An Interview with Dr. Ellen Brandt

Interviewer: Hi, Ellen. So what’s this I hear about your being a doctor, a lawyer, and an Indian chief?

Ellen Brandt: Vicious rumors! But I am a Ph.D. – from Penn, with a specialty in early American cultural history. Elder lawyers are among my colleagues in my current role as a senior services provider. And it was an interview with a 100-year-old Indian chief – and several other Centenarians – that first got me thinking about elder-oriented businesses and how important they’d be to the future of this economy.

Interviewer: Tell us more.

EB: I’ve been a heavy-volume magazine writer for several decades now. About 20 years ago, I did what was then probably the first major US magazine cover story on Centenarians, folks who’ve reached their 100th birthdays or more. Parade Magazine sent me all over the country to meet these amazing people.

Among them was the 102-year-old Chief of the Crow Tribe, Robert Yellowtail, whom I interviewed in a tribal nursing home in Wyoming. He remembered going to Washington in the early 1900s to cement a treaty with the US government and camping out in a tent and a sleeping bag right on the National Mall.

Chief Yellowtail died before the story was published, so Parade cut out the section about him. But I interviewed many other fascinating folks, like a tiny, very refined 107-year-old African-American lady from Cincinnati, Ella Miller, who strolled her neighborhood on a 3-mile “constitutional” rain or shine, and 101-year-old Philadelphian Julius Adler, a prominent civil engineer, who didn’t retire until age 95 and still dressed formally in suit, vest, and tie to regale guests over sherry in his impressive library.

After this story was published, in the crowd-frenzy of media then and now, I became an instant expert on the very aged and was asked to do dozens of follow-up stories for publications large and small. Centenarians who bowl. Centenarian RV enthusiasts. Centenarians of Boston and Albuquerque and Greater Los Angeles. Methodist Centenarians. Baptist Centenarians. Centenarians Who Skydive – OK, I made that last one up!

Interviewer: And it got you thinking about senior services?

EB: It did. Because I also talked to a lot of gerontologists – academics who study the aged – and geriatricians – doctors who specialize in their care. And every single one of them was concerned back then, 20 years ago, about a coming crisis in coping with our changing demographics, especially as the vast Baby Boom generation – to which we belong – starts to get seriously elderly.

That’s not for awhile yet. Despite misconceptions among some young people and even some members of the media, we Baby Boomers will only turn age 46 to age 63 in 2009.

But the absolute number of extreme elderly is already increasing rapidly among those in our parents’ generation, due to higher fitness levels, better treatment of various medical conditions, and unexpected factors, like increased immigration.

Interviewer: When did you move into the senior services sector yourself, and what are you doing now?

EB: About two years ago, I started a service called Lifestories Limited, videotaping the autobiographies of mostly people over 75, both very healthy seniors and those who are more frail. I’m sometimes hired by my subjects themselves, sometimes by their sons and daughters, and I’ll happily tape in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities.

I’ve tried to position myself as ultra mass-market in this niche. There are PR-people who market do-it-yourself “kits” – essentially scrapbooks plus lists of questions – at the very low end. But if you can tape your parents yourself, you don’t need a “kit.”

Then there are the wedding photographers, almost all without skills as either historians or journalists, who charge many thousands of dollars for videotaped chats with their subjects – extremely pretty but sorely lacking in substance.

I believe I charge an exceptionally reasonable price, which nearly anyone can afford, for a full videotaped autobiography, the end product being a one-hour DVD with 20 copies included in the package. I also tape married couples and groups of brothers and sisters.

Interviewer: Has the more traditional senior services community embraced your concept?

EB: They have. I’ve made many “friendly colleagues,” as it were, among social workers, nurses, assisted-living managers, nursing homes owners, physicians, and elder law attorneys. One of the most prominent elder lawyers in the country has just hired me to videotape his mid-80s Mom and Dad in Florida.

I’ve also established a periodic “history seminar” geared to folks over 80, which I’ll be presenting as a program for all kinds of senior residences, churches, and synagogues.

