I’ve been struggling to come up with a way to explain how I feel about WIRED’s “Internet Famous: Julia Allison and the Secrets of Self-Promotion,” but I finally concluded that the following email exchange, with EIC Chris Anderson, does just fine.
And yes, I got his permission to reprint them here.
From: Julia Allison
Date: July 16, 2008 1:21 AM
To: Chris Anderson
Subject: thank you …
… for making the ballsy decision to do this story. I am beyond - beyond - honored and humbled to be on your cover.
I know you’ll get a ton of flack for it, and for that, I apologize.
You know, it’s tough, this position I’m in. I almost (almost!) don’t care what anonymous internet commenters say, but when it affects other people, I’m still as sensitive as I’ve ever been. And I would never want your editorial prowess to be called into question over me.
The choice was certainly provocative, but I would hazard a guess that the most vicious commentary stems from a general perception of inequity. People have a strong sense of justice - much stronger than they realize consciously - and when they perceive someone not to have (subjectively) worked hard enough for what they have received, their Unfair Alarm goes off, and they lash out.
That said, I think - I hope - that as time goes on, you’ll be proud you took the leap. I believe that Jason’s story captured the zeitgeist of this dynamic niche-fame culture in which we live, where the means to promote (or more accurately, to display and familiarize personalities), so long held captive by journalists or PR reps, now lies in the hands of the attention-starved masses. I’m not the only one doing it; I’m just a case-study.
Jason did a truly exemplary job reporting the story - it was accurate, well-written, fair. I look a bit like a tool, of course, but I expected that. The angle was How ANYONE Can be Internet Famous - and should, as such, be applicable to (duh) everyone, so it was important to emphasize my lack of talent in the usual areas to which accolades are accorded (although don’t get me started on the confusion I have over why actors are automatically considered “somebodies” in our society, unquestioningly worthy of covers).
Actually, the true goal was never “fame” at all. I wanted two things: 1) editors to publish my work, 2) people to read my work. I wanted to be like Nora Ephron - able to exist creatively with an audience and relative financial freedom. I saw one sure method to that end: making myself into a marquee name. Unfortunately (or fortunately??), my personality is - apparently - conducive to publicity.
The irony, of course, is that Publicity is a full-time job. I did over two dozen print interviews and 350 television segments in the last year - and probably over 500 in the last two years. I taught my brain to think in soundbites, in PR nothing-speak, to project authority on subjects I have no real knowledge about. It’s a game … but I’m a bit tired of playing it. Now I need to unlearn much of that.
All of this left me little time to actually do what it was that I set out to do in the first place - which is to communicate, to explore, to wonder, to interview fascinating individuals about their own discoveries - and yes, write.
It’s been an intriguing experiment, this foray into self-promotion, but one with fairly extreme personal consequences. I’m not sure I’d do it the same way again (self as guinea pig = very dangerous) - but I suppose that if I get lost along the way back to my roots as a writer, I can always head up a marketing firm. Randi Zuckerberg has a standing offer on the table. :)
Thank you, again. It is - truly - a great honor. I hope I don’t let you down.
From: Chris Anderson
Date: July 16, 2008 11:05:42 AM
To: Julia Allison
Subject: Re: thank you …
Many thanks for the kind and thoughtful note. But don’t worry—we’re big boys and we knew what we were doing. The thesis was important and generalizable and the article was substantive. I’d feel bad about putting a Hollywood star on the cover and having nothing to say about them, but I feel great about this one.