I took down a blog post today. I made a pretty big mistake in taking a critique of a book and making a personal attack. I am sure sorry that I did that. I sure don’t want to be that kind of writer. I probably made a bunch of other mistakes in that post too, but the blogosphere goes fast, and I can’t process them all fast enough to tell you about them now.

Here’s what I can tell you, though. Media Bistro linked here today – and it’s a blog and community that I really respect. And CareerJournal.com is featuring this blog on Monday. And I really don’t want any of those people to think the blog is about personal attacks and controversy.

This is what I think my blog is about: Community.

People have always asked me why I write every day about career advice. I mean, there are more glamorous topics in the world, for sure. I tell those people, first of all, that my career saved me at lots of very bad moments in my life, and I’m grateful that I have it to fall back on, and I want other people to have that, too.

But the other reason I write is because I want to be happy in my life, and I know that somehow, my career is involved in that, and I am not totally sure the best way to do it, and I want a community of people around me who are also trying to figure this out. I want us to do it together.

So, you can see that the post I deleted (well, if you saw it at all) is not turning out to be in line with my vision for my writing life. I wish I had never even thought of writing a personal attack. I can only tell you that I’ve learned a lesson. Maybe ten lessons.

To be honest, I am used to having an editor reining me in, which I don’t have on the blog. And it makes me nervous all the time. At Business 2.0 my editor told me never to write about sex, ever. At Warner Books, my editor took out two fat references and told me that no one wants to hear me writing about fat.

I sure wish I had listened to her.

At Yahoo, the readers write in scathing comments every week, (Example: “Terrible advice but I’d take her for something else.” Yes. I’m not kidding.) But it never bothers me. The comments are so absurd that I know the people are not part of my community.

The comments I got today were thoughtful, heartfelt, and definitely were from people I consider part of my community. So, in an effort to keep us all on the right track – looking for how to do work and life in a way that makes us happy – I deleted this post. And you should know that I’m not above taking some advice, either.

27 replies
  1. M
    M says:

    Penelope – I thought you were a bit harsher than usual, but I didn’t actually disagree with your point. I think some of your commenters here are going overboard. We all have such opinions at some points in time.

  2. Mistified
    Mistified says:

    Ah..yikes, how to put this: I think I get where you’re coming from, but I’m with the other commenters who were really taken aback by this post. For starters, it was the tone that threw me more than the point. The way you phrased it, and capitalized it, and added multiple exclamation points, no less. The tenor of it seems so mean-spirited and juvenile. I think it really detracts from any potential argument you may have, and I believe you do have a legitimate one. But it’s the kind of insight one might expect from a shallow, bitter, narcissistic teenager. And for the preservation of my own happiness, I’ve learned to tone that kind of voice right out, no matter whose it is.

  3. Mary
    Mary says:

    I love this blog because of exactly what Penelope has striven to create–a sense of community, of people puzzling out together why the world of work/life is the way it is, and what can be done to make it better for all.

    I’ve appreciated all the great, thought-provoking posts. And the fact you are willing to listen to your readers, and re-consider what may have been a rash posting. We’ve all had bad days, and made some poor judgement calls. Fortunately, they don’t usually happen in front of thousands of people. Sorry that yours happened in the public eye.

  4. Jenny
    Jenny says:

    Like M, I too thought it was a little harsher than normal, but really, so what. Deleting what amounts to a cheap shot seems rather extreme to me. Perhaps after the WSJ publicity calms down a bit you’ll consider slipping it quietly back into the archives?

    Still, to be frank, removing the post because people choose to be offended is rather a slippery slope. I mean, if one had a mind to be offended, a cursory flip through your archives would keep them apoplectic for months.

    I don’t always agree with you and sometimes I take issue in a huge way with what you say and how you say it, but I deeply respect the integrity of your space to say it all, your way. Whatever I feel when I read your stuff, I choose to feel it. It would be a pity if your “community” felt entitled to commandeer your space whenever it suited them, because they weren’t willing to own their reactions to your words.

  5. Eugene Chan
    Eugene Chan says:

    Penelope:

    I was out on an Easter excursion most of the day so I didn’t have a chance to reply to your thoughtful reply to my comment.

    (But the fact that you did in about 30 minutes says a lot about the type of relationship you want to have with your readers. I was pleasantly surprised. :)

    I’ll say again that I love your writing and your perspective on this topic of life/work management.

    I appreciate what you say here–and know that I don’t know who Leslie Bennets nor will I buy her books. But I’ll buy yours. :)

  6. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    Penelope,

    I’d encourage you to re-write your review of the books from the earlier post. I think most of your comments were valid, although were perhaps expressed in a way that was not in line with your usual more positive approach on the blog. The valid points — such as those that cover looking after yourself in a more complete(for lack of a better phrase) fashion than merely financial terms — deserve to be expressed here in this blog.

