A Challenge to the Diva’s Approach to Blogging

Below is a slightly-shortened note from a reader, questioning the way I write this blog and suggesting a more subjective and passionate approach. My reply will be included in the next posting, because of space limitations here. The writer, Vicki Campbell, said she wanted to open the topic up for discussion publicly.

Claire, we’ve never actually met, but you’ve been asking for support and feedback, and I’d like to offer some. I received my MPA in Emergency Management a while ago, have been deploying nationally with the Red Cross for about 8 years now, and also gone on to do further grad work in disasters and human rights, and relief and recovery/reconstruction issues and economics, etc. I’ve been following your blog for awhile now, and I have to say, with all due respect, I have honestly felt much more disappointment in than support for it , for several reasons.
(1) There’s really not much to your blog but a lot of links to articles elsewhere, that are at least as often as not hardly the better ones on the subject. People don’t read expert blogs to get primarily nothing but simple links to go elsewhere to read entire articles or reports or whatever; they read them to get a summary, analysis and no-nonsense, cut-to-the-chase commentary on them, or on a topic, or or a piece of news, etc.- and there’s usually nothing close to that in your blog. Linking to relevant material elsewhere is just for reference and backing comments and analysis up – it’s not supposed to be the main point or substance of a post. And people don’t start blogs to make money – they start them because they’re driven by and passionate about their subject and the issues surrounding it, and have a frame of analysis and perspective that they feel is important to be put out there and be heard about. In turn, those blogs are comparatively popular, and useful, and as I understand it, do in fact eventually make a little money, etc. But again, I don’t find any of that anywhere in your blog posts almost ever. In fact I almost spilled my coffee yesterday when you actual made a very mild statement ever so slightly suggesting that the bad
location of the Texas fertilizer plant explosion might have something to do with lax regulation, and might be “tragic.” (Ya think?) And you did it in a very casual, off-hand way, linking to and leaving others to make the actual real points, and sounding yourself fairly detached, rather than like the issue was important or indicative of anything larger that actually mattered and needed to be addressed or changed.

(2) You almost never seem to focus properly or proportionally on what really matters about disasters – which is of course not the disasters themselves, but the actual people affected by them – and you’re hardly alone in that. For me, it is the human dimensions of every aspect of disasters, and emergency management more generally, that is what is both most interesting and immeasurably more important about the subject and all of its many, many attendant aspects. It has really saddened me to see you seem to follow right along with the hyper-male-dominated field of ours in all but never uttering a word about the very real and often massive human impacts of the social, economic and political nexus of issues surrounding every phase of emergency management policies and processes – often ESPECIALLY in relation to disaster recovery.

Whether its the appallingly discriminatory and otherwise incompetent recovery process that unfolded after Katrina, or the inexcusable lack of any response to and effective abandonment of thousands of elderly, disabled, and otherwise especially vulnerable populations in lower income and minority communities and housing projects all along the northeast coast in the wake of Sandy, or the unbelievably irresponsible state oversight of the location and fraudulent mismanagement of the fertilizer plant in TX right next to some of the most vulnerable populations in that area – the abject silence on the part of supposed EM “professionals” or otherwise self-proclaimed disaster experts who have gone before me about these things as well as so many other issues unfolding all the time regarding real or potential disasters has absolutely shocked me, and left me feeling almost foolish for taking the profession as seriously as I did when I went into and began studying it. Climate change, disaster capitalism, nuclear power, FNSS issues, poor to non-existent mass care planning and management, utterly uncontrolled growth and development, as well as increasing deregulation of an ever growing number of ever more hazardous industries, the alarming militarization of emergency management overall, and yes, terrorism, and the failing neo-liberal economic context underlying all of this, amongst many other topics all raise issues incredibly important to our society and that can and has had a dramatic impact on many people’s lives, as they potentially provide both cause and context for increasing risks of hazards
and subsequent disaster events. Emergency Management professionals of every stripe – and recovery professionals in  particular to my mind – should be fighting to be at the very center of discussing these things, widely and loudly, and generally having a helluva lot to say about all of it. But instead there’s pretty much just dead silence from almost every corner of the profession, for all intents and purposes – and that silence and general passivity in no way reflects the professional obligations and responsibilities of emergency managers as I was taught them – not by a long shot.

