Drowning in Shallow Content: Why Integrity in Writing Matters
Personal and professional integrity is often at the forefront of my mind when I'm working on Timepiece Chronicle. My unwillingness to blanket this website with regurgitated press releases and my reluctance to plaster "BREAKING NEWS" on every title has contributed to the curation of my audience. I've covered press releases before and I've written bad articles before but I've always tried to make something unique and interesting from it. Blood in the Water was a fun piece about a boring watch but I was still using press release assets and providing Ulysses Nardin with more column inches, however it's likely you won't find a similar article anywhere on the web.
Reviews are the hardest aspect of Timepiece Chronicle when it came to maintaining integrity as I have to provide honest feedback on the watch to you whilst at the same time not pissing off the company that sent it to me. Leaning too much in one direction will make my postbox very empty and my P.R contacts will stop responding to my emails. Lean too much the other way and I'll be providing vapid content that is boring to read and even more boring to write. As with all things in life, the path to success is finding the right balance between two extremes. At the top of all my reviews I disclose how I got the watch so you, the reader, can form your own opinion on how biased my review is. Two weeks spent wearing a watch will give me a different opinion on a watch than two hours spent at a press event. Not that I've been to any press events.
Immediately after receiving some very good news (That I can't tell you about yet), I received an email from a writer asking to submit a guest article. I was caught up in a whirlwind of excitement so I will confess that when the article was submitted, I didn't read it through thoroughly the first time. I was flattered that someone wanted to write an article for my site so it was only after I I responded positively that I began reading it properly. The article was okay, not terrible or amazing, but with a bit of editing for pacing I felt I could make it suitable for publishing.
It was during the editing process I noticed an oddly specific link to a watch related business that seemed very carefully placed in the article. I checked out the business and didn't find any mention of the author's name but soon a feeling of paranoia was pushing the back of my brain. A quick Google later and I found out that the author was part of a digital marketing firm that, among other things, aim to optimize their clients Google rankings by submitting content to websites that reference their client. This watch related business was never mentioned by name but, to me at least, the hyperlink stood out like a red flag as something being up. What happened if I had published it and one of you had done the same thing? You would assume that I was either stupid for not realizing or part of the promotion, neither of which are good things.
I felt betrayed as the author never declared their intent or their professional connections to the marketing company, even after I requested a bio to put at the end of the article. I felt ashamed that I was so close to having published content that fell short of my standards, just because I didn't have any new articles to publish that day. I phoned the watch company and explained the situation, at how I felt that their business was being poorly represented and that they should query with the marketing firm as to their procedure. The Director seemed to welcome my feedback as he only ever heard it from the perspective of the marketing firm.
I emailed the author to explain why I couldn't publish the article and included some suggestions about how to contact blogs like Timepiece Chronicle in the future. I let good ol' English passive aggressiveness take over for a brief moment and Cc'd in the Marketing firm's email, just so they knew that I knew. A senior member of the firm responded to me and proceeded to really piss me off in a slew of emails that suggested I was over-reacting and said my site could use some SEO improvements which his firm would be more than happy to provide. Certain four letter words were uttered on my side of the screen which I refrained from typing. Our tempers became more heated with every reply back and I ended with forwarding his response onto his client. Looking back, I can see that he was just acting as defensively of his business and employee as I would in a similar situation.
You'll have noticed that I haven't named any of the parties involved and I don't ever plan on doing so. I don't agree with the agency's business model, their employees lack of disclosure or their response to criticism but I do not wish to send a digital pitchfork wielding mob at them. The watch related business wasn't aware of quite how their business was being promoted until I told them and the director and I ended up having a nice chat about watches and other things. Perhaps I'll write something about them in the future?
I learned something about myself on Friday. I learned how much I value my audience at Timepiece Chronicle and how much integrity in writing means to me. I want my readers diving into well researched and engaging articles, not drowning in shallow content. I can't promise I'll never write a bad article (It happens to everyone at least once) but I can promise that no matter the quality, it will have been written with integrity.