Health News Review

A website called VibrantNation.com describes itself as “the leading online community for Baby Boomer women – the place where they connect and support each other on issues unique to life after 50.”

I don’t know about that.

But I do think they’ve done the oddest thing I’ve ever seen on their Staff listing page.The following is the entry that caught my eye.

So the editorial director doesn’t exist?

Yet she gets the byline on some articles, like this one on plantar fasciitis.

That’s one way to solve a staffing and budget issue.  Create a virtual editorial director. It could be the start of a whole new trend:  take a staff of 3 and promote it as a staff of 300 by creating virtual identities.  It could be fun and engaging for the 3 staff members who could rotate among the 300 roles to make their virtual jobs more exciting.  “Hey, can I be Human Resources director today?  I feel like hiring another avatar.”

Since not everyone reads Staff listing pages, this doesn’t do much for transparency.

Comments

Elaine Schattner posted on December 2, 2011 at 12:42 pm

That is strange, Gary. It makes me wonder, is a composite, fabricated editor any worse than an anonymous website of blog author? I suppose the pretense of there being a fake, named person goes a step beyond outright anonymity. But what about pseudonyms? Those are common and some quite successful. Is this so different?

    Lisa posted on December 5, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    I think there’s a a big difference between writing under a pseudonym (as many bloggers do) and attributing writing to a fake person. Huge difference.

    This website is coming right out and saying, “you can’t trust us/me.” I guess it’s sort of admirable in its honesty; at least it saves everyone the time of figuring out whether it’s worth reading or not. Answer: Not.

      John posted on December 6, 2011 at 11:18 am

      Someone made the comparison to Nanker Phelge (google it if you need to, I did… =\) which, really, is the same thing, but yet, the difference is Nanker was used to write creatively, as opposed to what VibrantNation.com seems to be.

      I can put faith in a pseudonym, provided it has history. I can put trust in ‘Anonymous’ provided it is obviously a single persons website, or, conversely, obviously multiple people (I’m thinking of an open whistleblower type blog, and ‘trust’ is a squidgy term in this case), but a composite is… trickier. Rather than ‘This is from anyone’ or ‘This is from a specific person whose real name you do not know’, it is ‘This is from a specific subset of [A-Z], but they aren’t willing to attach their name to it.

      And that’s, perhaps, the worst part. Someone wrote it. You should damn well put your name on it. Especially if you’re purporting to be giving something other than entertainment value.

Mary posted on December 3, 2011 at 6:59 am

It sounds very similar to the economics blog Zerohedge. The editor is a composite persona named Tyler Durden who is composed of several different authors. It provides anonymity yet in my view, dilutes the value of what is said as there is no source to attribute the words to or any way to measure the expertise of the writer. The site has devolved from its original valued commentary on market conditions to one of tin foil hat speculation and off topic goofiness (IMHO).

Jerry DeMink posted on December 5, 2011 at 9:17 am

An editorial Betty Crocker. http://chnm.gmu.edu/sidelights/who-was-betty-crocker/ Vibrant Nation’s version is WAY different than the composite persona at Zerohedge referenced in a comment above though. Tyler Durden? “Fight Club’s” Tyler Durden? At least that is a conscious joke…

Lauren Walker posted on December 5, 2011 at 9:33 am

Although it’s not that uncommon, or new — think Betty Crocker — it is kind of entertaining that they admit it openly and gave her a picture.

    Gary Schwitzer posted on December 5, 2011 at 9:49 am

    Jerry & Lauren,

    Thanks for writing about the Betty Crocker comparison.

    A big difference, though, is that Betty Crocker was a commercial logo/brand – not an “Editorial Director” of an information website.

    There is an increasing – and appropriate – call for more transparency in publishing – especially on the web where the veracity of so much information is difficult to ascertain.

      @ItsThatBriGuy posted on December 6, 2011 at 1:09 pm

      Betty Crocker was originally supposed to be an actual spokesperson for the brand bearing the name. She appeared for years on radio without any suggestion that she was, in fact, a character being portrayed by an actress.

