INTERESTING STUFF: 22 September 2010
The Longevity Prescription of Dr. Robert Butler: Connect with Community

It's Not Easy Running a Blog

blogging bug image At their whim, blog readers come and blog readers go – that's the nature of all media. You can gauge how many visit your blog from whatever statistics package you use, together with the number of email and RSS subscriptions there are.

An email arrives to report when a reader unsubscribes. Here at TGB, there are usually one or two a week. I hardly notice them because over time readership increases. Sometimes subscribers tell you why they are unsubscribing by ticking an item on a list, but almost all choose “prefer not to say.”

That was true on Tuesday and Wednesday when a slew of unsubscribe notices arrived for Time Goes By and its companion blog, The Elder Storytelling Place. This time, however, some sent a separate email to tell me personally how offended they were to read a specific story on ESP, that they never knew I could be so inhumane and that they would never read ESP or TGB again. The word “cruel” came up a lot.

The story at issue, which you can read here, is by Johna Ferguson who has contributed many good stories to that blog. I especially like her dispatches from living in China for half of each year, but I was shocked when I first received this one, particularly that she expressed no sadness or remorse and appeared more concerned that her husband's wallet got soaked than about drowning puppies.

Over several days, I spent a lot of time weighing whether I should publish it. In the three-plus years ESP has existed, I have refused only two or three stories – for racism and misogyny, if I recall correctly. I asked a good friend for advice. I also wrote to Johna explaining that many would find the story objectionable and asked if she wanted to change or withdraw it. No, she said. She was willing to take the heat.

I tried writing an editorial warning note to place at the top of the story, but couldn't figure out what to say without convincing myself that I should not publish it.

That should have been the deciding clue, but even with my indecision and reservations, I scheduled the story for this past Tuesday partly because it was a Part 2 and many readers had expressed eagerness, on Part 1, to read it.

Although there are usually more comments on ESP stories, there were only two this time, resoundingly negative ones expressing what I was feeling. Then the deluge of unsubscribe notices began arriving along with those emails berating me for publishing it.

The best I can do to explain (to myself as well as you) why I published that story is that aside from bigotry of any kind or unnecessary foul language, I have published stories as they are written fixing only obvious typos, some punctuation and I often re-paragraph for ease of reading online. In thinking this over, I had tried comparing it to my television interview-producing years.

If there had ever been a reason to interview someone about drowning puppies (I can't imagine one, but this is an intellectual exercise so bear with me), an on-camera interviewer or I would have been there to ask the pertinent questions. That's not possible in a blog format, so the story just sits there in its cruelty and disturbing remorselessness without any public probing of the author.

And that is why I now believe I should have rejected the story as it was written and I will not hesitate in the future to wield a heavier editorial hand when I believe it is the right thing to do.

What do you think?


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, D. Sugar: Sermon on Your “Mount”


Comments

Reading Ms. Ferguson's story made me feel sick and uneasy, but I tried to remind myself that in certain cultures years ago that was how unwanted puppies and kittens were handled. I resisted the urge to make an unpleasant comment.

As a journalist, I know the question of editing out the unpleasant is a hard one that is faced every day. What is editing to one person is censoring to another.

One of the things to remember about blogging is:
My Blog, My Opinion.

Sorry, Ronni, one more comment:
I will admit to being surprised when I read Ms. Ferguson’s "Part 2 First and Last Boat Ride" in the storytelling blog. While part of my unease had to do with the drowning of the puppies and Perky’s response, I later realized that in today’s world we have been led to believe that more-often-than-not there will be a happy ending – that he ultimately wouldn’t be able to drown them. In one big "Father Knows Best" moment, he would “see the light” and homes would magically be found for all the puppies.

Sometimes that's the difference between real life and fiction.

I think you made the right decision the first time. It's how things were. My cousins' German Shepherd routinely killed kittens around their farm; it's how they got rid of unwanted kittens.

The sensibilities about animals were very 50 years ago. My own personal belief is that you can't judge one time's values by another's.

