Read Beth Terry’s Recap of BlogHer2010

I took my 9-month-old daughter and 6-year-old son to New York City during the first week of August to attend BlogHer. (To see a photo gallery of our trip, click here.)

I wish I could feel as optimistic and enthusiastic about BlogHer as Beth Terry, who writes the very thoughtful and wonderful environmental blog, Fake Plastic Fish.

As I wrote in the comment section on her excellent and thorough blog post about the event, it was my first BlogHer conference.

The blog I write at Mothering.com is called “Mothering Outside the Lines.” I’ve been blogging there for a little under a year. I’m under contract to update the blog three times a week. Though I think I’m getting the hang of it, I still consider myself very much a newbie in the blogosphere.

Though there is some advertising on the blog, this is all done by the Mothering staff and advertisers must adhere to Mothering’s strict code of conduct. You’ll never see an ad for a plastic diaper or a can of formula on Mothering’s site.

As a paid blogger, I have the luxury of not needing or accepting corporate sponsors. I have yet to do a give-away or accept corporate swag (though after checking with the magazine editors and arguing with myself, I did agree to accept a uniquely designed cloth diaper made by an independent manufacturer after telling her that I probably would not be reviewing it on the blog. I have also had several wonderful books sent to me for free, though I have yet to write reviews of them.)

I went to BlogHer looking forward to learning more about blogging, meeting other bloggers, and understanding the role of social media in today’s changing ecosphere. Though I did attend a couple of excellent panels (most notably the one with Beth Terry on blogging and activism and the one with SheWrite’s founder Kamy Wicoff on social media and book publicity), I came away feeling dismayed by BlogHer.

I still feel upset when I think of it.

As Beth Terry detailed in her post, the sponsor list included some really unconscionable companies and the organizers of BlogHer did a lamentably good job greenwashing the event.

The amount of swag was staggering.

The amount of waste and excess exactly what I am trying to avoid in my life.

I don’t want to think about how much trash was generated, how much food was thrown away, and how much cheap plastic shit will end up in the landfill as a result of a conference I attended.

The sentence that Beth wrote that rings most true for me: “[BlogHer is] also about corporate sponsorship, commercialism, and the tradeoffs made to create a platform and conference experience for 2,400 women.”

Maybe because I was there with a baby and I made poor choices about some of the panels I attended (at one the speaker was so disorganized that he spent most of the time looking for files on his computer that he could not find. I cringed with embarrassment. And then I headed to a different panel.) But I think it was much harder for me to get past the trade-offs and the ethically void corporate sponsors than it was for others who got more out of the conference.

From the devastating flooding in Niger to the oil spill in the Gulf that has made the water unsafe and has sickened sea life, we are being reminded on what feels like an hourly basis how urgent the problem of waste and excess is in our culture. We have to stop polluting the planet. We can’t greenwash events and think somehow pretending to do things differently is enough.

We homo sapiens are on a fast road to extinction (or at least to a greatly reduced population).

Some of the companies sponsoring the BlogHer event are so directly involved in creating and promoting suffering (for humans, for other animals, and for the planet) that I’m ashamed I attended a conference they were underwriting.

Instead of begging these companies to visit our blogs, we need to use the power of the Internet and social media–as Beth Terry does so eloquently and with so much integrity–to insist that these multinational corporations change. Now. For real.

Corporate greenwashing is intolerable. I think Beth Terry is doing it right–participating and criticizing from the inside in a thoughtful, well-reasoned way.

I wish I could be more like her.

But I doubt you’ll see me at another BlogHer event, unless it’s outside on a picket line.

Categories: on writing.

20 Responses to Read Beth Terry’s Recap of BlogHer2010

  • Claudine M Jalajas
    August 31, 2010

    The swag was over the top and they passed it out to everyone. Imagine my surprise when I came out of a room and found my three children with giant tote bags AND full of “stuff.” What can anyone do with all those totes? Anyway.. that’s not my only complaint and I’m sure I won’t go back.

  • Frugal Kiwi
    August 31, 2010

    You and Beth aren’t the only ones I’ve heard about being dismayed. It is a shame and a wasted opportunity to do things well.

  • Kris Bordessa
    August 31, 2010

    I wonder… At conferences like these, could companies have some display items and hand out JUST postcards (on recycled paper) that attendees could send back for samples IF they wanted them? It would add the fallout of shipping, but I wonder if it would be less wasteful in the long run, getting products in the hands of people who are truly interested? Because this is just ONE conference you’re talking about!

