Jim Zumbo – object lesson for bloggers

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This is not about guns or gun ownership. It is a tale about the power of blogging and what happens when you use your online publishing power unwisely.

Jim Zumbo was one of the "good old boys" of hunting. He was a well-respected writer, a life-long hunter and wrote an incredibly popular column for Outdoor Life until he revealed how out of touch he had become with his audience of hunters and gun owners.

On Friday, February 23, 2007, Jim wrote an article on the Outdoor Life website in which he categorized a large segment of his readership as "terrorists" because they enjoyed the use of semiautomatic weapons, which he called "assault" weapons. He apparently viewed his choice of bolt-action rifles as the only manly way to hunt. As of that Friday night he was employed by Outdoor Life and was the spokesperson for Remington Arms. The original article has been removed, but you can use Google News to find all about it.

Without going astray on classes of weapons, I’d like to point out that this was viewed as a betrayal on the large number of readers who own weapons that fire each time the trigger is pulled. These semiautomatic weapons have been common since the 1950’s and have been used for hunting or protection in one form or another since then.

Jim Zumbo’s elitist views on the subject of guns based on their appearance was made worse by the fact that gun control legislation is in the works and his words could give the anti-gun crowd another tool to use against legitimate gun ownership.

The number of angry comments on the Outdoor Life site was already in the thousands when I saw it Sunday. The anger was directed at Zumbo, but there was also some hard questions for Remington and Outdoor life as to whether they supported Zumbo’s views.

By Monday morning, Remington’s main web page was altered to announce the canning of Jim Zumbo. Gun enthusiasts all across the net announced their intention to buy Remington products in support of the company’s actions.

Today, Outdoor life has removed all of Jim Zumbo’s articles and there is a tactfully written notice of his resignation titled Outdoor Life And Jim Zumbo Part Ways.

It took Jim only three days to slide from the top of the trade to being out on the street, all because of what he had published on his blog. Ouch!

Now, before anyone hyperventilates about guns being bad, or necessary, I’d like you to consider the effect of any blogger with a following deciding that he or she would like to let it all hang out about those of their readers who don’t seem to measure up in some way.

Creating imaginary differences has always been the work of petty tyrants. "Life would be so much better without those Liberals, or Conservatives, or Hippies, or old people…you fill in the rest."

Tyrants and politicians can make this game work for a while, because there are always some people who will believe that their troubles are caused by others.

For bloggers, firing up your readership about an issue can backfire badly. If you work for someone else, it doesn’t MATTER that your blog is private. People will associate your words and feelings with those who employ you and it will be very bad for their business. If they are smart, they will fire you and move on.

Jim Zumbo still has his books and his website and his most loyal followers, but his credibility has taken a terrible hit in the general gun owning community.

It didn’t help that his apology was seen as a defensive move and not as a sincere action. He may still redeem himself, as there plenty of people who are willing to help him rehabilitate himself as an authority, but his actions will be closely scrutinized for years to come. He will have to come up with a major amends project in order to put this behind him.

I hope he makes it. He has become a sobering object lesson for all bloggers. Don’t mess with your readership!

Kimber has the final word:

You can mess with your own readership all you want, just don’t mess with your boss’ readership.

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0 Responses to Jim Zumbo – object lesson for bloggers

  1. Mark says:

    Any link to the original article which started this? I do not see it on JimZumbo.com.

    I don’t know much about hunting, but I can’t imagine anyone hunting deer with an AR-15. Besides, most states have magazine limits for hunting rifles and shotguns. Most people I know who own or collect military style weapons shoot them in a range, at paper targets, and use a more traditional hunting rifle for deer.

    For the most part, the big hunters I know are not military gun collectors, and the military gun collectors I know are not hunters. Similarly, most NRA members I know are gun collectors, not hunters. I do know one or two exceptions to this, but they are rare.

    This whole dust-up seems strange.

  2. Mark,

    As I stated in my post above, the original article was removed. Here is an excerpt of that article. Draw your own conclusions:

    Jim wrote:
    “I call them “assault” rifles, which may upset some people. Excuse me, maybe I’m a traditionalist, but I see no place for these weapons among our hunting fraternity. I’ll go so far as to call them “terrorist” rifles. They tell me that some companies are producing assault rifles that are “tackdrivers.”

    Sorry, folks, in my humble opinion, these things have no place in hunting. We don’t need to be lumped into the group of people who terrorize the world with them, which is an obvious concern. I’ve always been comfortable with the statement that hunters don’t use assault rifles. We’ve always been proud of our “sporting firearms.”