Also, as there's a growing movement away from spay/neuter in the dog subculture, this story serves as a reminder of why animal lovers advocated spay/neuter in the first place.

Agree with Mary Jamison. Also, fickle readers if they unsubscribe so easily.

Couple months ago, I hit a squirrel while driving. Almost had an accident trying to avoid it.

Frantic, sweating, I checked my rear view mirror and saw it shaking to death in the middle of the road.

That image stayed with me for weeks. I can't handle watching or hearing anything about animals in distress.

Even today,some people dispose of pets by drowning them, or dumping them on the side of the road.

As for whether you should have published the story, this is your blog.

Your rules.

Your solid track record speaks for itself.


I read the story and, like Susan G, I resisted the urge to write an unkind remark. I reminded myself of the advice my grandmother always gave,"If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

I was shocked at the offhand way the story was told as if nothing terrible had happened. To me, drowning innocent puppies or kittens is horrible.

I think your second choice is the right one. There is a difference between censorship in newspapers and on a blog. It is your blog and you have the right to publish or not. You are not censoring the story, you are simply deciding that this is not an appropriate story for your blog.

This story gave me an "icky" feeling when I read it. I was reminded of my grandparents, who only had yellow cats on their farm. When I got old enough to question them about this, I found to my horror that my grandfather drown all kittens of a different color.

I'm glad I did not read it. I really don't care about being sympathetic to others "culture" if that culture includes inhumane cruelty and abuse towards animals and I can only imagine the horror and pain these animals went through. Being what some would consider and "over the top" animal lover, I would NEVER had published it. But, in the future, a warning would be very much appreciated so I'll know to skip the story.


Ronni,

We have all been reading the stories on ESP for a few years and I think almost everyone would agree that they are usually interesting and sometimes fun,and very seldom offensive.

I enjoy reading Johna's stories about her life in China and I'm sure she did not wish to offend anyone's sensibilities.

You have the final say on what is published on your site
and, as Darlene noted,you have every right to decide what is appropriate.

As far as readers unsubscribing, they can't have been long time readers anyway so they are a small loss. Actually, them giving up TGB and ESP is THEIR loss..

I must admit I was shocked that you published it and very disturbed by it. Like others, though, I have enjoyed Johna's other posts, and decided not to comment. I would NEVER quit following a blog I like because of one entry, and I agree--it is their loss. I hope they come back.

I just can't bear to read anything that has suffering animals in it anymore.

Having grown up in a time and place when killing unwanted puppies and kittens was commonplace, and having realized, as an adult, that spaying and neutering is a bit of a luxury not always affordable or available, the story made me sad, but not horrified. The one thing I'll say is that shooting is more humane than drowning, which the adults should have realized if the children didn't.

As others have said, your blog your rules. However, if in future you receive a story on the border of acceptability for you, but you decide to publish, you can put a "trigger warning" on it, letting people know it may trigger a strong emotional reaction in them they may want to avoid. For this one, something like "TRIGGER WARNING: Animal suffering described" or some such.

Americans are very hypocritical where animals are concerned. They believe in caring excessively for animals while letting children in their own country suffer from poverty, health, and education not to mention the multiple forms of physical abuse. Let alone what happens in other countries. And they disregard the killing that happens to feed them every day because it comes to them in a clean plastic wrap.

Thank you for providing some amount of balance even though it may have been difficult.

I found the story in question sickening, but also I tried to consider it reflective of the time. I don't think you were necessarily wrong to publish it, but clearly your gut was trying to tell you something.

Denny,

You are quite correct. We do tend to ignore those topics and issues that make us squirm.

Unlike the small family farms of yesteryear, the Big Corporation food production is horribly inhumane.

The conundrum: we love our dogs and cats like they are our children, but never realize when opening that can of Alpo that a horse was left to starve and then butchered cruelly in a factory to produce said can of dog food.

I mostly agree with the folks who think you did no wrong in publishing that story, and a warning might be a good idea in the future. The tone seemed a little cold-blooded for my taste, but I know it is dangerous to read "tone" into something you read on the internet.