And I’m working on a program for mortuaries, sort of a “Lifestories After Death,” in which relatives and friends of deceased loved ones, with a clinical psychologist present, reminisce on videotape as part of the bereavement and healing process.

Interviewer: I hear you have dreams of a Senior Services Empire.

EB: Well, I was Imperatrix (Empress) of my high school Latin Club! If I can get some venture capital or big chain backing, I do have ambitions to move considerably beyond what I’m working on now.

I recently wrote a story called “Summer Camp for Seniors,” with perfectly true anecdotes about how dismal the average “enrichment” – i.e. activity – program roster is at even the most chichi nursing home or assisted-living site. Retired teachers and doctors and lawyers and small business owners – people certainly worthy of everyone’s respect – are essentially treated like kindergarteners, herded into endless games of Bingo or balloon volleyball or taken on exciting field trips to Red Lobster or Dollar Tree Stores.

The story, which I expect will get widely reprinted, has garnered uniformly favorable comments from professionals and residents’ children alike.

As for residents themselves – they’re not encouraged to use computers! In many cases, sites actually ban their residents from having even personal computers, as if any exposure to the Big Bad Outside World would somehow decrease the ridiculous amount of control some site managers wish to maintain over their aged clientele.

Interviewer: That’s absolutely incredible.

EB: It is. But to an entrepreneur, an unmet need means an unmet opportunity. I intend to try to get backing for a turnkey management company which will come in and handle all of a site’s activities, including computer and fitness activities – virtually everything except food service, nursing, and social work.

I think a competent, well-capitalized management firm could handle things better, more efficiently, and even cheaper than what is in place now.

Interviewer: How so?

EB: Just on the staffing front, there is now an extraordinary labor pool of very well-educated, sophisticated, and experienced academics and other top-flight professionals who are either recently retired, unemployed, or under-employed.

At the same time, assisted-living, independent-living, and other elder sites more or less always have extra – sometimes a lot of extra – space on hand.

Through my company, you could have – instead of the junior-college-trained “recreation” majors who typically handle activities now – former college professors or high-school principals or senior teachers taking over these slots.

To entice them, you would offer an on-site apartment and full board for them and their trailing spouses, plus maybe a company car, which would allow you to pay far lower salaries than you probably pay the unqualified recreation directors you have on-site now.

These sophisticated, superbly-educated women and men would be trained by us to take advantage of the latest research on the elderly intellect and how to stimulate it, on lifelong learning, and on physical fitness. We would work to establish close links for each site with nearby colleges and universities, medical centers, cultural institutions, fitness trainers – you name it! – the resources available in the greater community, whether you’re a rural site or located in a big city.

We’d do a Lifestory videotaped autobiography for every resident, offer frequent guest lecturers and seminar-like discussion classes, and provide computer banks and computer training.

In short, we would strive to turn every senior site we managed into nothing less than a University for Elders.

Interviewer: What an exciting and ambitious concept. But will you face resistance from current sites?

EB: Of course. There always is to new and innovative ideas. But I think there’s a direct parallel to – of all things – the handful of firms which now manage America’s prisons on a turnkey basis.

I clearly remember when the idea of a prison management firm was first being floated twenty or so years ago, when market penetration was essentially zero. Everyone knew that both the Federal government and the states were having problems running their prisons cheaply and efficiently. But there was extreme reluctance to turn them over to outside management.

Well, I now understand that something like 80 percent of all prisons are managed by outside firms on a turnkey basis. I think once the initial resistance is overcome, the concept of allowing outside professionals to manage one’s senior sites will meet with similar success.

Interviewer: You clearly like to plan a few steps ahead.

EB: In a time of rapid change in virtually every sector, I think the true keys to entrepreneurial success are creativity and flexibility.

Interviewer: I think you told us that your career as a journalist represents that.

EB: It certainly represents the strange twists Fate can hand you! My previous writing output had been essentially academic articles for academic journals. But when I moved to California in the 70s, it was the heady Feminist years when every day, another woman seemed to be the first-this-that-or-the-other.

So I conceived a women’s page column – those were the days when every newspaper had a women’s page – called California Woman, where I profiled people like the first woman to manage a National Forest, the first female prison warden in the state – I remember she wore a pink, fluffy sweater – and the first woman to pilot a traffic helicopter for the morning commute.