  • Jane Boursaw
    August 31, 2010

    I’ve heard similar stories about BlogHer, too. I hope they’ll take the criticism and suggestions to heart and change things for future conferences.

  • MarthaAndMe
    August 31, 2010

    This is why I don’t go to conferences in general. I am almost always disappointed by the speakers and find it all to be a huge waste of time and money

  • Alexandra
    August 31, 2010

    I found myself applauding by the end of this post. If enough people stand up and request change, change can happen. I have not been to BlogHer, but I think I will write them a note and specify how moved I have been by your post and Beth’s.

  • debbie
    August 31, 2010

    Add me to the list of people who won’t be attending a second BlogHer. Between the waste and the shiny, mad rush to attract the sponsors’ eyes, I definitely left there feeling dirty.

  • Mary
    August 31, 2010

    I’m attending the Green Women Forum tomorrow and they have an entire track dedicated to green meetings.

  • Melissa
    August 31, 2010

    The timing of this post is really crazy for me! I have just recently explored BlogHer in my very early quests to “link” to as many platforms as possible to help attract visitors to my blog. I thought that having just launched a brand new blog of serious (and not so serious) thoughts on “surviving womanhood” I should check out BlogHer. My infancy in the blogosphere was my first hurdle, but when I found out that I had to be capable of advertising… I had second thoughts. I felt kind of silly, or irrationally puritanical (what’s going to be floating along the sidelines, will there be pop-ups, clutter, and ads I don’t support). I feel better now, Jennifer. Thank you! p.s. Member and huge advocate of SheWrites!

  • Kristen
    August 31, 2010

    I don’t know much about BlogHer, but it’s too bad the conference wasn’t more helpful. I haven’t been to many conferences but those I have been too have had very limited swag–this sounds very different.

  • Beth @ Fake Plastic Fish
    August 31, 2010

    While I did lament the waste and swag and culture of consumerism in my post, I also celebrated the terrific time I had connecting with other bloggers. There has got to be a sustainable way to make that happen. Jennifer, I love that you and I were able to connect. I’m thinking that conferences wouldn’t have to be so expensive that they require massive corporate sponsorship if they were held in more modest venues. If what BlogHer has to offer is truly valuable, it shouldn’t have to be held in NYC or Chicago or SF at the Hiltons and Sheratons to get people to attend. What do you guys think?

  • Christina @ Spoonfed
    August 31, 2010

    I didn’t attend the conference, but I have talked to a few people who are in the BlogHer advertising network, and the whole thing makes me cringe.

    I have absolutely no problem with blogs accepting advertising. I’ll be looking into that for my own blog eventually. But I will be *very* careful about the kinds of ads I accept. And from what I’ve seen of BlogHer ads — and from what I’ve heard about the rules the network imposes on bloggers who want to join — that is one avenue I will not be exploring.

    Debbie, I felt dirty just reading your description!

  • Jennifer- I actually was moderating one session you were in and realized it was you and had planned to introduce myself after the session but your sweet little one woke up and you left before the session was over- sorry I missed you.
    I appreciate your honestly and putting it out there. I have started a recap of blogher but have not posted it. Honestly, the area I am truly passionate about is inspiring families, encouraging creativity, exploration, education, and teaching values and community participation- so I am happy when I read blogs from those who are passionate about the Earth, our actions, and how to make change- I also write about some green issues but truly I am only on the beginning on that journey and have lots to improve.
    So I had a hard time at Blogher myself. I met a some amazing women but I went not knowing a soul and although I did end up finding someone I knew and was fortunate to get to know them better, I agree that it was hard to make lots of connections, the parties were not really created to meet others or do good, and the sessions were varied. I attended 2 that were very worthwhile, but some sessions did not go deep or specific with the information a blogger could leave with and apply.
    I did leave the conference with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth- maybe not for such important issues as you highlight (although it is true) but I am even hesitant to go to another blogging conference I signed up for prior to Blogher- I wish I had not. I would rather be spending that money differently.
    I just want to tell you, you may still be a newer blogger but you are passionate and passionate about specific topics- you blog in hopes to share a voice, and you have a voice- it is your type of blog that will have staying power b/c you are committed and people want to hear from bloggers with a voice and position.
    Good Luck and I will continue to read your blog as life allows.

