Friday, May 11, 2012

eHow declaw article: Bad information, bad journalism

It’s hard to determine whether this post should go to “Life With Sally” or to “ExclusivelyCats.” It discusses two topics close to my heart – good writing and cats.

A member of the Cat Writers’ Association Facebook group posted a link to an eHow article titled, “How to Declaw a Cat,” which immediately generated a major firestorm among the members. On the surface the message was that you could knock out Fluffy and systematically cut off her paw tips from the comfort of your home.

eHow is part of the DemandMedia content mill. Contributors select from a list of topics and write an article conforming to DemandMedia’s supposedly strict guidelines. They are paid princely sums ranging from $5 to $15. I had a short-lived experience with them about three years ago, which ended quickly when my article on melamine poisoning relating to the 2007 pet food recall wasn’t dumbed down enough.

The formula for the eHow articles is simple enough: some boiler plate introduction, followed by the steps required to do something.

Declawing a cat is an anathema to anyone with an ounce of passion for cats (to his benefit, the writer did state that the procedure is indeed controversial and suggested alternatives such as nail caps, and the website had links to articles on proper scratching behavior), but the implication was that it was a do-it-yourself procedure. It wasn’t until the end of the how-to-steps where he said “release the cat to go home” and administer a fentanyl patch if necessary, that indicated the procedure not performed by a rank amateur.

This is typical of what is happening to journalism today. As an example, 10 years ago there were at least a half-dozen print publications related to cats. Their editors solicited queries from writers knowledgeable in the subject matter and worked with them to publish clearly written articles. Writers were paid fairly for their efforts.

The ability to publish quickly on the Internet and the dumbing down of the writing profession through content mills has led to incomplete information and/or bad information. Not only is there poor writing but, in the case of the declaw article, it’s downright dangerous. Some schmuck has a cat that’s scratching his furniture, comes across the article with its 1-2-3 simplicity, and after a couple of beers, proceeds to mutilate his cat.

Who knows what would have happened if it had been a more esoteric topic? We cat ladies are quick to share information, so it’s hoped that the aforementioned schmuck hadn’t had the chance to pop open his brewski and pick up his clippers.

If the article was to have any redeeming value at all, it should have been titled, “How a Cat is Declawed,” which probably would not have fit eHow’s formula. And, along with citing the “controversial” nature of the procedure and what can be done in lieu of declawing, the writer needed to say – up front – “This is a surgical procedure that must be done by a qualified veterinarian only after counseling the owner on alternatives and warning of possible behavioral problems such as biting and inappropriate litter box use.”

The good news is that the outcry led to the article immediately being pulled from the site (“Thank you for bringing this to our attention.”). We hope the editor learned her lesson. The writer, who seemed to have a finance background, should stick to counting his pennies. After all that’s what you get when you write in that venue.

1 comment:

Kim Cady said...

Well written article! Thanks for the heads-uo, these "writer mills" are creepy and scary... enough mistakes like that, and maybe they'll clean up their acts!