That was in Los Angeles, and her name was Pamela, a lovely blonde Englishwoman. She took me up with her one morning, and whenever she saw something interesting on the highway, she’d swoop down, happily commenting, “Look at that great accident!” Before this market crash, the scariest experience of my life.

So back to my serendipitous career progression: One of my columns profiled a hotel owner in the Sierra Nevada whose hotel had a resident ghost named George. I got a call from one of the leading supermarket tabloids, possibly the National Enquirer, possibly the Globe, asking if I would write a little story for them – just about the ghost!

I did. They loved it. And to make a long story short, for a couple of years, I became a very high-volume writer for all the tabloids. My specialty, which basically no one else had back then, was finding serious business-oriented articles and turning them into catchy material the tabloids could exploit.

For example, I reported on the very first talking supermarket scanner, at a Ralph’s Supermarket in suburban California. My favorite was “Teacher’s Life Sucked Away By Killer Weed,” which was about an unfortunate victim of an epidemic of water hyacinths crowding an Alabama river.

Serendipity struck when the Executive Editor – second in command – at one of my tabloid clients was named Editor-in-Chief – first in command – at a major women’s magazine. He needed someone to do a weekly consumer finance column, a weekly careers column, and anything else they cared to throw at you.

The magazine in question is the most tabloid-y of the women’s mags, in that it sells primarily at the supermarket counter and is geared to a broad, general audience. But you needed a solid finance and business background to produce the material.

So there I was: a volume tabloid writer, a women’s page newspaper columnist, an Ivy League Ph.D., and someone with corporate financial experience. To be frank, I didn’t have much competition!

Interviewer: Do you have any advice for your fellow Baby Boomers discouraged by the current economic outlook?

EB: Gosh, No! Other than banding together and taking over the Planet again.

Seriously, I think our generation will just lick its wounds, think things over, and start getting very creative again about rebuilding this economy – and our own savings accounts – in ways, shapes, and forms that are better than those that have gotten us into this mess.

I think everyone now acknowledges that an economy that depends too heavily on financial services at the expense of every other sector is not building on a truly solid foundation.

Now we’ll turn to all those other sectors that have been neglected for far too long. I’m concentrating on senior services. Others will help rebuild manufacturing and agriculture and energy and healthcare and education.

And I have no doubt whatsoever that we Baby Boomers are going to completely redefine and reshape what Aging in America is all about.

Interviewer: What about the “Millennials,” recent graduates and new employees, who are starting their careers in a time of economic malaise?

EB: It may actually be a fortunate turn of events. Instead of starting out on safe, pre-ordained career paths based on their college coursework and finding out ten years later they hate where they are, they’re more or less being forced to take longer, more circuitous career paths. That should enable them to explore, to try new things out, to fail and succeed in ways they may not have dreamed of yet.

As they say, You Learn From the Journey. Today’s beleaguered Millennials may be far luckier than they think they are.

About This Publication: This story, In an Economy – And a World – Gone Haywire, was printed at Baby Boomer Knowledge Center on May 9, 2009.

Since I retain all legal rights to the story, I’ve decided to “bring it home” to EllenInteractive.

Readers who enjoyed this story might want to read “Recession? What Recession? Not in the Senior Services Sector.” Please go to: http://wp.me/pycK6-p

Also see “Summer Camp for Seniors” at: http://wp.me/pycK6-t

And for Ellen’s new – and already controversial – series, Baby Boomers-The Angriest Generation, please go to: http://wp.me/pxD3J-3

by Ellen Brandt, Ph.D.

Demographics is Destiny! While other business sectors seem to struggle like 80-year-olds competing in an Olympic sprint, the sector which caters to 80-year-olds – senior services – is accelerating steadily and strongly, way ahead of the pack.

Consider the following:

By 2030, all Baby Boomers (now aged 46-63) will be over 65. The percentage of the US population aged 65 and over will stand at close to 20%, with those 75 and over comprising almost 10% of US citizens.