We are all a little hypocritical about this sort of thing, especially if we are not vegans. Let him who is without sin throw the first stone...

Well, I just read the story and it strikes me that if I had read this story in a magazine, I would have shivered and moved on. It would have just been a story I read and I would have never had noted the writer. I think that is what is different about blogs... Perhaps different about TGB in particular. There is a culture of community here that reflects on the host. I can't say if that is good or bad, just that it is different from print publications and in television, with it's lack of interactivity.

The internet allows an instant reaction as well as enabling a sense of writers being able to indulge and relate information unedited.

I do not envy you your job, Ronni, and I admire and respect your providing a forum for us all to express ourselves. Submissions to a blog format should be considered an invitation into someone's personal space and requires a decorum that has not yet been established in a fundamental way. I trust your keen sense of what is valuable to you and your readers and that you will keep the blog a place that you enjoy teaching, learning and sharing with others. You are a pioneer. All of this - submitting and responding - is new to everyone!

I appreciate your transparency in this.

The early 40's those methods of kitten and puppy disposal were very common, along with shooting them. Another time and culture. But Pattie is right about critters are treated in this country, just watch Food Inc. My whole family loves cats, takes in strays except me, they give me asthma, and none of us would do that but sometimes they need to be put down, and who can take in the zillions of strays there are out there?

I also have issues with the huge ruckus over animals when our children are living on the streets, alone in and homeless families, where are the emotional ads for jobs, homes, and food for those little ones?

You do a great job Ronni, thank you.

I support your decision, too, Ronni. It was a hard story to read, but then there are hard stories all around us.

I, also, would appreciate what Jean called a 'trigger warning'.

But, to me, unsubscribing from your blog and/or ESP on the basis of one story is akin to throwing out the baby with the bath water.
Minds that close so resoundingly and so quickly tell a story of their own. I suspect the conversation here will be better without them.

First, I have to admit that I did not read the story. When you first described what the readers took as offensive, my first thought was to ask 'when' this story took place and where. I also remember a childhood in which unwanted kittens and puppies were drowned or shot. I would probably be very uncomfortable reading the account but I often find my self reading something that does that for any number of reasons.
Second, I read TGB daily and just reading one item that makes me uncomfortable will no compel me to stop. I find it sad that others have decided to do so. I wonder how those people get through the day given what is on the news. Or have they isolated themselves in their own insulated little world. Not, I think, a healthy way to deal with the real world.
Third, it is your blog. Your rules. From your comments you thought long and hard about whether to run that story and, for reasons consistent with your ethics, decided to publish it. I don't see anything wrong with your decision. Nor do I see anything wrong with your decision to rethink your editorial position.

Re Denny's observation: (1) The domestic pet has no ability to chose birth control in any form -- that is the responsibility assumed when one becomes that pet's human "servant".

(3) Dumping unwanted kittens should be as much a crime as dumping garbage by the side of the road -- with equal fines.

(2) This entire entry points to the need to support your local humane society. Rather than unneeded holiday gifts, make a contribution in the recepient's name. Most such volunteer organizations send a thank you card to both the giver and the person in whose name the gift was given.

In the sense of doing as I say, I contribute an item to their fundraising auction & send a holiday check.

We of the old have had our share of the bad and sadness of life.
Reality has turned our hair gray and caused us to turn away, avoid as much as possible the ills of life in the raw.
We cannot deny it's existence, but we can avoid reading about it...take a pass on a story now and then.

I too will be around.


This story might have been marginally acceptable if it served the purpose of warning people what happens when you don't spay a pet, but it just ended up sounding cruel and heartless. As I said in my comment that I could almost understand drowning newborns, but to watch them grow and to play with them and THEN kill them was terrible.

I personally would not have published the entry. I wish I had not read it.

I have lived in countries outside the US and worked in hospitals. This kind of behavior is nothing new. It's another culture with different standards and traditions than ours. And, like many others have commented, we need to look at human suffering, as well as animal suffering, with compassion and help. Furthermore, in a world where people are starving and rioting for a drink of water, our pets are, FOR SOME, a frivolous expense.

