traditional and “gig economy” workers.

These are include varying forms of control and the relationship between the “employer” and “employee.”

Based on its assessment using these criteria, the court determined that Mitchell is actually an independent contractor. In New York, independent contractors “are not covered under the Unemployment Insurance (UI) Law.” In other words, they cannot claim unemployment benefits.

As the attorney that represented The Nation in the case told forbes.com, “This case takes a major step in clarifying how rules developed to deal with traditional employment relationships apply to the rapidly changing world of modern journalism and its reliance on bloggers and other more casual employment relationships.”

For now, that seems to be the end of the story… at least in this case. But as the “gig economy” continues to grow, the question remains whether other courts will follow New York’s lead… or not.

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Comment moderation or censorship?

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It’s been a year since I founded In Brief Legal Writing Services and 10 months since I launched this site.

Based on some advice I got in the WordPress class I took in preparation for launching inbrieflegalwriting.com last fall, I initially decided not to allow readers to comment on my blog posts. At the time, I thought it would make my life easier. I have since realized that was a mistake.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

Or was it?

While I welcome audience participation, moderating reader comments is not something I particularly enjoy. For one thing, it is time-consuming, and as a small business owner, time is a luxury I don’t always have. Secondly, because I firmly believe in freedom of speech, it creates a moral dilemma.

On one hand, the ability to moderate the comments made in this forum is essential. After all, this is a business site. My personal and professional reputation is at stake.

So make no mistake about it. Foul language and views expressed in anything less than a civil and professional manner simply cannot and will not be tolerated. If you use inappropriate language, engage in name-calling or any other vitriol so often found on the Internet these days, your comment will be relegated to the trash bin without a second thought. In fact, that is exactly what happened to a comment someone made earlier this week.

I won’t name the individual who felt compelled to leave a crude, sick, twisted and vicious comment in response to an old post, Don’t You Dare Feel Sorry for Brock Turner. However, I will say that the gist of the response was that Turner’s victim deserved to be sexually assaulted behind a dumpster.

Well here’s a newsflash: No one deserves to be sexually assaulted and left behind a dumpster. No one.

But getting back to the topic at hand, everyone is entitled to their opinion. And since this is the United States of America, everyone is allowed to express it. As a rule, I frown on any kind of censorship and welcome differing views. I encourage you — my readers — to engage in fierce debate with me and with each other. All I ask is that you remember that this is a professional forum and comment accordingly.

To paraphrase the old saying, “If you don’t have anything constructive to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Sorry, my mistake…

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This is so embarrassing. I mean, I really hate to admit it…. but I guess I should just go ahead and get it over with. So here goes nothing…

I’m not perfect.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

I know, I know. No one is. But I hold myself to ridiculously high standards. I always have.

So when I see a typo in a blog (or anything else I’ve written for that matter), I get pretty mad at myself. I wasn’t kidding when I said it’s embarrassing. It’s actually humiliating — and in my line of work, it can also be very costly.

Think about it — I provide writing and editing services for attorneys — so who on earth would want to hire me if they scrolled through my website and found a whole bunch of mistakes? Never mind, that’s a rhetorical question.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, though. As I said earlier, we all make mistakes. And usually I catch and correct my typos pretty quickly.  That in itself is pretty remarkable considering how our minds tend to play tricks on us when we are rereading our own copy.

Yes, I usually catch my bloopers straight away — but not always. Sometimes it takes a few hours — and sometimes it takes longer. It all depends on whether I read the material aloud as I am writing it, or if I am reading it to someone else after the fact.

One would think that the spell-checker (is spell-checker hyphenated?) or proofreading tool on a computer would help prevent the inevitable gaffes, bloopers, blunders and faux pas. Think again. These tools will help catch some spelling mistakes. They’ll help reduce grammatical errors. But the bottom line is, if a sentence with a mistake in it makes sense to the computer, the computer won’t even notice there’s something wrong.

Trust me. I speak from experience. Plenty of experience.

At least I know why I goof. Sometimes I forget to delete a word when I’m reworking a sentence. Sometimes I forget to delete unnecessary punctuation, as well. Sometimes, I realize that I’ve been using the passive voice (which I hate), but forget to change all of the language when I switch to the active voice. Sometimes I make mistakes when I’m overtired and sometimes my fingers just work faster than my brain. And let’s face it. Sometimes I’m just sloppy.

As I said earlier, no one is perfect.

Of course it would probably help if I let someone else edit my work. Another set of eyes is supposed to help. But I can’t afford to hire anyone right now and even if I could, I doubt I’d let them have editing privileges.

Yes, I’m a little bit of a control freak — especially when it comes to my writing. But as I said earlier, no one is… Never mind. I’m sure you get the point.

And anyhow, a second — or even a third — set of eyes doesn’t always help. I say this as someone who worked at newspapers for more than 20 years. Mistakes would often go unnoticed — even when we had editors and copy editors to review copy before the paper went “to bed.”

“Collectively we all felt like a bunch of asses afterwards…”

On one especially memorable (and humiliating) occasion, my editor wrote  a headline for a story about local beach pollution and the consultants hired to assess the situation. Only no one noticed that he left the last “s” out of the word “assess” until it was too late. Collectively we all felt like a bunch of asses afterwards…

Yes, that pains me to this day. But at least we weren’t alone. You can read about some real doozies here.