    This really has me concerned. As hunters, we don’t need the image of walking around the woods carrying one of these weapons. To most of the public, an assault rifle is a terrifying thing. Let’s divorce ourselves from them. I say game departments should ban them from the praries and woods. ”

    On reading this again, I am reminded of the song, “Ya Got Trouble” from the Music Man, where Meredith Willson convinces his listeners that billiards is a gentleman’s game while pool leads straight to the Devil.

  3. Kimber says:

    You can mess with your own readership all you want, just don’t mess with your boss’ readership.

    There’s a reason that mags have an editorial staff. Unfortunately blogs don’t usually have one.

  4. RichW says:

    OK, Outdoor Life aside, the guy still knows hunting guns. We’re in a world where narrowcasting pays – methinks he’ll bounceback, albeit with a smaller niche of more hardcore, traditionalist hunters.

    The question is whether doing that niche is as profitable. I don’t see a reason why it couldn’t be.

  5. Mark says:

    David,

    Thanks.

    Jim’s comments seem to me a reasonable statement. I don’t understand the fuss.

    I do take exception with the term “terrorist rifles”, unless Jim is some kind of anarchist who thinks the local SWAT team or the U.S. Army are the real terrorists. But I understand his point. They are not hunting weapons, and except for the Biathlon, they are not sporting weapons. (That latter comment is to make the point there are ALWAYS exceptions.)

    Anyway, throwing an occasional fireball into the blogosphere is not necessarily a bad journalistic idea. It can add spice to an otherwise dull dish. Kind of like the vocal variation Toastmasters’ champions to keep listeners engaged in a speech.

    My advice to those who are offended by Jim: Lighten up!

  6. Julia says:

    Whilst I agree that the paper has a duty to ‘edit’ the articles that it publishes if it feels that they are detrimental to its reputation I can’t help but feel that tip-toe’ing around a blog readership’s sensitivities defeats the point of a blog as a ‘space in which to publish personal opinions and have a voice”, unless the purpose of the blog is self-promotion and financial gain which, sadly many seem to be these days, rendering them less-than-blogs

  7. Greyfox says:

    In Virginia an AR-15’s load (.223caliber/5.56mmNATO)is not a legal cartridge for whitetail.
    On same note; since when are steel penetrating rounds used for hunting game?

    Just had to ask that.

  8. David:

    I wrote a column defending Jim’s point of view Tuesday in Capitol Hill Blue and the column drew 230 comments, mostly negative, before we closed off comments and directed readers to our bulletin board Tuesday night. Assault-style gun owners are a vocal bunch and the NRA got into the fight as well to add fuel to the fight.

    As a hunter, I also see no valid reason to use an AR or similar assault-style weapon for hunting and while I don’t support a legislated ban on sale of the weapons, I think Virginia is right to ban use of the .223 loaded cartridge for whitetail deer. Such ammo has no place in sport hunting. And while I own enough weapons to start a small war, you won’t find any assault-style weapons in our gun safe.

    Hope you and Gretchen are feeling better.

    Doug

  9. Steve says:

    The type of gun does not define a terrorist, a person defines a terrorist. If a bill is to be passed it should be based on wether or not that person should own a “assualt rifle”. People need to realize that a gun of any make is not a threat until put in the hands of a wrong person. As far as hunting purposses the smaller cal. that the hunter uses the better of a shot has to be made. To ban certian callibers from hunting is stupid. The AR is a great gun and has its place in hunting. I urge everyone to stand up for the right to use whatever gun they want to hunt with.

  10. I have no intention of weighing in on the issue of guns and Second Amendment rights, nor on the appropriateness of using assault rifles for hunting deer. I am far too clever for that. Emotions run high and invective runs far whenever a gun issue moves center stage. To use a Cooper Anderson line (reporting from the heart of darkest Africa), it is just as easy to run into a bullet as to run away from one. Best to lie low.

    I cannot, however, abide the hypocrisy, insincerity and generally disingenuous tone of both the Outdoor Life and Remington press releases.

    Both begin by acknowledging Mr. Zumbo’s right to hold and express his opinions. Outdoor Life Editor-in-Chief Todd Smith writes: “We respect Mr. Zumbo’s First Amendment right to free speech.” Says the Remington Arms Company release: “Mr. Zumbo is entitled to his opinions and has the constitutional right to freely express those opinions.” They say what they say and then they do what they do, which is obviously another matter entirely. Mr. Zumbo is cut down and cut off by both for having dared to express opinions that are counter to their own and very particular best interests. They trample the First Amendment (in which lies the very soul of the Constitution) to ostensibly protect the Second.

    It is, I suppose, laudable (if not predictable) that both Outdoor Life and Remington Arms stand proudly for the Second Amendment, this being the one amendment (of the two they invoke) that they DO actually believe in. It is not so commendable that both enterprises do their invoking in the context of hunting, something the Bill of Rights never intended. Or that Outdoor Life inanely claims, in its citing of Second Amendment rights, that said rights “do not make distinctions based on the appearance of the firearms we choose to own, shoot or hunt with”.

