I need to talk about an issue today that has upset me for quite some time now, and that I’d like to comment on from my perspective.
When did influencer bashing become such a huge thing?
At times it feels like heaping hate on, ridiculing or otherwise targeting influencers has become standard newspaper fare.
The last straw was an interview which Caro Daur gave to Manager Magazin, a sign that reviling influencers has spread to all levels of society now. It’s almost like we’re in the middle of a fight, in which only one side is fighting.
Please don’t get me wrong!
I think critical questioning is important, as is a certain trust in the media. In my opinion, serious journalists are not only a necessary institution in our society, they also have a bigger responsibility than ever before: the are challenged to educate their readers, they have a mission to shed light on wrongs, to engage objectively and impartially with topics, giving a platform to all the main parties involved. In other words, they are called upon to deal out constructive criticism.
What they don’t have is a mandate to distort issues to produce click-bait as they see fit.
Bad journalism is partial, superficially researched and – often enough – incendiary. All for the sake of clicks. Since when is it the job of newspapers and publishers to polarize as much as they can rather than informing the public? I have become more and more aware of this chasm recently the more influencers are present in a wider variety of media.
I don’t mean to generalize here, not all articles are bad, some are in fact positive, but I notice more and more writing that I consider genuinely inflammatory.
What goes on in the minds of the people that write these texts?
I read the article in Management Magazin shaking my head in disbelief more than once. Caro did her best to answer every question thoroughly, even the outright condescending ones, but the journalist apparently had nothing better to do than to repeat the same question over and over again, each time only slightly repackaged. The interviewer’s sole questions boiled down to something like this: what is your right to exist and why do you earn so much money with what you do?
If you ask a question related to content on Instagram three times in a row and don’t appear willing or capable to understand the question you may not be the right person to conduct the interview. Simple as that. I have never read questions like ‘How do you save money?’ and ‘Do you respect the law?’ in any interview before. They are inappropriate, and I understand completely that Caro chose not to answer them. I don’t know anyone in my wide circle of friends who’d casually share information about how much they earn and what they do with their money.
Not least because the answers are often everything but straightforward. On the one hand, influencers do not tend to get a fixed wage. They work independently and self-employed, meaning that the income depends on a fluctuating amount of jobs. The legal framework is still relatively unclear in many respects, since legislation is lagging behind the reality in this fast-changing segment. What I mean to say is this: it’s impossible to generalize here.
But that’s exactly what happened.
Not only in Manager Magazin, also in Zeit, FAZ and a great number of other magazines and newspapers – many of which are actually supposed to be quality papers.
I found the articles in FAZ and Zeit to be particularly unsavory, which is why I’d like to respond to the points raised in those two examples here.
” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>In the Zeit article, two journalists around their thirties accompany Charles Bahr, who has made the round in the media as the youngest agency founder in Germany and Lisa Banholyer, my podcast partner and founder of Blogger Bazaar, who blogs herself and is also active as advisor. Neither Charles nor Lisa are typical influencers, both are wearing many hats – including that of influencer. With that in mind, the article would have been an opportunity to present two genuinely interesting case studies, if the journalists had really engaged with the supposed topic of the article. Unfortunately that’s not what happened.
I would have loved to read an impartial, objectively critical piece. The potential would have been there. Instead, research for the article appears superficial at best, and the whole text is characterized by a gross generalization of influencers. Instead of critically assessing the role influencers play in society, i.e. shining a light on and questioning the responsibility influencers have, the text focused only on the role of influencers as advertisers.
In particular, the authors of the text appear outright repelled by the young age of many influencers. Sure, it may be unusual for teenagers to found companies and actually earn money with them. But why not? Should that be judged on the sole basis that it doesn’t fit into the standard role narrative? Poking fun at young people for knowing early on what they want to do and having the initiative to fight for that dream is just sad.
For example, on the one hand the authors keep pointing out the discrepancy between Charles’ age and his role as entrepreneur. Similarly, Lisa was characterized as good-natured, open woman, who at the same time is calculating and manipulative. All things considered, the article shed an entirely negative light on both influencers, which were open enough to give journalists an insight into their lives. Their daily lives may be unusual, but they showed their lives as they genuinely live them.