And I don’t see anything different here in your blog, Claire. I mean, lets just take the 2010 Haiti earthquake for instance. It was one of the worst disasters on record anywhere, and the only disaster in human history to effectively destroy the capital of a entire nation, etc. As an EM professional, I was not only naturally concerned and interested, but felt an obligation to learn about and follow it, and stay informed about it – especially given its exceptionally close proximity to the U.S., as well as
the long and very destructive history of U.S. intervention in Haiti, and the fact that both U.S. disaster management and U.S.AID international disaster assistance norms and policies will probably shape the disaster’s aftermath more than any other. As a result, I’ve watched, as appalled as much of the rest of the world has been, as the disaster-after-the-disaster reconstruction effort unfolds down there. In a nutshell, Haiti is “disaster capitalism” laid bare, for all the world to see – and its not just what happens “over there” – its also what happens after any major disaster here as well – and its a very poor and certainly abusive substitute for an even half-serious approach to disaster recovery. One woman to another, I’d wondered what you, as a supposed recovery expert, had to say about it all – and was very disappointed to find that you basically have not much of anything to say about what is widely considered to be possibly the worst sham of a recovery effort of all time. That may be your idea of a “Recovery Diva” – but it is definitely not mine. It also in all honesty does not make me want to hire you as a staff or research assistant.

12 thoughts on “A Challenge to the Diva’s Approach to Blogging

  1. This is not a competition. I’m a fan of Claire Rubin’s work, as my students have been. Enough said. However, for someone to openly criticize in the manner presented here, I find it unprofessional. Regardless of advanced study, the critic has something to learn about diplomacy and respect. You started the fire; Claire simply shared it.
    Personally and professionally, I have found this blog to be of great assistance, keeping me alerted on issues of great importance. It is a catalyst for further investigation, not the final authority. Again, not a competition; just a dialogue better suited for a personal meeting.

  2. Here in the NY Sandy JFO, we federal agencies who are working to implement the National Disaster Recovery Framework have been getting value from the Recovery Diva for almost six months. Her blogs are often redistributed in our internal recovery media monitor to the six constituent Recovery Support Functions of housing, infrastructure, health and social services, natural and cultural resources, economics, and community planning and capacity building. These coordinators often redistribute to their federal, state, local and non-governmental partners. The Diva has helped to shape our interagency Recovery Support Strategy, and we are appreciative and grateful.

    Ken Curtin
    Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator
    DR 4085 NY

  3. Hi all. I’ll respond to people’s comments later this evening when I have more time, but I really feel the need to correct Claire’s somewhat striking mischaracterization in her intro about what I said, which is unfortunately reflected in how off-point some of the responses are. I in no way either said or somehow think Claire or anyone else should be more “subjective” or “passionate” either one on an expert blog, nor did I suggest any such think – or would ever have. That’s just foolish, and silly, and again, dead wrong, and doesn’t have anything to do with my comments. My one small point about expert blogs usually being started by people passionate about their particular subject was meant to highlight a main driver of one of the main characteristics of expert blogs (at least ones that have much support) – and that’s having the interest and energy to offer up much more serious, rigorous, comprehensive individual content and analysis than Claire’s certainly has. That doesn’t have anything to do with being “subjective” vs “objective” (seriously???????). I’m thinking of the major expert blogs on the net; esp. the ones that really pioneered the blog format – like Juan Cole, Brad DeLong – I could come up with a long list. But they’re highly respected, productive experts in their own right and in their own fields, and usually in academia. They offer lots of very informative news, resource and analytic links of all kinds all as part of their ongoing research, exploration and analysis of whatever their chosen topics at hand are, and their blog offerings could hardly be primarily characterized as subjective rantings – and, again, that’s hardly anything I suggested that Claire or anyone do.

    Further, my comments were obviously not primarily about blogging styles, Claire’s or anyone else’s. They were obviously meant to point out how what I felt was the lack of serious, pertinent expert content on this blog (and I don’t just mean original analysis and commentary, although that’s part of it) is indicative of a much larger problem regarding the overall silence and lack of relevancy and engagement about the many very, very serious disaster-related issues facing us coming from the EM field and professionals more generally. And I certainly stand by that.

    Also, just for the record gang, I have a terminal grad degree in emergency management, and I hardly need to be told who Claire Rubin is, for goodness sakes. If anything, I’d be willing to bet I’ve read more of her work more thoroughly than many people posting here, and that awareness was probably part of my underlying disenchantment with the strikingly acritical nature of her blog, given the severity of our shared context – and I make no apology for saying so.

    • I read the entirety of both your posts. I don’t agree with your substantive criticism, but that is beside the point. The tone of your attack on Claire, as well as the others who have posted here, is completely inappropriate, especially for a public forum.