Haven't read it and won't but gotta say that running a blog such as yours ain't for sissies.

I was shocked that she would confess to such a thing;there was no need to. I believe Johna is my generation. I thought such practices ended with our parents' generation. Please: spay/neuter if you have a pet.

I promised myself I wouldn't respond to those who have commented about the need to work towards the end of human suffering in whatever form, but I must.

It's not an either/or folks. Getting upset about animal suffering does not negate the work that is done for humans. My passion and compassion are for those who don't have a voice...who will NEVER have a voice to speak out about their cruelty. That is where my greatest amount of volunteer time and money go.

Do I also donate money to human causes? Yes. Do I donate my time to a disabled veterans organization, yes. Have I "adopted" a child from Save the Children? Yes. For all those who are upset over the "ruckus" over animals, what are YOU doing for the homeless children out there? If that's your passion--GREAT!! It just happened that this one article had a piece about cruelty towards animals, that's why people got upset. It doesn't mean they don't care about the suffering of people. If it was about cruelty towards children, I'm sure just as many if not more would have been upset.

See, I told you I was a little "over the top" when it comes to animals :-)

So sad, but it was not that long ago animals were routinely dispatched on farms. The killing of animals seems cruel, but that is exactly what happens in most animal 'shelters' and in rural areas. I called the local wildlife rescue hotline last night to donate a large cage I am giveing away, and before I could speak to a human voice I encountered 6 options for how to deal with this or that emergency. Number 6 was what to do if you hit a deer or found a fawn. Imagine in this day when deer are rapidly destroying bird habitats, folks are saving deer. The world is a difficult place.

Oh Ronni, I'm sorry you are in the middle of this fray. I would be interested in hearing from Johna if she decides to respond. I have enjoyed reading her posts since I found ESP and never thought of her as being heartless as all. I'm wondering if her problem was a writing problem instead of a moral problem. I've certainly written (and said) things that were taken the wrong way. I'm just thinking maybe she neglected to include the very important paragraph describing how heartbroken she was about the whole thing or how her evil husband forced her to put the little puppies in a bag.
I'm hoping it's something like that.

I think you did the right thing by publishing it. I don't unsubscribe to the newspaper because of a story I didn't like. And reading about the atrocities of war would be a good reason to unsubscribe, don't you think? But life is like that and hiding from those realities does not make them go away.

Many readers commented that the practice the story in question describes wasn't all that uncommon back in the day. Unfortunately, it wasn't, although the fact that it happened by no means makes it right. My father, an otherwise pretty typical father of the post-WWII era, once caused five newborn kittens to disappear from our garage. I was about 7 at the time and never knew exactly what happened but suspect the worst.

As far as homeless children are concerned, I pay state and local taxes as well as contributing to organizations that help them, but that doesn't really change anything. Change starts with PREVENTION: educating young people to the serious responsibilities of parenthood and making birth control not only available at no cost but readily accepted. I'm a strong advocate of high-school programs that require their students (girls AND boys) to care for a mock baby for at least 2 weeks! In an ideal world, every child would be a wanted child, born to adults who are ready to be parents.

As far as whether or not to publish the story, Ronni, I think you made the right decision, sad story though it is. We humans certainly act in less-than-human ways towards other creatures--and ourselves. We still do it every day.

Weighing in as a daily TGB reader here, I don't see how you can possibly slap a Mature Audience warning on everything that might possibly offend someone somewhere, esp. if that includes what some call "the real world". If you ever put up anything that I don't like, I promise I won't leave in a huff (or even a minute & a huff).

I am a daily reader of TGB, but I don't read the Story Telling section therefore I missed out on this story (thankfully). I am a wildlife rehabilitator and a life long "over the top" animal lover. Had I read it,I would have been horrified over the story and it would have haunted me for days.

I am not going to comment on the "homeless people vs. homeless animals" thread because I have to defend my choices frequently to my real life contacts.

I enjoy your blog and would not have unsubscribed because of this story, but I would appreciate a warning of some sort if you ever choose to publish a story with cruelty involved.

