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MarCom Matters

July 2012
Issue: #33

Ghost(writer) Hunters

It began with that age old question: What would Rachel do?

While trawling the Web the other day looking for a side-dish recipe to complement my scrumptious grilled crab cakes, I stumbled on a New York Times article by food critic Julia Moskin describing the life of a cookbook ghostwriter.

It seems that today’s celebrity chefs are way too busy, or lacking in writing skills, to produce a polished book. Hardly a surprise. But Julia then went on to name the names – like Rachel Ray, Mario Batali and actress Gwyneth Paltrow – of those who’ve hired pros to help write their culinary tomes.

Despite the article’s matter-of-factness, Rachel and Gwyneth objected, adamant that they pen their own words.

My reaction was, “What’s the big deal? Most writing is teamwork.” Even the world’s best writers have collaborated to varying degrees with tough proofreaders, editors and publishers. Besides, just because you can conjure up a tasty soufflé doesn’t mean you can whip a batch of words into a concise recipe or compelling story.

Now, this cookbook caper comes on the heels of another ghost story – one that pops up from time to time with some frenzy.

It’s about ghostwriting for business folk, particularly within the blogosphere.

Over the last few years, armies of marketing and PR types have weighed in on the subject. Some believe that only the bylined author should write the blog articles, warts and all. It’s about authenticity and transparency, they argue. Others believe that ghosting is a longstanding tradition that applies to blogs as equally as it does to speeches, articles and letters.

More recently, Christopher Koch, a writer who works for SAP, posted an article in the company’s community network outlining his upcoming effort to roam the company’s hallways looking for great ideas to ghostblog.

And digital strategist Steve Farnsworth just reposted an older piece about ethical ghostblogging.

Here’s the thing: Ghostblogging is a firecracker of a word (my only 4th of July reference today) that can spark passionate feelings. But like ghostwriting in general, it’s a relative term that lives on a continuum of writing support: support that extends from advising and proofreading at one end to taking total control of planning and execution at the other.

Those who have definite opinions about ghostblogging generally draw a line somewhere along that continuum and proclaim it a boundary between what’s good and what’s unethical.

But I think all that misses the point. It’s not about how much help an author needs. That is a case-by-case assessment. It’s about how you provide that help and how well you ensure the integrity of the message.

So wherever you draw your own line, here are some basics to keep in mind when working with a bylined blogger:

The bottom line: All effective writing (whether by a ghost or a named author) calls for a professional and ethical approach. That’s the source of real authenticity and transparency.