Jerry DeMink posted on December 5, 2011 at 10:55 am

Gary, I don’t disagree at at all. Susan Lee Ward could be both their commercial logo and editorial brand representation. A sigh of the times perhaps.

William M. London posted on December 5, 2011 at 11:44 am

What do you think of the practice of signing off as revere at http://scienceblogs.com/effectmeasure/2010/05/blog_matters_who_is_revere.php ?

    Gary Schwitzer posted on December 5, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    William,

    Only because I want to be immediately responsive, I will just write for now that this is a very complicated issue and I’m glad you brought it up. I’m swamped right now and can’t write everything I’d like to write – for now at least.

    It would be interesting to read other readers’ comments.

Dr Gayle posted on December 5, 2011 at 2:41 pm

This is similar to an issue of self-appointed editors who have no related background and are unable to speak intelligently about the issues to the public, while co-opting the work of others without attribution.

patricia posted on December 5, 2011 at 2:48 pm

so, whose headshot is that? Is it a stock image? I think posting a “real” person’s photo takes this even further into the murky waters of misrepresenting yourself and misleading your audience, especially for a website that offers health advice. I find this highly irresponsible. And stupid. And unintentionally hilarious.

raf posted on December 6, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Does this differ materially from unsigned editorials purporting to be the consensus view of an editorial board at a newspaper?

Steven Den Beste posted on December 6, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Isn’t that a picture of Ariana Huffington?

RetiredE9 posted on December 6, 2011 at 1:59 pm

The Keebler Elves weren’t available for comments

Shawn Levasseur posted on December 6, 2011 at 1:59 pm

In the world of Fiction group pseudonyms have been around with little controversy.

The original author of The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew used pseudonyms for each series, and the pseudonym continued on as other authors wrote for the series. The text adaptation of the Robotech animated series was written by a pseduonym who was given an “about the author” piece that was a hybrid of the two authors’ bios, needless to say “Jack McKinny” had a rather busy life.

In the non-fiction realm… Now we’re getting into sticky territory. The shared pseuedonym acts as a shield from responsibility for the content.

Contrarian View posted on December 6, 2011 at 3:21 pm

This is not a new idea. The Democrats have been creating thousands of virtual voters for decades.

Darryl Boyd posted on December 6, 2011 at 11:04 pm

I thought everybody did this. I’m a building Contractor who generally works alone except for as few Temp employees now and then. I always refer to “us” and “my guys” whan taking to customers even though it’s only me. I figure it pays to look bigger than you are. Kind of like a cat on the offense.

Gypsy Boots posted on December 7, 2011 at 11:15 am

Some companies have always listed fictional employees to blame for lapses in customer service etc.

“I can assure you that Mr. Smith doesn’t work here any more, Ma’am!”

David DesRoches posted on December 19, 2011 at 5:12 pm

You’ll all be (un)happy to know that Vibrant Nation executed its imaginary person. Bylines have also been removed. Here’s the updated bio:

VN Editors
VN Editors are the editorial staff of Vibrant Nation, who manage and publish all Vibrant Nation content and contributors. Formerly, the editorial staff was represented by Susan Lee Ward, a composite created and managed by the Vibrant Nation staff to represent themselves and the Vibrant Woman. Since VibrantNation.com is about its community and not any one person, and much of our published work is curated from our conversations originated by our members, we thought it would be best to have the community and our writers represented by a single face and name. Susan Lee Ward was managed by the all-woman Vibrant Nation editorial team: Cara Reynolds, Beth Blakely and several staff writers who work for them. We have never hidden anything about who Susan Lee Ward is or is not.

Over time, some community members have expressed discomfort with the presence of a character in our community who is not a real person. We created Susan Lee Ward early in our site’s history as part of our effort to make VN authentic for all Vibrant Women, but now it seems like the right decision to credit the articles compiled and written by our staff to our editorial team: “VN Editors.” All of our current editors and staff writers are listed above on our staff page.