The story was disgusting, Ronni, but as has been said before, we read all kinds of things that make us cringe. We don't stop reading. This is YOUR blog and the rest of us enjoy it immensely - if we read something once in a while that we don't like, we'll comment on it and move on. You did the right thing.

I don't look at road-kill so I won't read the story. But after reading through this page top to bottom, I know why I come back to this blog every day. Here, topics get reviewed from all angles, intelligently and with controlled passion. Thanks to all for your posts and for the opportunity you provide, Ronni, for all of us to be a part of this community. I'm stickin' around. PS: Once I had to put baby rats into "killing jars" -- not fun.

Re: publish or not to publish. This is not a newspaper, it is a blog and it should definitely be your choice re: what to publish and what not. You are very kind to have this ESP section, allowing others to write and publish their stories. But definitely reject those that dont gel with you.

That said, I had not read the story originally, but read it today and was of course pained in my heart for the puppies and for the mamma dog. How would a human mamma feel if her babes were taken from her and killed.

Why isn't this dog spayed.

I was uncertain if this story happened in China. Maybe there are no humane societies or dog rescue places there? If it happened in the US I feel this family should have stopped their vacation and gone to the mainland and taken the pups to one of the above.

I have heard of people drowning cats, shooting dogs etc. Unless the animal is in great pain for some reason, this feels horrible to me, a suburban raised woman. But I think on the farm such things did happen and probably still do.

Up here you can often hear guns going off as in the north country men and prob. some women, go out there to kill animals from birds and squirrels to deer and moose. Sometimes they even kill each other. But that's another topic.

Perhaps if the author had added a coda at the end. How did she feel? How does she still feel? That sort of thing. Having the entry end with the drowning was true to the time, which I realized, but it still upset me. I also realized that to not publish this piece would have been censorship....which appalls me even more.

Thanks Ronnie.

I just went to read the story and it made me sad because I love animals and wished they had selected another way to dispose of the unwanted puppies. But I think as others have said, this is your blog and you chose what is included in it. I know many readers will stop following a blog if they do not like one post because, in this country, I find that people do not like different viewpoints than their own – it is the way they feel or the highway (just like in politics.) I think that as NPR does when a story might be objectionable to the sensitivities of some they mention this ahead of the story – you could place a warning before the post.

I do agree that people care a lot more about pets and animals than the people around them. They also are blind to the manner chickens and pigs are raised and killed by large farms. But that the way people are, both very good and very cruel. Those who refuse to read your blog anymore are those who only want life to be their way with a very narrow view of life – I would not like to be their children.

Well, being a faithful TGB reader, I had to go back & read it. Wish I hadn’t. I don’t have the journalistic chops to make the judgement call to publish or not. How sad for all involved in the incident, especially the kids. Isn’t that an example of cruelty towards children? Growing up on a farm, the dogs were often used as working dogs as well as pets. Wanton reproduction was not encouraged, females were usually culled (a practice that, as a family of girls, we took particular notice of) but we were never witness to any part of an animal’s disappearance. The family euphemism was that they had “gone to Deweese”, a neighboring town. But just because a farmer accepted the necessity of an animals' death – whether as a meat animal, or necessary population control, it was not an act taken lightly. My uncle became so attached to his cows, some of whom we referred to as his friends, that he could not drive them to market when the time came. But still they had to go – my father ended up driving the cattle truck instead. But what a good life those creatures had compared to the horrors of factory farming as is practiced now. Why is the treatment of a calf or pig of any less importance than a puppy? They are all living, sentient beings whether we like to admit it or not. Those of us who were lucky enough to grow up with a variety of creatures are well aware of it.

It was rightfully your call to publish or not, Ronni, and I think you made the correct choice. Although unpleasant to read, this is a true story by a valued contributor.

After come contemplation, I came to believe there is a useful lesson in this story. We should understand the depth of the horror that can result from cruelty to any living thing, and do our best to respect all who share this planet with us.

We do not gain insights from history by hiding from knowledge of how things were.

