CommunityPam's House Blend

AOL and the deep-sixing of QueerSighted

Head over to Richard Rothstein's pad, Proceed At Your Own Risk, to read about AOL's decision to  kill off its very public and successful LGBT community blog Queersighted. Richard was part of the team organized by out gay AOL-er Kenneth Hill to bring an edge to the company's online presence by reaching out to its early adopter, loyal LGBT community.

I walked away from my original blog, PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK because AOL convinced me that I would be able to share my voice with a huge audience, gay and straight.  But after six months of pouring our hearts and souls into this venture and creating an important and influential–even leadership–role in the queer community–AOL looked at 3.5 million page monthly views, 500,000 monthly unique site visits and the commensurate ad revenues, good will for the AOL brand throughout the blogosphere, the print media and the electronic media and within hours shut it all down.

…AOL has tried to convince us, the QueerSighted bloggers, to remain silent on this travesty. They offered us the opportunity to post farewell blogs that would be screened and pre-approved according to the needs of their corporate strategy.   After six months of free speech, we were now to be censored.  We declined.

Richard also notes that  it wasn't as if there were cuts across the AOL blog board. Was there a corporate attempt to rein gay voices? No one can know for sure about the decision-making process to terminate Queersited, since AOL isn't commenting, but Richard's not holding back.

I suppose we can't accuse AOL of homophobia or politics. After all, Mary Cheney remains a vice president at AOL and she, as we all know, is a staunch supporter of the queer community, our rights and our voice.   And just because a number of AOL's openly homophobic and conservative right wing bloggers remain employed and blogging doesn't mean that the termination of large numbers of senior gay employees means anything.

It will be interesting to see how/if the LGBT news media follows up on this story.

Rod McCullom of Rod 2.0 recently asked me about the nature or corporate and institutional blogs in for an article he was working on. What I said at the time is that corporations are tentative when it comes to putting up a blog and setting the parameters for in-house bloggers.

More after the jump.Corporations and institutions like the idea of the dynamism and interactivity of blogs, but that’s also what scares them about the medium. How do you control messages that go out? Is it blogging post by post by committee? If entries feel too much like a press release, no one is going to come back and read.

Also, the dilemma of having comments and the need to moderate them is also a huge commitment and can be a boon or disaster for an institution or company.  That’s why you’ll often see criticism of institutional blogs by blog readers; most fail to see that the purpose of a corporate or advocacy group blog is not that of a personal soapbox; the content on these blogs is going to more bland, for lack of a better word because it has to be. There are sensitivities and constituencies that they have to deal with — donors, customers — that can have an impact on the bottom line if a blog gets them into political trouble or a PR nightmare. 

This wasn’t true of Queersighted; AOL’s mission, as far as I can tell, was to give the LGBT an open, uncensored voice. That said, a lot of people in decision-making positions about corporate blogs are not as Net-savvy as they need to be; it’s harder for them to grasp blogs,  social networking and its impact on business.

On the flip side, it’s incumbent upon successful bloggers who want to write for an institutional or corporate blog to realize that there are different rules than they enjoy as an opining free agent. An organization’s blog is not the wild west where you can come out blazing on any topic without thinking of the potential impact on your employer (unless they’ve given completely free rein, which seems kind of dunderheaded from a institutional standpoint). Bloggers then become the public face of that institution, the personality that is associated with the corporate online brand. There can be conflicts of interest — are you ready to be edited or your message controlled by someone in the corner office who is offended that you slagged their golfing buddy’s company? It can and does happen. Case law isn’t on your side; you can be fired for writing about your employer on your personal blog, never mind on a corporate blog.

The brilliance that corporate drones may admire on a personal blog may not translate well as a corporate voice.  Did that happen at Queersighted when the political commentary got hot in regards to AOL exec Mary Cheney or criticism of conservative bloggers on AOL’s roster? Who knows. What I can easily imagine happening, as a corporate butt-covering maneuver, is that it is easier on the PR front to shut down the whole site and say it’s part of downsizing rather than deal with any potential criticism as a result of canning or censoring individual posts, bloggers or editorial decisions. I doubt we’ll ever find out what happened.

Note: Paula the Surf Mom has a diary with the crosspost.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding