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
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.
Labels: Cat Writers' Association, cats, content mills, declawing, DemandMedia, eHow