      • What’s completely inappropriate is characterizing me as “attacking” people, when I’ve obviously not come close to doing any such thing to anyone – although leveling such a clearly exaggerated accusation at me certainly probably constitutes doing so on your part. I mean, good grief…. I have expressed my respect several times directly to Claire, although she omitted that in the ending of my original post to her.

  4. Whether this (or another) blog forum needs a more critical edge may be a worthy discussion topic. Back-handing the Diva to make this point is FAR from the appropriate path to take.

    I hope Ms. Campbell can meet the Ms. Rubin in person sometime (soon) to appreciate the professional approach Ms. Rubin brings to her work, her inherent kindness when engaging colleagues, and willingness to engage critical thought on a variety of EM topics.

    Thanks for the blog, Claire — I’m happy with it as is. If an EM blog forum with a more critical edge were to emerge from Ms. Campbell’s post, I suspect I might follow it as well, IF the critical thoughts were to be offered in a polite and professional manner.

  5. I also agree with the comments above and feel Ms. Campbell’s critique was misdirected. I do not disagree with her frustration with the way post-disaster work is done…indeed, I appreciate her passion. Yet, I have never looked to the Diva’s blog to critically engage the spectacular breadth of issues mentioned.

    As noted above, I think of the blog as a filtered synthesis of good information and sources. Claire has nearly three decades of experience in the field, is known as a top-scholar, has written extensively on recovery, and works in D.C. She has connections in non-profit, for profit, and government networks and professional relationships throughout the world. As a recent PhD and assistant professor, I wish there was a “diva” in all of the subject areas I work in.

    Thanks Claire for all of your hard (and volunteer) work maintaining the blog.

  6. Claire:-
    Kudos for printing Ms. Campbell’s concern. One can wax indignant over perceived injustices, OR one can try to get the best info about what’s happening and act on it. You help us do the latter; Ms Campbell seems to want more of the former. I’ve occasionally been critical of things you’ve said, and of some of the things you’ve pointed us to, but no one should criticize the highly professional approach you’ve consistently taken with the blog. Harkening back to the days of our youth – “Keep on Truckin’.”

  7. I support Rob, Claire and Chris’s comments. I don’t want someone else’s emotive, agenda-laden commentary on issues. I want the authoritative primary sources the Diva provides. (And I like her short sentences!!)

  8. I completely disagree with Vicki’s comment, for the reasons stated by the two comments above. I have been researching disaster recovery for two decades, and I have lots of my own opinions, and I exchange opinions with colleagues all the time. Opinions are everywhere. But good information, hand-picked by someone knowledgeable, is a valuable commodity, and it is for this that I am grateful to the Recovery Diva.

    That said, pointed and constructive critique is always useful, although it is not what I seek from the Recovery Diva.Vicki obviously has a lot of passion that comes from a lot of post-disaster experience. I would like to see her expand on some aspects of her long list of complaints and identify some specific areas of improvement.

  9. I am submitting this comment as an individual who has worked with Ms. Rubin for many years. I was with the Public Entity Risk Institute when it began supporting Ms. Rubin’s Recovery Diva blog a number of years ago. Ms. Rubin is well known in the disaster community for her exhaustive cataloging of information in the disaster field, and PERI wanted to support her in disseminating information about these resources to the broader community of disaster and emergency professionals. One of the concerns was that there is much knowledge that is generated in the disaster field, but that knowledge doesn’t always make it to the people who need it. The blog was very well received in the disaster community, and Ms. Rubin continued it on her own even when PERI was no longer able to support it, for which we should all commend her. We always appreciate Ms. Rubin’s commentary, but the purpose of a blog is to stimulate a dialogue, including responses from dedicated professionals like Ms. Campbell. It would be great to see more of that.

  10. I understand Ms. Campbell’s concern over a shortage of expert analysis and synthesis, however, I subscribe and support the blog for exactly the reason Ms. Campbell does not — I want links to other documents and articles.

    I, too, desire some analysis and synthesis by Ms. Rubin, but not to the exclusion of quick entries that pass along information. I do not expect every such link or article to be the final word on a topic. I just want to know what is out there for my consideration. I know, Google Alerts and similar services serve up a daily stream of articles, documents and web sites, but some filtering is needed, and the Recovery Diva does that.

    I have been involved in post-disaster work for about 25 years, and value the RecoveryDiva Blog. Improvements are always welcome but I disagree that the fundamental premise of the blog is not on target or helpful.

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