    WW

  7. Anthony Papillion
    Anthony Papillion says:

    One of the things I absolutely love about Penelope Trunk and this blog is that it’s really written from her gut. It’s not censored and contrived like a lot of blogs are. Unfortunately, having that quality sometimes means she makes statements that we don’t agree with. It’s nice to see she both has the courage to make what might be unpopular statement and the courage to retract her words when appropriate.

    Truly a class act and a credit to the blogging world.

  8. melanie gao
    melanie gao says:

    You know I remember reading something on your blog on Friday/Saturday and thinking “Now that just doesn’t seem like Penelope” and then I quickly forgot about it again. I’m glad to see that you’re back to being you or at least my image of you – positive and kind. And I’m happy to be part of your community. I like the people here. Some of those Yahoo ones though… I dunno…. :)

  9. oldguy
    oldguy says:

    One of the things I like about you is that you are not afraid to reveal your imperfections. The original post, criticizing someone else for being personally imperfect, was contrary to that spirit. You did the right thing in deleting it and posting a thoughtful correction.

  10. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Penelope

    I’m with Jenny when she said deleting posts because people choose to be offended is a slippery slope. But I think you’re right to delete it if *you* felt the post wasn’t quite what you wanted it to be, and I admire you for not being too proud to admit that.

    For what it’s worth, I did read the post and thought you made some excellent and very valid points. Granted, I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about the way you had expressed these points, and had gone away for a couple of hours to give some thought to how I felt before posting a comment. I can see why it generated lots of outraged responses (some of which I also read and thought were partly valid, but also partly rash and over-reactionary).

    But then that’s why I like your blog – you articulate the things that many of us think but don’t quite know how to say. You broach some very difficult and sometimes complex subjects and are usually quite good at picking through the different strands involved. So you don’t feel you got it 100% right this time – please don’t let that stop you trying again with these particular issues.

    Sarah

  11. Jason Alba
    Jason Alba says:

    I have never supported deleted a blog post – until now. Deleting it was, in my opinion, an excellent judgement call. I’m reading the other comments here about perhaps reposting it, or disagreeing that it wasn’t too bad, but you nailed the bottom line. This blog is a quantification of your personal brand. I am glad to hear that you didn’t want that post in the history of your personal brand.

    Good call Penelope.

    Jason Alba (he who can think of at least one blog post on his own blog to delete :p)
    CEO – JibberJobber.com

  12. Adam
    Adam says:

    I thought the post carried a much more negative tone than usual and I just assumed that you were in a particularly bad mood that day. I think that comes with the territory of blogging. Sometimes your emotions will effect your writing and people that read various blogs not only expect that but I think it also makes the author more human.

    I also find it strange when people say you shouldn’t delete something from your blog. I mean, its your blog – you can do whatever you want (including shutting it down, etc).

    I agree that if TWSJ is profiling you today, the last thing you want first time readers to do is jump on and see that particular post. It is not a good (maybe typical is a better word) representative of this site.

    Adam

  13. Lea
    Lea says:

    I feel your pain — it’s *so* hard to make public mistakes, isn’t it? That was something I loved and hated about being a journalist. There are few other professions where literally everyone in the world can see you screw up. (And it’s MUCH harder to work without an editor. Kudos to you for doing it!)

    I didn’t read the original post, but I can say from reading your retraction that you’ve handled your mistake with integrity. And it’s your integrity that keeps me coming back to read your work. I’ve recommended you to all of my friends (many of whom are looking for new jobs or starting their first full-time jobs), I’ll be buying your book, and when I get my resume-writing business off the ground, I’ll be linked to your blog. I would have done all of that even if you left your negative post online — but the fact that you didn’t and told us why reinforces why I believe you are worth recommending.

    As for some of the comments here about censorship/deleting posts being a slippery slope, I think that blogs fall into a gray area of being both personal and professional. Articles published in a traditional print publication are professional and shouldn’t be deleted unless there are serious, serious errors (eg Jayson Blair- and Stephen Glass-type errors). But blog posts are personal writings, even when they’re about professional topics, and it’s more likely that a blog writer will forget about the professional and post a purely personal reaction that’s out of place with the rest of the blog. The retraction of those posts can be a good idea, depending on the circumstances. Rules for the New Media are still being written, and I think your choice to self-censor after going public was a valid one.

  14. steven
    steven says:

    I did read the post and it made me laugh. It was funny because it was true. It proves you are good at writing – you can express yourself on any subject that interests you. I can see why you took it down, but I would love to see the “Penelope Dish” blog where you publish opinions…

  15. Dean Whitehead
    Dean Whitehead says:

    I didn’t see the removed blog, Penelope, but respect your judgment. Jason is absolutely right when he cites “your own personal brand.” Like Johnson & Johnson’s recall of tainted Tylenol years ago, your decision to recall the atypical blog entry reflects beautifully upon your brand (and personal) values. Well done, Penelope!

  16. Anne M
    Anne M says:

    I’m glad that you at least took the post down.

    However, you’ve really lost any sense of respect that I had for you if you make that kind of a judgement about someone simply because their body shape is repellent to you. It has revealed that you are shallow and that your antipathy toward fat people completely clouds your professional judgement.