But my biggest problem is with the following passage:
‘Influencers. The stars of the internet. Role models of the present. They are not famous for a particular talent: influencers don’t sing well, they’re not know for their dancing skills, their not outstanding tennis players. The typical influencer is slim and pretty, that much is true, but they don’t tend to be stratospherically beautiful like the supermodels of the 90s. In fact, narrowing down what influencers did to have reached such fame on the net, particularly among young people, is not at all easy…’
To me, this sounds like: influencers have no skills whatsoever.
Ok, this is the moment where I need to take a deep breath. Nothing is more frustrating than someone outright denying your skills. A bit of research really would not have hurt, and it would have been so easy in this case. To get on stage as a 15 year old to present an industry specific subject takes a lot of courage, and a visionary mind in my opinion. I believe that it’s a quality that deserves respect. I invite everybody to ask themselves what they did at 15. It’s a real shame that this perspective was entirely neglected in the article.
Without a doubt, there are influencers who pull a fast one and who still have a lot of success. I will openly admit that in some cases I am also wondering how some colleagues became as successful as they are. But if a young person manages to inspire a wide audience there is probably a reason and a certain skill involved, even if I sometimes see the underlying message rather critically.
And there are plenty of influencers out there who are great at what they do. The list of examples is long, including Toni Mahfud who is a great painter, or Christine McConnell, who is a very skilled baker. Both have exceptional talents, but choose to focus on presenting themselves online above all else, which means their other talents may be less obvious. But they are successful, AND have skill.
To claim that influencers have no talents is as ridiculous as claiming there are no good journalists out there just because everyone has access to a computer. It’s as absurd as claiming photographers don’t need skills anymore, because the cameras do all the work for them. In every area, some people do better jobs than others, and talent is not distributed evenly. Generalizing all members of an entire profession (on top of it in a completely unfounded way, as both Charles and Lisa do a great job) in the apparent hope to get resonance from a jealous readership is pretty poor form.
What’s more, the Instagram users with the widest reach are not usually influencers: football players, singers and actors top the list of accounts with the most followers. The boundary between reach and profession is fluent. One could say that influencers are individuals who are doing a job that is not per se linked to a wide reach, but they somehow managed to have a substantial audience. Both live in a distorted world, both enjoy privileges, if dispensed through different channels. But that doesn’t mean that one group has no right to exist, does it?
Talking about football players: what skill do they have? How difficult can it be to kick a ball? *irony off*
In the Die Zeit podcast, one of the journalists reveals that he had difficulties finding influencers that were willing to participate in the experiment. When he was asked why he thought that was, he voiced his assumption that influencers no longer need media outlets like Die Zeit, because they are often famous enough to have to worry about the readership of a newspaper, even a large one. He went on to share that he also had an exchange with Leonie Hahne of Ohh Couture for a period, before she eventually stopped responding.
There I was again, shaking my head. No, it’s not that we no longer need large newspapers or publishers – on the contrary! I imagine most of us would have been up for the experiment – but who could be up for being slammed in a partial article?
Leonie, a blonde, slim woman in her twenties, who usually presents herself on Instagram in the most beautiful settings of the world, who shows life through a rose-colored filter, knows full well how easy a target she is – PRECISELY because she represents a stereotype. Leonie is not only pretty, she is also pretty smart, and has the brains to strategically work a market to make a living. She provides supply to a huge demand, most of it coming from young women that feel inspired by what they see, and who participate in a dream that Leonie is presenting. My guess is that Leonie got the gist of which slant the article was going to have, that she ultimately considered the journalist to be partial and that she decided to not participate for those reasons.
At any rate, it’s definitely not true that influencers are not interested in print media – on the contrary.
‘Fashion and lifestyle magazines like Couch are the losers, and the successes that influencers enjoy comes at their expense. Magazines face a dilemma: on the one hand influencers ruin their business. Circulations decline, advertising budgets are spent on online marketing. On the other hand the internet stars have become famous to an extent that lifestyle magazines cannot afford to ignore them.’
I wonder if this paragraph essentially mirrors a fear that drives the authors. Magazines like Couch, Instyle or Businesspunk have found a way to enter symbioses with influencers: each party benefits from the reach of the other, both present their content across a wider range of media. Fashion and lifestyle magazines were early adopters and have reacted to the trend much faster than much of their competition. Many of them manage to maintain print as well as online presences that allow them to remain relevant for their target groups. Couch and Instyle are magazines that are still doing very well, even if their respective circulations have declined.
