Why I hate top lists, hokum and hype

I should resist directing you to Top 10 Blogs for Writers – 2007/2008, the latest list from Michael A Stelzner – because that gives link love that is not deserved.  

There is no indication of any methodology (although the unscientific approach can be found at an earlier post).  However,  “nominees have been carefully examined, with the greatest weight on the quality of their content” – of course, views on the chosen ten blogs are gushing rather than robustly analytical. 

Naturally this leads to a flood of comments of the tearful Oscar acceptance speech variety.  What is it about bloggers that a little bit of recognition, or even better a freebie, takes away any sense of rationality? 

A Google blog search shows that this Top 10 list has achieved its aims – lots of love back to Michael, aka easy promo for his blog. 

As a cynical Brit, I find that self-styled “guru” Michael adopts many of US marketing techniques that irritate the hell out of me; from the chirpy “hello” audio opening on his book site to the hyperbolic writing style. 

Michael has set out to own the concept of a “white paper”, which he claims “is a crossbreed of a magazine article and a brochure”.  It might be a cultural thing, but I believe a should be a serious document, undertaken with some semblance of verifiable research and providing a considered opinion.  In the UK, they generally set out policy or an action plan after a “green paper” has outlined proposals for discussion and reflection. 

Like many other useful communications tools however, in the US, this appears to have been perverted into a piece of hokum, which as states:

As a marketing tool, it is important to note that these papers will always highlight information favorable to the company authoring or sponsoring the paper while minimizing any negative aspects related to the company’s involvement with the issue, product or technology.

Mr Self-Publicist himself is evident on the same Wikipedia site advising:

Because of their persuasive nature, white papers should be carefully crafted to avoid the perception of salesmanship. This can be easily accomplished by inserting key educational content that is relevant to the intended readers. White papers should begin by focusing on the needs of readers, rather than the specific solution suggested by the paper’s sponsor. The book Writing White Papers explains, “leading with problems or needs early in your white paper is a very powerful method to gain the interest of your readers.”

This use doesn’t sound very ethical to me, but then last month, as and found, Michael appeared to have censored their comments on an earlier blog post. 

Actually, what Michael is advising seems a pretty standard use of rhetoric – and anyone reading these “white papers” should be savvy enough not to rely on an overtly one-sided source when making decisions.

I have no problem at all with anyone or any organisation marketing itself – putting forward your best face is natural (although psychological research shows a self-effacing approach and acknowledging counter-arguments to be more persuasive than out and out puff).

But if you have something worth buying (or saying) do you really need to use tactics that are phrased in a way that seems less than ethical?  It just seems like you’ve something to hide.

(Original link from Judy Gombita)

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

2 thoughts on “Why I hate top lists, hokum and hype”

  1. In your usual fashion you’ve succinctly captured the apparent rationale why Mr. Stelzner would set out (again) to come up with one of his very subjective lists. He’s already been called out on this (well, plus the censoring of the comments), but apparently not by enough (or the right) people. Whatever. It’s just one more subjective list of “top” blogs amongst many, many, many such subjective lists of “top” blogs.

    What I find more egregious (even distasteful) is the cloying “thank you’s” that *always* litter the comment sections. Puh-leeze. What’s wrong with an offline e-mail?

    Heather, if you like I can provide you with my top film picks of 2007 (Juno will be up there!), but I’m sure you would realize that this was just my subjective (albeit highly sophisticated/educated/refined film buff) choices. It’s not like I’m empowered or credible enough a “critic” to give them a statuette of any worth. And it’s not like you would need to publish or videocast a heartfelt thank you for my list, either.

    The Cynical Canuck

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