Hopefully I won’t make any terrible blunders — but if that does transpire, I am counting on you, my small but loyal band of followers, to let me know. All I ask is that you do so nicely. After all, we are all in this together.

You can also let me know how you feel about typos in general. Do you struggle with your own mistakes? Do you get upset when you see mistakes in other people’s copy? Share your thoughts in the comments section below…

Blogging for a good cause

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It’s official.

If all goes according to plan, the first entry for our brand new blog, Paws for Thought, will appear on Adopt-a-Dog’s website March 31. Of course, a lot could happen to delay or even derail the project between now and then. Then again, there’s always the chance that everything will go smoothly. Personally, nothing would make me happier.

Coming to the Rescue

Take me home! A dog up for adoption and an Adopt-a-Dog volunteer. Photo by A. Bogdanovic
An Adopt-a-Dog volunteer with a dog up for adoption at the annual Puttin’ on the Dog show in Greenwich last September. Photo by A. Bogdanovic

For those of you who haven’t heard of the organization, I can tell you that it’s one of the most awesome non-profit organizations for which I have ever had the pleasure of volunteering. Based in Armonk, N.Y., its mission is to rescue, provide shelter and then and find “forever homes” for dogs of all ages and breeds.

Doing so is more than a full-time job for the staff at Adopt-a-Dog. It is a labor of love.

The happiness and well-being of each dog that comes to the shelter is paramount, so each one is carefully evaluated upon arrival. With assessments in hand, the staff then ensures that each dog’s needs are fully addressed. Among other things, that means making sure that all of the dogs get proper medical care and those that have behavioral issues get to work with a trainer. All of the dogs get to participate in “enrichment activities” with volunteers and staff.

Prospective adopters had lots of dogs to choose from at the annual Puttin on the Dog show in Greenwich last fall. Photo by A. Bogdanovic
Pick me! An Adopt-a-Dog volunteer with a dog up for adoption at Puttin’ on the Dog in Greenwich. September 2015. Photo by A. Bogdanovic

Anyone interested in adopting a dog is also thoroughly “vetted” before they can bring their new friend home. The process usually begins when someone comes to an event or visits the adoptions page on the organization’s website to see if there are any dogs they’d like to meet. Sometimes they phone the shelter to see if any puppies are available or if they are interested in a specific breed. In any case, they must fill out an application and make an appointment to come to the shelter in order to meet the dog(s).

As part of the application process, prospective adopters must provide references, all of which are checked. In some cases — usually when the applicant has another pet — staff will conduct home visits before the adoption is finalized.

Help Wanted

If you ask anyone at Adopt-a-Dog, they’ll quickly admit that well-trained volunteers are key to the shelter’s success. While most volunteers help out at the shelter itself, a lot also lend a hand at special events. Some, like me, volunteer in multiple capacities. I do administrative office tasks at the shelter once per week, and do reference checks at adoption events when needed. I also photograph special events like the annual Howl and Prowl costume contest and Puttin’ on the Dog show here in Greenwich. Now I’ll also be doing some Pro Bono blogging.

One way or another it all adds up to a lot of hard work. But it’s also a blast, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Consider the source

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Recently, I announced my plans to lead by example. Specifically, I said that I planned on doing three blog posts per week. And so far I’ve managed to do just that.

Yes, yes. I know. It’s only been a week. But you’ve got to give me props. At least I’m off to a good start. And no, I don’t plan on changing that anytime soon.

Of course that’s not to say that it isn’t an ambitious plan. And like any such idea, it’s got its drawbacks. For one thing, you may be thinking penning three posts per week is fairly time-consuming. For another, you may be wondering how and where on earth I will come up with enough ideas for that many posts.

First thing’s first. Those of you familiar with the art and science of blogging already know that posts can be scheduled in advance. So doing the writing is simply a matter of setting a few hours aside during the week. For example, this particular post won’t appear until Monday afternoon. But I’m actually writing it on Sunday.

Coming up with original ideas for the posts is seemingly a far more daunting challenge. But there’s a trick to that, too. Instead of spending hours scouring the Internet for ideas, I’ve set up alerts so I receive e-mail notifications about matters of interest. With them in hand, I can easily find fodder for thrice-weekly blogs.

“…it’s a bit ironic for someone with my background.”

Needless to say, international, national, regional and local news stories will likely provide most of the inspiration for these posts. And if you think about it, that’s a bit ironic for someone with my background. Once upon a time, the articles with my byline at the top could have been the basis for another blogger’s posts. Now I’m turning to my successors for help.

Ironic, yes. But hardly surprising. For years, TV and radio news anchors, sports talk radio hosts and their counterparts in politics looked to newspapers for  information to serve as the basis for their own programs. They called it “show-prep.”

Today, they turn to the Internet, where information is much more readily available, but by no means any more accurate. There on any given day, at any given time, they can still find a few decent news stories, many of which are written by reporters who work long hours for what amounts to less than minimum wage under the constant threat that their livelihood will disappear entirely.

It’s a possibility I lived with throughout my 21-year newspaper career. But the truth is, the print media hasn’t died. It has just adapted.