    Consider instead that this whole issue has nothing to do with the Second Amendment in the first place. After all, both Outdoor Life and Remington Arms very correctly acknowledge that Mr. Zumbo also believes in its principles, that he is “a lifelong hunter” (Remington Arms), and that he has been a “lifelong advocate for hunters and hunting rights (Outdoor Life).” Even if they believe that they are more honest and diligent in their advocacy, even if they are determined to show that they can raise the Second Amendment flag higher and wave it harder than the faithless Mr. Zumbo, ultimately they can find nothing in his contentious post that actually opposes the letter or even the spirit of Amendment II.

    The actions they have taken to their eternal discredit were solely to protect and, hopefully, boost their respective franchises. They found a fulcrum they could use to leverage and expand their customer base. “We should strive to utilize this unfortunate occurrence to unite as a whole”, writes Remington’s CEO Tommy Millner. “We appreciate the comments we’ve received from our loyal readers about this matter and encourage them to continue to correspond with us”, writes Outdoor Life’s Todd Smith.

    These two, hiding behind the Second Amendment, needed no guns of any type in effecting their assault on Mr. Zumbo’s reputation and the dismemberment of his career.

    All this from people who say that he “has been a good friend” (Outdoor Life) and “a respected writer” with whom they have had “a long-standing relationship”. With friends like this…

    Mr. Millner and Mr. Smith are hardly ‘sportsmen’. They are hypocrites and their actions the height – or, more appropriately put – the depth of hypocrisy.

  11. Nathan Shufelt says:

    It’s a sad day in the world once again. Someone saying someone is a criminal just because he has the right equipment to do the job. If that is the case I must be a sexual predator just because I have the sex orgins and read Playboy. Does this mean all women are prostitutes? They must be if they show any skin or dress up in tight clothing?
    I hope future writers think a little harder before they spit words out that could hurt more, than do any good.
    Nate

  12. Eric Murinko says:

    We have to remember that there are opinions on both sides of beliefs. Opinions must be heard and respected. My feeling is that we don’t have to agree but atleast respect others opinions. I am a long time hunter/shooter and use firearms of all kinds. Wether sport or hunting no one should take those rights against us but I do beleive people can be labled as hypocrites for bashing someones opinion on a level like this. We need to remember what Jim has done for our sport and not let the media take this to negetive level. As for Ar type riffles I have several, and a fun sport they are to shoot and target practice with, for hunting my opinion is the same. But they are 2 different catagories. Lets remember if we didnt have opinions from both sides there would be no middle lets all have the respect for both opinions and come up with a meet in the middle resolution. Thanks Jim for all your knowledge and writings, press in and look forward to seeing your writings in the future.

  13. Kirk says:

    I just stumbled upon this late in the game. To answer those that feel and AR-15 is not used in hunting I completely disagree. Ever heard of Varmint hunting?
    I have an extremely accurate AR-15 that rivals my Remington 700 in accuracy and is more fun to shoot. Mr. Zumbo may be an expert when it comes to big game but knows little about the world I live in where small calibers are the the bullet of choice.

  14. Warren says:

    Irecently read an article in a hunting magazine regarding Jumbos article and this is the first I seenon the web(I’m not a great web fan). We need to respect others opinions though they may not be our own. I’m sure Jumbo does not agree with every opinion he reads or hears, but I don’t recall those whom opinions he doesn’t agree with getting fired or kicked out of the local gun club or hunting organization. “A shut mouth gathers no foot” applies to us all.

  15. Warren,

    Your comment, “A shut mouth gathers no foot” is right on target.

    Jim Zumbo learned the hard way that you don’t cause your sponsors to lose customers.

    His opinions if expressed in private would have not caused a ripple. When he put them on the Internet where anti-gun groups could use them to push for more restrictive laws, he alienated his readers and endangered his sponsor’s business.

    What you say on the Internet stays there forever.

  16. Chris Williams says:

    Frankly,

    AR15’s are used for hunting – hunting men. If they are good enough for that, why are they not good enough for a game animal? With 77gr Black Hills ammo they can be extremely effective at either (as our US SF guys can attest to with the MK262 Mod1 Ammo they are now using which is manufactured by Black Hills). Secondly, Lest everyone forget, the right to bear arms had little to do with hunting, and much to do with guarding against the tyranny of government.

    “The advantage of being armed . . . the Americans possess over the people of all other nations . . . Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several Kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” (James Madison, author of the Bill of Rights, in his Federalist Paper No. 46.)

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