The chances of becoming disabled increases dramatically with age. For the population 80 years or older, the basic disability rate is a whopping 71%, with 56% described as being severely disabled.

People 65 and over made an astounding 230 million visits to physicians’ offices in 2005, the last recorded data point, plus an additional 16.5 million visits to hospital outpatient clinics and 17.2 million trips to hospital emergency rooms. Over 16% of US GDP now goes to healthcare.

I became part of the senior services sector a couple of years ago, when I established a business called Lifestories Limited to videotape the autobiographies of “ordinary” – actually extraordinary – elders, either living independently or in assisted-living, nursing home, and other healthcare-related venues.

I’ve since branched out with a service called Recollections, conducting periodic generational history activity groups for residents of nursing homes and assisted-living sites, and another called Commemorations, which, in conjunction with mortuaries, videotapes reminiscences of recently-deceased loved ones as part of the bereavement and healing process.

Despite the fact that my business is a bit out of the senior services mainstream, I feel the sector has welcomed me with open arms. Other fields may attract more young employees. But senior services is young in its thinking and its willingness to accept talent and creativity at face value.

That’s partly because there are actual shortages of employees – in some niches, quite serious – throughout the sector. The misconception is that such shortages are occurring only at the entry- or unskilled level. And indeed, basic home healthcare workers continue to be in short supply.

But serious shortages exist at the highest levels, too. There are simply not enough geriatricians, geriatric nurses, geriatric social workers, and academic gerontologists. Even elder law, an often quite lucrative specialty, continues to attract far fewer practitioners than trendy legal specialties like securities law and corporate law.

The senior services community includes all of the above professionals, as well as owners of homecare agencies, government and non-profit aging specialists, geriatric case managers, long-term care insurance and other financial products purveyors, pharmacists, bereavement and hospice experts, and providers of specialty equipment and services geared to the elderly.

What I have found most amazing about this sector, compared to most others, is how cooperatively apparent competitors behave with one another. Homecare agencies routinely refer cases they’re too busy to handle to peers, for instance. And there is extraordinary openness to cooperative joint ventures of every kind.

So Why Are We Still the Rodney Dangerfield of Sectors? Growth, labor shortages, cooperation, openness to innovation. But still, from some, senior services gets no respect!

I think it’s just a matter of time and the recognition of changing demographic realities.

Let me finish with a brief anecdote.

I’m an Ivy Leaguer, and all of the Ivies have been staging near-constant alumni programs dealing with this financial crisis. There’s a pervasive sense of disbelief that our over-dependence on financial services as The Place That Employs The Best and Brightest might finally have come to no good.

I’ve attended a few of these events in order to network, despite the fact that listening to laid-off investment bankers, Wall Street lawyers, and hedge fund managers whine and moan about how they may only be making a zillion dollars a year from now on, instead of the ten zillion they’ve become accustomed to, is slightly surreal.

At one such event, the organizers staged a panel discussion that included a Distinguished – especially in his own mind – Journalist, who continually talked through his nose. When the floor was opened to comments, I stood up and briefly summarized what I’ve said in this piece: That senior services was a vibrant, creative, growing field and that more Ivy job-hunters should consider it fertile ground for employment.

“No, No!” broke in the Distinguished Journalist. “Those jobs are uninteresting and too low-paying, simply beneath the notice of We Who Rule the World.” Or words to that effect.

“But back in the ’70s when we were in school,” I interjected, “they used to say the exact same thing about Computers and the poor, misguided nerds who were pioneers in that sector.”

Well, I just couldn’t convince the Distinguished Journalist. But after the event, everyone crowded around to give me their business cards.

About This Story: Recession? What Recession? was originally printed on March 30, 2009 in the Community Marketing Blog. Although my own circumstances have changed since its original printing – I am now more involved with media ventures than senior services – since I retain the legal rights to this story, I’ve decided to “bring it home” to EllenInteractive.

Readers who liked this story might also want to read “Summer Camp for Seniors” at: http://wp.me/pycK6-t

Also read about Ellen’s idea for a “University for Elders” at: http://wp.me/pycK6-v

by Ellen Brandt, Ph.D

The vast majority of those one meets on the Internet through social networking are sane, well-educated, interesting, and often thoroughly delightful people one would be happy to meet for a hamburger or beer without bodyguards, one’s mother, or the Secret Service present.

