Margo Howard: “I have long thought we are Rome..”

Margo Howard is the daughter and only child of Eppie Lederer, who was Ann Landers for 47 years until her death in June 2002. Howard grew up in Chicago and attended Brandeis University. 

Her own newspaper career began at the Chicago Tribune where she was a feature writer and columnist. In 1970, she moved to the Chicago Daily News, from where her column of social commentary, “Margo,” was syndicated nationwide.

In 1977, moving to Los Angeles, she exchanged her newspaper career for magazine writing, becoming a contributor to a diverse group of publications:  The New Republic, The Nation, People, TV Guide, Good Housekeeping, and New York Newsday. Moving to Cambridge, MA. In 1991, Howard wrote a column for Boston Magazine.  At the behest of her former editor at TNR, Michael Kinsley, she agreed to try her hand at “Dear Prudence” at Slate.com, having declined offers to write an advice column for 30 years.

After eight years at Slate Howard moved to YahooNews as “Dear Margo.” That column is syndicated in 200 newspapers, and on-line now at www.wowowow.com.

Howard still occasionally reviews books and writes essays. Her most recent book, “A Life In Letters: Ann Landers’ Letters to Her Only Child” follows an earlier one “Eppie: The Story of Ann Landers,” a family memoir published in 1982.

Howard has three adult children and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband, a retired cardiac surgeon and Chief of Surgery.

.

.

When did you start using Twitter?

I’m not really sure! Maybe a touch less than a year?

Do you use any other social media, Facebook, for example, to connect with readers?

I am not on Facebook or anything else. I wouldn’t have even tried Twitter had not Roger Ebert insisted. We were young newspaper kids in Chicago together (he is younger, let the record show) and his thinking was that it would draw traffic to my home site. I don’t think that happened. For one thing, my tweets are political, funny, and sometimes bawdy – which has nothing to do with my column.

 

How many tweets do you send out, roughly, in an average day?

Who knows? I do it when I’m reading something interesting and want to pass it on, or when something occurs to me that I think is relevant to some issue or conversation. I would guess the number might be a dozen, give or take. And often they are consecutive – as I notice are many people’s.

 

Do you have separate Twitter identities for your personal and professional activities? 

No.

Roughly what proportion of your tweets each day are related to your column, and what proportion are personal/fun/quirky?

I seldom refer my column or my appearances on Twitter. I basically tire of other people promoting themselves, their work, their appearances, so it follows that I wouldn’t do much of that for myself. Only occasionally, when I think something is special, will I mention it in a tweet. People know who I am and where to find me.


Does your organization — or the outlet you write for most often — have a social media policy or any kind of formal guidelines about what you can and can’t do on Twitter?

No. Neither my newspaper syndicate nor wOw has ever mentioned any guidelines or restrictions on what I may or may not say. (Not that it would do any good.)


Talking of what one shouldn’t do on Twitter, you have a column at The New Republic this week on advice for Congressman Weiner.

Do you have any advice for the media who have been covering the story?

I do actually, but it would be like spitting in the wind: ignore the crap. This is what people like, however. It is juicy. It is escapist, in a way, from the serious troubles we are having. The Weiner pathology is but one step away from what I called Celebridrek (also in TNR, a few years ago). He is an elected official; girls with sex tapes are not. Paris Hilton, the Kardashians, et al, are a mystery to me – as is the Tea Party know-nothing, anti-fact, anti-intellectual, angry cohort now loose in the land. 


You write that in the current technological environment, any compromising picture “has the capacity to duplicate itself with the instinct of a rabbit and the speed of light.” Unfortunately, with Photoshop and other techniques, a faked photo can be as damaging as a real one – damage can be done before an explanation emerges. How does someone best fight back against an image that’s spiralling out of control?

Well, if you’re in a certain stratum, you have a PR firm to do this. There is now an on-line company that for a $1,000+ subscription will try to set the record straight. Basically, however, you are screwed, because any explanation – even a retraction – will never reach the numbers of people who saw the original. And the goofs will believe it no matter what the facts are.

  

Do you think a generally declining attention span, combined with a tendency towards prurience as a “traffic driver” make these sorts of stories inevitable? Or is it basically just down to the stupidity of public figures or celebrities?

I think the answer to every part of this question is “Yes.” I have long thought we are Rome.


And do you think we’re just going to see more of these kinds of “scandals” and – crucially – are celebrities able to learn lessons of managing their message?

My dear, celebrities, especially, are slow learners. Many of them get to feel entitled and may not be too swift to begin with. Nothing will stop scandals – if only for the reason that Weiner got stuck: people never imagine these things will go viral. And contrary to what one jerk posted about my TNR tongue-in-cheek piece, even people in their 40s are not all that familiar with the capabilities of tech. Weiner said as much.

The only response I have seen along these lines (which didn’t make a lot of sense to me) is that elected officials now say they will tweet less. Well, if you’re not sexting or sending pictures of your privates, why tweet less? It’s a great political tool, actually – as we’ve seen here and in countries where there are riots against the government/ dictatorship/rulers.


As someone who’s worked extensively both in print and online, what do you think are the most and least beneficial aspects of being on Twitter?

I am pretty much addicted, now, to Twitter. (Thank you, Roger.) What I like about it is that it’s a way of sharing what you’re thinking or reading; maybe a point of view. It’s having an aperçu that strangers read. And the funny thing is that I now feel like some of these strangers are friends. I’ve come to know the avatars and the names of people who engage with me.

The major value, I think, is fast dissemination of news. I covered the first Blagojevich trial, so I follow the live blogger tweeters from the trial ending now. Twitter is, I believe, the fastest way to get anything out.

The downside is that we all occasionally send out nonsense and things probably better left unsaid, or unshared. It is instantaneous, after all – and as we have seen time and time again, once it’s out there, it’s out there. Another negative is that spammers, idiots, the uninformed, and the psychos can all have accounts.


If you appear as a guest on TV or radio, do you tweet details of your appearance ahead of time? Do you ever tweet during the break while you’re on air? 

Never. I let someone else do it if they catch it and like it. I suspect a sense of modesty kicks in here, perhaps from the way I was raised.


Has there been an example of a column theme recently that you know you have covered differently because of the “buzz” on Twitter?

I doubt it. But let me qualify that. All my advice and essays are attuned to current thinking and what’s going on “now.”

 

 

And has there been a column that you have advanced or clarified because of feedback from your readers on Twitter?

That’s hard for me to answer because my columns, both on-line and in newspapers, have a link telling people how they can talk to me – and inviting them to do so. On wOw the comment section is one of the draws. So I do get useful input from readers, one way or the other. The nature of my work is somewhat off the beaten path of reporters or feature writers, in that many of them make it hard for readers to even be in touch with them … whereas I am soliciting questions to do my work.

 

Finally, who are two or three of the most entertaining / informative people – not necessarily other journalists – that you follow?

To be honest, I follow very few people – which someone told me makes me a “broadcaster.” There are a few “civilians” I like to read, but I am such an old bat, having been in the business since 1969, that it’s the news people and the writers I pay the most attention to.

For me, the must-see tweeters are @ebertchicago, @MarcAbrahams @jaketapper.

Now I’ve made a million enemies!


 

 

  1. muckrack posted this