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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