But there are notable exceptions.

I’ve had three utterly jolting experiences on-line the past few weeks, and I’d like to tell you about them because a) venting is fun, and b) maybe you’ll tell me about your similar experiences, so I’ll know it isn’t only me. 

One of these experiences involves the Thank You For Clicking! series I wrote for the Community Marketing Blog-Off. I’ll leave it for last.  Another involves an article I wrote for a senior services site, in which the fault lies, in my opinion, with the site moderator.

But let me start with perhaps the strangest of these incidents, because I still don’t know how I might have provoked it, nor what I could have done differently to prevent it.

I don’t know about you, but I have no qualms about inviting someone with an interesting-sounding bio to join my social network. I believe I’m interesting myself, so if they are, too, why not? I feel this way especially about anyone in my sorority or anyone who attended my alma mater.

Well, I’m a Ph.D. from Penn, and I came across the bio of another Ph.D. from Penn, a few years younger than I am, who had recently joined Linked In. What was intriguing to me about this fella was that he had previously worked at one of the preeminent nonprofits studying aging and had a background in gerontological research. I currently run a business in the senior services sector and have also published several articles about this sector.

So as I generally do, I sent him not a final invitation, but a PRE-invitation to join my Connections list: Algernon: “I’d be delighted to have you in my network. Please read my bio and tell me if I might send you an invitation. Thank you.” Ellen

I feel this puts the ball in the other fella’s court, as it were, and is the formula I generally use. Do you see anything disturbing in it? Neither do I.

But Algernon – not his real name – must have, because he wrote me back saying that surely I had not contacted him just because we were both Penn graduates, and what was it about his background that had inspired me to write.

I quickly messaged back just four words, “Obviously, your gerontological background.”

Would you, even on a very bad day, when, say, your house had burnt to the ground, your wife had just run away with your best friend, and your favorite TV show had been canceled, possibly construe the four words “Obviously, your gerontological background” as a provocation and an insult so extreme, they assumed the status of an attack upon your manhood, your citizenship, and the American Way of Life

Algernon did.

He sent me back what can only be described as a screed – an E-mail so long, it would take up four or five closely-typed pages if printed, and so nasty that after I read it, I cried, screeched, threw a shoe at my computer, and went out for a long walk on the beach followed by a lobster dinner.

Algernon described my four little words “Obviously, your gerontological background” as “haughty,” “condescending,” “insulting,” “malicious,” “horrid,” “stupid,” “reckless,”  – and quite possibly fattening. (OK, the last one is mine.)

Not only did they prove that I “felt I was above him,” they clearly showed I had no sensitivity to his innermost feelings and that I was probably a man-hater, a shrew, and maybe a vampire.

Moreover, he said he had showed my four-word note to “various colleagues,” and they all agreed I should be “taken down a notch” and if possible stoned to death, a la Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” 

Since this entire incident transpired via a series of E-mails, without any mediator involved, I felt there was little I could do, other than purge all correspondence with this unusual man from my computer caches, spray my screen with a flowery cologne, and vow never to use the word “obviously” again – Oh, No! I just broke my pledge!

The second disturbing incident I want to tell you about, however, did involve a mediator – and it could and should have easily been prevented

A Genteel, Elderly Gentleman Who Likes to Send Computer Viruses

This incident involved the reprinting of my article “Summer Camp for Seniors.” The story excoriates the incompetence and lack of respect for residents exhibited by some recreation directors in nursing homes and assisted-living sites, who treat elders like kindergarten tots, herding them through endless bingo games, embarrassing sing-alongs, and “fitness” activities like beach-ball volleyball. 

The story is a tad mordant, but hardly shocking, and the vast majority of readers have responded to it warmly, citing their observance of similar practices and their intense dislike of such disrespect towards the elders among us.