The thing is, the fact that print circulations are declining is not due to influencers as much as to the existence of the internet on the whole. It’s true, a growing share of advertising budgets is allocated to online media, and that effect is certainly felt in the print world, especially by daily newspapers. Why wait a day if you can read the news right now, as it happens? The internet is a revolution, influencers are the side effect.
The Zeit article also raised a couple of interesting points, but on the whole I find it rather disappointing. There are so many positive examples out there which could have helped to balance out the picture, like DariaDaria’s work, or Lisa’s political and social activities.
It would have been entirely justified to criticize influencers for using so much of their reach for advertising purposes, and so little of it to champion social projects, for example. But this form of criticism did not take place. There is nothing wrong with questioning, and there’s nothing wrong with drawing a negative conclusion. No one is forced to like influencers, be it the concept itself or the work that individual influencers do. But I would have expected a constructive approach and a more balanced picture that shows more than just one perspective. I would have expected the journalists to dig a little deeper.
And the article in Die Zeit was not the only text that upset me recently, FAZ published a scathing piece of its own:
The article about Chiara Ferragni’s pregnancy is inflammatory from the beginning to the end. Her motherhood is portrayed as a calculated marketing opportunity. It is implied that her pregnancy is the result of greed and narcissism, and her way of handling social media is harshly criticized. But Chiara only continued to do what she has been doing for years: she documented her daily life, which at some point included her pregnancy. Her feed did not consist merely of perfect pictures, it included the tears of a mother to be.
You could call it authentic. Isn’t authenticity the one attribute that is always considered lacking in influencers? When the most famous fashion blogger posts images from her daily life, she lets us peek into a mirror showing her personal reality. Even if her average day is far more glamorous than ours, showing it in a less idealized way also doesn’t seem to silence her critics.
‘Everything is documented, from tears of exhaustion during child-birth (even then Ferrangi’s flawlessly varnished red fingernails claw their way into the foreground of the picture) to exhausted bliss after the birth, when dad, mini-me and a salad spend their first hours together.’
‘With unwavering commitment, when Ferrangi became pregnant, she started alternating posts of risqué lingerie pictures with the perfect natural curve of her belly, in which her little mini-me was growing. One particularly popular motive: the proud dad kissing the baby belly. Not only does he enjoy doing that without a shirt on, it seems he’s up to the task pretty frequently.’
‘In truth, the reproductive act, the creation of a little me, is driven by narcissism: both are already capitalizing on their unborn child – after all, it is another fabulous version of themselves.’
Leave me speechless.
Dear Johanna Dürrholz, I have a few questions regarding your article:
1. Why is it so hard to imagine that a woman in her 30s chooses to have a baby for reasons other than greed for profit?
2. Why are pregnant women not allowed to have manicured fingernails? Are they obliged to let themselves go? Should that decision not be left to the women themselves?
3. What does an imperfect curve of a pregnant bell look like?
4. How many kisses by the father on said pregnant belly to be are allowed?
5. When did having children become a narcissistic act?
The entire article is so cynical that I feel like leaving it at this point.
The old saying comes to mind:
What Susie says of Sally, says more of Susie than of Sally.
I am genuinely disappointed to read such a text in FAZ. I don’t get annoyed by what passes for articles in Bild (a large German boulevard newspaper) anymore, because I know what to expect (ironically, Bild is actually doing a relatively decent job in their representation of influencers), but I would have expected so much for from papers of the stature of Die Zeit and FAZ, both of which I read and am a subscriber of. I am genuinely disappointed.
And just so I make myself clear, it is not my intention to slate the journalism of Die Zeit and FAZ in general. They are both major papers, and the quality of articles necessarily depends on the individual contributors. But in this particular case I would have hoped for a more balanced approach.
I am by no means expecting hymns of praise, but I would have loved to see a fair and objective engagement with the subject, one in which not all influencers are lumped together. I’d have loved to read a text that digs deep into the what influencers do. Criticism would have been welcome, if the drive would have been an honest search for answers, with openness for eye-level discussion. For a peaceful coexistence. I am open to that, and I am sure many of my colleagues are as well. Let us start a dialogue!