    Signed,

    Anne (a size 6 who doesn’t think less of people who are size 16 or size 26, something I of course seek to clarify before you dismiss my opinion because you presume that I am SO INCREDIBLY FAT!!!)

  17. Lizzie
    Lizzie says:

    I didn’t see the post (I only read about it on MediaBistro), but I’m stunned that someone who presumes to give career advice would write such a thing. In a normal workplace, a personal attack on a blog would likely get someone fired.

    How can anyone take you seriously as a career advisor if you don’t meet the behaviour standards of a mid-level employee?

  18. Mary
    Mary says:

    Lizzie–

    Um, is it me? Or didn’t Penelope apologize for 10 paragraphs about making the infamous post? Until we have the ability to go back in time and erase mistakes completely, apologies will have to do.

    I think we have all said things–in person and in e-mails–we’ve regretted. From entry level to CEOs. What separates professionals from non, is the ability to recognize mistakes, take responsibility for them, and see that they don’t happen again.

  19. MC
    MC says:

    I missed the post, but it sounds like you made the right call in taking it down, and I admire you for admitting that you think you made a mistake and for taking steps to remedy it. If only more bloggers would do that….

    Per the reader comments over on your Yahoo column: interesting that you mentioned them. Because it’s gotten to where they really piss me off: the ad hominem (no pun intended) personal comments/insults that the women authors get over there on the Yahoo site, versus what the the men authors receive. You get the worst of it, from what I’ve seen, but Suze and the other women get a reasonable share of it too.

    My scan through the Yahoo comments shows that women authors receive 100% of the “body/appearance” type of comments, and that they also receive the lion’s share of the “belittling the author’s intelligence/credentials” types of comment (“who does this person think they are, what a moron, she’re just a failed flack” type of comments.) I don’t consider myself to be hyper-sensitive to this kind of thing…but the contrast is pretty glaring, if you scan the comments threads. Yeah, occasionally somebody will sneer at Robert K or one of the guys. But the majority of negative, insult-type comments are directed at the women.

    I don’t come to YPF to read comments about some woman columnist’s fuckability according to some dork commenter. I come to YPF for rational, professional information and (hopefully) rational, professional comments. And, given that YPS was intentionally designed to attract more women readers…you would think that allowing commenters to figuratively leer and belittle the women authors, would be something that Yahoo might realize isn’t creating an attractive environment for women visitors.

    I live in Silicon Valley and happen to know somebody at Yahoo who’s part of the team supporting the Personal Finance site, and I complained to him about the whole thing. I begged this guy to talk to Y! site management and to please not let the comments threads on YPF turn into yet another bottomless pit of venomous sexist crap, like has happened on so many other sites.

    (Note that I have no issue with legitimate criticisms of columns & content — but I’m not interested in reading personal attacks against people, male or female, such as comments about a person’s appearance, sexuality, intelligence, “who the hell does s/he think he is”, etc.)

  20. buggy
    buggy says:

    I don’t feel that you were (just) attacking the woman’s character or appearance, and I don’t think you felt that way, either. Post or don’t post what you wish, of course, but I think it would have been sufficient to change tone rather than retract the whole article, which is the equivilent of taking the 5th (entirely within your rights … however, now everyone believes you to be guilty of something, they’ll just never be sure what it is).

    Your whole shtick is about quality of life. You feel that not letting one’s corpus go to hell — independently of how others judge that person visually, but rather as a reflection of one’s well-being — is a big part of that. I don’t want to take financial advice from someone with massive credit card debt; you don’t want to take QoL advice from someone who has put other things ahead of their health. And that’s a super-important point .. this whole super-mommy business is leaving a generation with 0-to-1 parent figures, and everyone is pretending that nothing has to give. I think that myth leaves a lot of people unhappy, and should be refuted where possible.

    Rave on.

  21. Anthony Papillion
    Anthony Papillion says:

    Ok everyone, I think we’re all probably going a bit far with the “let’s flog Penelope for the inconsiderate post that most of us didn’t even read but are reacting to” stuff. Ms. Trunk said something wrong and inconsiderate. She then made amends by removing the offending post in response to reader outcry. She’s expressed regret, and made amends.

    What more do you want?

    I’ll ask each of you the same thing I asked her when she made the post: have YOU ever said or done anything you later looked back on and regretted? Then how can you bash her for doing that? She’s a blogger. She’s human. She’ll make mistakes. Get over it.

  22. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    Leslie Bennetts has been guest blogger on Powells.com this week. She writes about the reactions to her book, The Feminine Mistake. It’s an interesting read.

    URL: http://www.powells.com/blog/?author=113

    Perhaps most interesting is that Penelope Trunk was not the only person to say “fat”. Dr. Laura Schlesinger did too apparently.

  23. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I’m a regular reader and I must admit I thought the post in question was a bit brusque…

    …then I read through the link above (powells.com). Leslie Bennetts really is annoying. But kudos for taking the high road.

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