The story received a couple of comments that were less than wholly positive, from professional caretakers who cited their experience with frail elderly, who they felt couldn’t cope with a demanding activities roster. These comments were thoughtful and fair, focusing on the ideas in the story and debating the author’s – i.e. my – opinions.

Such debate is always welcome – in fact, necessary – if an article is to warrant lasting attention. Writers love it when their stories arouse enough passion in the “audience” to provoke spirited give-and-take from a group of those who care enough to comment.

Then came  . . . let’s call him “Herbie.”

Herbie claimed to be a 78-year-old affluent gentleman with a 102-year-old mother in a nursing home. He swooped into the Comments section of my article one day, saying “I have so many objections to this horrible article, I can barely organize my thoughts, but I will respond at length in a few days.

Now, I know from years of experience in the world of tabloids, women’s magazines, and “trade” – business and professional – magazines that a “comment” like that just isn’t normal – and I told the publisher of this site as much as soon as I saw it.

Real people with real comments focus on specific things – specific facts or specific ideas – they either agree with or don’t agree with. They tell you why, usually thoughtfully and concisely.

When someone – generally a made-up identity far removed from the commentator’s real identity – makes blanket statements without any specifics about an article – or worse, the article’s author – you almost certainly have a hatchet job on your hands. The faux commentator either has something against the site, something against the author, or – since we’re talking Internet – is a spiteful little hacker out to make trouble.

I have a sixth – or maybe seventh or eighth – sense for these things. I told the publisher of the site that I did not believe this was a person using his/her/its bona fide identity and asked that if any additional comment came into his mailbox, he should at the very least let me vet it before it was printed.

Either the publisher, who is a lovely man, an attorney and construction executive without prior hard media experience, disagreed with my intuition about “Herbie,” or he was – more likely – simply very busy and not sufficiently monitoring what got posted on the site. 

Whatever the reason, a several-paragraph rant from the supposed elderly gentleman came into the Comments section a couple of days later. it was actually well-written, in the sense of being grammatically correct, without any spelling errors. But it made not one concrete reference to the material in the article. Not one! No “I disagree with this point, and here’s why.” No “I think recreation directors do this right and this wrong.” No “if I were running a recreation department, I would do this, that, or the other.

Instead, Herbie’s so-called “comment” trashed the story, then me, in terms without any “anchor” whatsoever – the entire article – no specifics – was “horrible” and “elitist” and “out of touch with what nursing homes are like” and “my 102-year-old mother is in a nursing home, so I am an expert.”

Then he went on to say, “I have read the body of Miss Brandt’s work” – note, not Dr., not even Ms., but Miss – “and it shows that she has no sensitivity for those in nursing homes and should not be writing about nursing homes.”

Now, this is not only silly and malicious, it is ridiculous, because this was the first and only article I have ever written that used the phrase “nursing home” – out of a “body of work” comprising over 3,000 magazine articles in the past 30-odd years. 

Since the vast majority of my “body of work” isn’t easily found in Internet search engines  (like everything from women’s magazines, men’s magazines, general interest magazines, or virtually ANY magazine published over a year or so ago – about which more in a future article), there is no conceivable way “Herbie” could have read the “body of (my) work,” unless he broke into my office after hours and ransacked my files – which I guess is possible, but not likely.

In any case, I was furious that the publisher of the site had allowed this kind of drivel – to my mind, clearly from a faux identity – to appear on his site. I telephoned him, in fact, the minute I saw it. He claimed that the comment had “slipped in by accident” without his knowledge, but that the poster in question was “probably a harmless old crank.”

My gut said differently, and I asked the publisher to remove this “comment,” which I thought slandered my entire reputation, immediately. He agreed to do so. But because of the way the site was set up, with comments made part of the story block, he had to take down the article itself overnight while the comment was removed.

I’m telling you this because of what happened next. That evening, when the story temporarily disappeared, I received an E-mail from “Herbie.” How he got my E-mail address, I don’t know, although I suppose it’s not hard to get. “Ha-ha, Witch,” he charmingly told me. “I got your bleep-bleep story taken down.”

Which in itself would be bad enough. But the minute I opened this delightful missive, my entire computer started doing crazy things, with lights flashing and windows replicating themselves wildly, dancing across my desktop.