  • Kerry
    September 1, 2010

    one of the points of conferences, I think, is personal connection. if that’s not happening, or is happening in an upleasant way, then both conference organizers and those who invest in sponsoring the conference should want to change that — perhaps posts like yours, Jennifer, will help them all see the light.

    I’ve been to a number of music related conferences, and I think you’ll find that wherever you are, the quality of panels (and panelists) will vary quite widely. though there’s information to be had, panels are perhaps often intended more to open up ways to network.

  • Alisa Bowman
    September 1, 2010

    Yeah, I think whenever you mix money with creative expression, creative expression loses. That seems to be what is happening to women’s voices on the Internet. In order to make $ (hey, nothing wrong with that), a huge segment of the blogging population has turned to corporate sponsorship. But as soon as you go that route, the message gets watered down. I think there are other ways to make $ without compromising standards. BlogHer could be a much stronger organization and voice for women if it stood up for a cause (non corporate) and got bloggers behind that cause.

  • Jennifer Margulis
    September 1, 2010

    @Beth: I agree that BlogHer is fantastic for connecting with people and I really appreciated meeting you and some other bloggers. It was worth going for that. (And I met with editors in NYC while I was there and got one assignment, due in a few days, that all but covers the cost of the trip.) Absolutely BlogHer could find a way to get the costs DOWN by holding the conference in a less expensive, much more modest place. In fact, I suspect it does not need half the corporate sponsors who were there. And BlogHer could also have guidelines in place (like NO PLASTIC SWAG) for accepting sponsors.

    I didn’t take a swag bag to begin with but then I realized from your post, of course, that it didn’t matter. When I was volunteering, I actually said to some of the women checking in, “Are you sure you want a bag of endocrine-disrupting junk made in China that will probably end up in the landfill?” I said it as a joke. Most of the bloggers didn’t get it…

  • Jennifer Margulis
    September 1, 2010

    @Kristin: I’m sorry we didn’t get to meet in real life. Almost! And you are so right that the parties were not set up to meet people. I also missed the newbie breakfast since I was volunteering. I had one friend there who has been to 4 BlogHers. For her, and many others, the socializing is a lot of fun. But being there with a baby (and knowing almost no one) made it really hard for me to socialize. I wasn’t drinking and I get shy about meeting strangers (maybe we all do?) though I try to do my best.

    I suspect the money you were planning to spend on that other conference could be better spent elsewhere. I guess it also helps to have a very clear sense of what you want from a conference. I had some goals (to meet Beth, to pass out all of my business cards, to sell five books, to meet with an editor at O Magazine) that I did manage to meet but I don’t think I set the bar high enough since I still ended up feeling disappointed…

  • Lori
    September 1, 2010

    I went on year 2, met the schwag, met the 100% branded childcare option, and found very little on panels to give me a sense that we as women bloggers were on the edge of the future—except the future marketing opportunity that we ourselves represented for the corporate sponsors. I haven’t been back since, except when they held BlogHer Second Life. I connected with someone in Second Life that I had been on a panel with the year before. I enjoyed myself both years in Second Life.

    I understand the needs that lead to sponsorship, but the STUFF!

  • Sheryl
    September 2, 2010

    BlogHer was a big disappointment to me. Lots of hype, but really, not much substance. It felt like so many things were done for pure effect. I wonder if they continue to do these bags, if they could do something different, like at the time of registration have an option to check off if you want one or not? I’d bet a lot of people would opt out…at least, that’s what I’d hope, especially if they read your most compelling comments.

  • Sarah Henry
    September 7, 2010

    Just came away from a food blogger conference where there was loads of buzz about the bag of swag — and a debate about whether it was as good as last year’s. Call me an old-fashioned reporter but I find it unprofessional how so many folks can’t wait to get their hands on all the free goodies, many they probably wouldn’t buy with their own money. (Since I was flying, I left most of it with my host, and ditched the strawberry de-huller at the airport, when I realized it could be used for ill purposes if it got into the wrong hands.)

    At BlogHer Food last year, most of the “swag” was canned goods from sponsors — and some savvy organizer had things set up so you could automatically place these packaged goods in a holding area for food banks. The local paper even wrote a story about the effort.

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