Mother’s Ilk

How Boston became a hub for mommy bloggers, and why they think the rest of the Net should grow up.

Mother's Ilk

Illustration by David Brinley

Four years ago, after untold hours spent grinding out research at MIT and Harvard, Christine Koh made a huge breakthrough. But it wasn’t in a lab; it wasn’t even in her field.

The Boston native had been firmly on a professorship track, finishing up her postdoctoral fellowship in music and brain science, when she suddenly realized academia simply wasn’t for her. Instead, she wanted to write. And what she wanted to write about was raising her new daughter, Laurel.

That same year, Koh founded the blog Boston Mamas as an outlet for her creativity. She filled it with everything she was learning as a new mom—offering product reviews and news of baby-related issues and events—and Boston Mamas quickly caught on with other Hub parents. Her brainchild became a bona fide business. Koh sold advertisements on her homepage, enlisted other mothers as contributors, and began drawing national attention. Last spring the research group Nielsen Online named Koh to its “Power Mom 50” list, ranking her among the most influential mommy bloggers in the country.

But although Koh arguably has attained queen-bee status, Boston’s online parenting community is filled with myriad buzz-worthy sites. According to the Boston-based firm 360 Public Relations, New England is home to more than 200 mommy blogs, many of which have Hub ties. From JPMoms to Cambridge Mom’s Blog to a blog run by the Boston Globe, these sites represent a concentration of maternal multitasking that few cities, if any, can match—and one that begs the question: Why, exactly, do Boston moms have so much to say?

Part of the answer may lie in a statistical quirk. Of all states, Massachusetts has the highest average age of first-time mothers (28), and since 1996 the majority of babies here have been born to women age 30 or older. Factor in Boston’s reputation as a higher-learning mecca, and the picture that emerges is a cadre of college-educated women who have finished their graduate work or established their careers before deciding to have children.

Such women would have the smarts to recognize what readers want in a mommy blog, and the professional savvy to keep their sites afloat. Koh is one of those women; so is Stacy DeBroff, founder of Harvard Law School’s office of public interest advising. After having two kids in her 30s, she left her job to launch her own website, Mom Central; today, the site has amassed a following of more than 21,000 registered users and earned DeBroff a spot on that Nielsen “Power Mom” list.

Laura Tomasetti, who pitches stories to local mommy bloggers as managing director of 360 Public Relations, says that she is floored when she sees many of the bloggers’ résumés. “They have had amazing careers and have an amazing education background prior to having kids,” she says. That kind of maturity and drive, she adds, naturally carries over to their blogs. “When they went down a path of having children and making that life transition, they also made a career transition.”

Given these women’s backgrounds, it’s not surprising they have plenty of opinions to share with local readers. Given that they’re Bostonians, it’s probably not surprising they’re trying to tell the rest of the world what to do, too.

Consider, for example, the online “pay for play” controversy that’s been heating up over the past year. At issue is the tendency of corporations like Procter & Gamble and General Mills, knowing that mommy blogs tend to engender a lot of trust among their readers, to shower writers with free products in the hopes of inspiring favorable reviews. That’s something that raises hackles among local pros like Koh, who blames a new wave of bloggers for “really looking to get into the monetization game and really looking to get stuff out of corporations. It has created a very uncomfortable part of the space.”

Which brings us to the quintessentially Boston—or at least vaguely Puritanical—part of the controversy. In July, Hudson resident Susan Getgood joined forces with three local mommy bloggers to create the website Blog with Integrity. It invites bloggers to sign a pledge to reveal any potential conflicts of interest to their readers, and offers a Blog with Integrity logo for them to post on their sites. The initiative “goes to things like treating other people with respect,” Getgood says, “and taking responsibility for your words.”

Koh loves the idea, and DeBroff (who dismissed one Mom Central blogger for trying to curry favor with businesses) is on board, too. Add in some new pressure from the federal government, which last month established rules requiring online reviewers to disclose when they receive products or money from a company, and you’d think everyone would be signing up for our Yankee moms’ buttoned-down approach to blogging.

*There’s still a long way to go, though. Getgood launched the Blog with Integrity pledge at a national blog conference last summer, and has thus far garnered 2,000-plus signees. Even on the Internet, it seems, a mother’s work is never done.

*This paragraph was updated after the article’s original publication to omit an incorrect number. We regret the error.