I managed to do a System Restore and to send the Evil E-mail to a relative who’s a computer guru, who analyzed it and told me the obvious: that it contained some viral material.

Now, to my knowledge, very, very few Genteel Elderly Gentlemen spend their leisure hours experimenting with computer viruses and sending them to women they don’t know. I have actually never once heard of this pastime being popular among Genteel Elderly Gentlemen. But perhaps I am simply being naive.

The publisher in question had do a security scan of his entire site. I don’t believe he found anything, and “Herbie” disappeared forever.

The third and last disturbing incident I want to tell you about involves the Community Marketing Blog-Off competition, at least indirectly, and once more points out the need for publishers and other site monitors to keep on top of what goes on at their sites.

We Are Blackballing You Because We Don’t Like The Cut of Your Jib, The Color of Your Eyes – Or Possibly Because We Have Tummy-Aches

As part of my successful strategy in the Community Marketing site’s Blog-Off competition, as many of you know, I set up a sort of “pre-Blog Blog” on Word Press to test ten generic headlines of the kinds typically seen in supermarket tabloid publications. I was interested in testing which kinds of sensational headlines received the most page views, the most comments, and the most through-clicks to a series of links, which took people to the Community Marketing contest site, as well as my Linked In profile, a sampler of 50 of my magazine articles, and a recent interview with and about me published at a prominent Baby Boomer site.

I posted the ten generic headlines, which included “Swimming Pool Features Underwater Computer,” “7 Out of 10 Blog in the Nude,” and “Women Want Men Who Smell Like Fresh Peaches,” in both the News sections and Discussion sections of the maximum 50 Linked In Groups I belong to. The headlines were clearly labeled as coming from the Preparing for the Blog-Off blog site, and they had my name and photo attached to them, so anyone who knew me realized they were vetted by me.

My “click through” from Linked In to the “pre-Blog” blog and from there to the Community Marketing site was just superb and played a large part in my winning the competition. And of the nearly 200 comments I received during the contest – 50-plus at the Community Marketing site, 90-plus at the “pre-Blog” blog site, and 40-plus within the various Linked In Groups – almost all were highly positive, relating that people thought the experiment interesting and amusing and that they were impressed with the link-within-link-within-link design I created.

There were a few exceptions, however. In my Senior Services, Sorority, Finance, Marketing, Internet, Venture Capital, Political, and Ivy League Alum Groups, comments were near 100 percent favorable. The only demurrer was a lovely gentleman from Virginia in one of my all-Ivy Groups. He had been impressed by my non-humorous work on the Internet – including the aforementioned “Summer Camp For Seniors” – and said he was dismayed I didn’t choose more “dignified” subject matter for my Blog-Off entries.

I know not everyone is interested in social media analysis – nor for that matter, humor pieces – so I felt his commentary was certainly legitimate and welcome.

The incident that disturbed me occurred within three of the Linked In Media Groups I belong to. I should tell you that I had become very disenchanted with these Groups well in advance of this incident. They tend to be way too large to be managed properly – in some cases, with over 40,000 members. There seem to be no requirements for entry, with rank amateurs who have never published anything nor worked in a media position routinely accepted. And the News feeds, which Group managers can control as they wish, are mostly dominated by Big Media sources, rather than coming from Members themselves, which I as a Member would much more appreciate.  

I am acting on this disenchantment by forming a new Linked In Group called Media Revolution, which will accept only experienced journalists, editors, publishers, and scholars; use only feeds of Members’ own published materials; and focus on serious debate and discussion about the changing Media landscape and how we all can best navigate through a time of sector upheaval. 

But back to my Public Humiliation. It happened in a matter of minutes. I posted “Corpse Found In Internet Guru’s Gym Locker” in the News feed section of a few Media-related Groups, clearly labeled as part of the “Preparing for the Blog-Off” blog site.

It was the fifth of the Faux Tabloid Headlines I had posted, starting with the more outrageous ones, including “Thailand Swallowed By Giant Clam” and “Kinky Sex, Chocolate Truffles, Adorable Puppies.” Readers had begun commenting favorably on the Tabloid Headline exercise, at Linked In and elsewhere, so I thought everyone pretty much knew what was going on.