This is the hallmark of our free society. Someone can write a story about a subject someone else does not like. The reader can choose whether or not to read it, or even whether or not to subscribe to a blog which posted the story. Don't take it personally. Don't change the way you manage your blog. If you believe in the blog, you are doing the right thing. Freedom (like aging) is not for sissies.

Ronni: You warned me before you posted the story about the demise of the puppies and said I would get lots of negative comments. I realized that at the time, but wrote you that living in the countryside, it was, at that time a common way and thought of as human way to get rid of not only all the stray cats and dogs that wandered in after being thrown out of windows on the highway, but a necessity with no suitable other method available. Now we have humane departments in many cities, but they also, back in the 50's often put animals down after 3 days if not claimed. Granted they didn't drown them, but used chloroform or similar things but those were not available to us and if they were I would be afraid my children might get a hold of them and without knowing, use them in an improper way.
I am only sorry that you received notice from people who read your blog that they would quit because of one story they didn't like. Life is cruel in many ways and we must take the good with the bad.But I do agree, after you wrote me, and I wrote you back, if you still felt so negative you should have not printed it, or if so, perhaps written a warning so that people who might not want to read it, could just skip it.
Of course we all felt terrible, but until it happened, the boys still felt someone might come and adopt the rest of the puppies but since they didn't we had to face the facts. Please accept my apologies to your upset readers and also to you. I am not inhumane, just reporting a story as it unfolded.
Johna Ferguson

It was a hard call and perhaps you should have gone with your gut feeling, but is not easy to anticipate your readers reaction. Here you thought the worst case would be an onslaught of remarks directed at the author of the tale. What happened was a silent mutiny. Who would have thought this possible? It is not your story or your views.

Johna - I was somewhat surprised at the universal negative reaction to your story. Personally, I might have preferred that the puppies were given to an animal rescue organization, or euthanized by a vet, but drowning used to be fairly common. (Many puppies and kittens given to humane societies eventually are put down because homes can not be found.)

I second 'turkeyhound's' comments. For some reason the slaughter of cows, pigs, lambs, calves, chickens, and turkeys for our dining room tables is just fine, as is the tossing of living lobsters, crabs, and clams into pots of boiling water.

At the risk of creating more outrage, unless one is a committed vegetarian, all of this seems to be part of the political and social hypocrisy that pervades 21st century society. - Sandy

Thanks, Sandy ...
You have spoken for many of us who abhore hypocrisy in any form!
And thanks, Gabby Geezer ... I agree wholeheartedly with you. Keep on publishing, Ronni. You can't please all of the people all of the time. Many forget from one moment to the next all of the great blogs you do every day and focus on one small item that they could find to pick on. Just think of all the great blogs in the future that they will be missing. How sad for them! - Miki D.

I haven't ready the story, but knowing now that it has animal cruelty within I won't read it. I don't like to read about child abuse, and so many other stories of victimization. I especially dislike them when I unexpectedly come upon them within a novel or true story's content, but I don't necessarily condemn the whole book.

FWIW 9/25 to 10/2 is Banned Books Week which I wrote about -- so where does freedom of speech fit into this, or does it?

The reality of how animals are sometimes disposed of in different settings, even within the U.S., years ago is true. So, do we simply not relate such facts? Truth be known, despite animal protection rights, education, I wouldn't want to bet it's not still happening here, but that doesn't make it right.

Sounds like the problem is: --the writer didn't provide a disclaimer, reporting remorse.
--some readers wanted a warning of possibly objectionable material.

Is there some sort of STP rule that only pleasant stories are written, or is there a list of all the different types of stories that won't be accepted?

I would think at this blog which encourages viewers opinions, provides genuine consideration to disagreement and welcomes readers expression that you would have been given an opportunity to explain the situation and offer a response. Then, if they did not like what you said, did not want further dialogue, they could act as they did.

Whatever the case, I think the actions some of your readers took was drastic and extreme. We seem to live in extreme-measure-taking times with people unwilling to resolve differences through dialogue.

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