Apparently not so! Because out of the blue, a young fella from India posted a diatribe saying he had clicked on the “Corpse” headline expecting a real crime story and “How dare I waste his valuable time on a cheap trick that goes against eternal journalistic ethics.”  Since the young fella’s bio lists absolutely no publications nor journalistic experience whatsoever, his concern was a bit surprising, and if clicking on a site you didn’t expect to go to – which has to take all of two-and-a-half seconds – really wasted so much valuable time, how extraordinary to waste more minutes of it typing a several-sentence comment.

The young fella alone didn’t upset me, however. What came next did. Because within a few minutes, three more Group members, who had to have been lurking there waiting for a chance to pounce, came out in rapid-fire succession with escalating rants attacking not the “Preparing For the Blog-Off” site, nor its design, but me personally.

“She is clearly not a serious journalist,” said the first. “Not worthy of a Linked In Writers group,” said the second. “Vulgarly commercial,” said the third. And so on.

This third poster, by the way, is a public relations manager, so aiming the arrow of either vulgarity or commercialism at another writer seems just a tad odd. The other two posters seem to be legitimate science writers, but both eagerly participated in the longest topic discussion I’ve seen at any of the Media Groups, a 60-comment, obviously profoundly “serious” dissertation on “What do you like to eat when you’re writing.

Since to my knowledge, I have not met any of the four people who verbally squashed me, the real reason for their apparent intense dislike could conceivably have been a quip I made on the “What do you eat when you’re writing?” thread. Among the “tofu and bean sprouts” and “clear broth only” posts, I said, “I’m a cannibal.

The saga of the Nasty Four doesn’t end with one Group only, because they quickly migrated to two other Media Groups and began to post the exact same things there. It was clearly a well-coordinated and planned attack on my integrity and character – and when they got to Group Three, I essentially said, “Basta!” and deleted my “Corpse” feed, which in turn deleted THEM.

I’ve never heard from any of the Nasty Four again and sincerely hope I never do. And I’m not sure I blame them as much as I do the Group managers involved, anyway. These comments should have been “mediated” out – i.e. deleted. – before they were printed.

And before you say “Freedom of Internet speech” – sorry, in cases like this I disagree with you. Any site that is mediated is under the discretion of the site manager or publisher. There is absolutely NO assurance that any suggested comment must be posted.

Where an article – or in this extreme case, only an article title! – is the object of commentary, responsible mediators and publishers should allow criticism of the article, its facts, its writing style, its ideas  . . .  all criticism of the actual piece of writing is entirely legitimate, so long as it does not stray into, say, a string of curse words or – I dunno – insanity?

But moving from there to attack the writer’s character or integrity or intelligence or ancestry or right to exist . . .  In a social media Group, yet? Not OK. Very, very not OK.

Beat Me With Palm Fronds, Assault Me With Ripe Tomatoes, Pull Out My Eyelashes One By One

But perhaps I am an abnormally delicate plant, and others enjoy being bent, spindled, and mutilated for no reason whatsoever. (A reference to ancient information processing, which those under 40 will simply not get, in keeping with my Baby Boomer Champion image.)

Tell us what you think.

In fact, please tell us about similar incidents you have experienced – or endured – and how you handled them.

Are the publishers and other mediators of Internet sites falling down on the job and allowing too much hurtful, bullying, not to mention totally insane commentary to be posted?

What further remedies – beyond better mediation – would you propose for social media sites?

And shouldn’t anyone who dares to send a computer virus knowingly to another human being be immediately sent before a firing squad?

We eagerly await your (thoughtful, sweet, sensitive, non-Evil) comments.

I recently repatriated “Summer Camp for Seniors” to EllenInteractive. To read it, please go to: http://wp.me/pycK6-t

And for a humorous story about more! malice on the Web, please read about my determined Twitter Stalker: http://wp.me/pycK6-L

Those who enjoy the “Summer Camp” story might also like to hear about my ideas for a “University for Elders” at: http://wp.me/pycK6-v