March 12, 2006
Liz published this at 4:16 pm
Howie Kurtz writes about the nonflap the NY Times tried to stir up over Walmart and its PR company, Edelman, pitching their spin to bloggers
Whatâ€™s not in dispute is that what was once dismissed as a pajama-clad brigade is becoming increasingly influential, to the point that giant companies have to worry about what they say.
Howie gives the bloggers the Times poked and prodded equal time to tell their stories (which includes the fact that the Times reporter doesnâ€™t understand that a blockquote is our indication of taking an excerptâ€¦ except itâ€™s not something we invented, it comes from academic practices).
Public Relations. It’s called public relations because that’s what it’s meant to do–establish relationships between companies and the public. Walmart needed some. They hired Edelman to help them tell their story by providing press releases. Edelman, as part of their effort, enlisted the help of bloggers to get the Walmart message out. Edelman belives in bloggers as a way of reaching people. In editorial, we call this creative thinking. Good firm, good strategy, good execution. Walmart and Edelman get an A in PR.
At the New York Times, however, they didn’t think of it as PR or as creativity. They were looking for a story–with bloggers involved, maybe a scandal. Would it have been a scandal if the writers were small-town newpaper journalists? I don’t think so. You’ll notice The Times tells the story of one blogger weaving in bits about a second making a pile of details sound representative of a large group–but the size of the group isn’t defined. Then sweeping generalizations come. To quote from the article, Wal-Mart Enlists Bloggers in PR Campaign, written by Michael Barbaro,
But the strategy raises questions about what bloggers, who pride themselves on independence, should disclose to readers. Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, has been forthright with bloggers about the origins of its communications, and the company and its public relations firm, Edelman, say they do not compensate the bloggers.
But some bloggers have posted information from Wal-Mart, at times word for word, without revealing where it came from.
Some bloggers? How many is some? I wonder.
Some bloggers posted them without telling their audience was that a scandal, a mistake,or an innocent lack of knowledge on the part of someone who’s being called an amateur when it’s convenient, but not today?
As a number of people have pointed out, however, bloggers are far from the first people in media to do this. (Dan Gilmor has a good overview of the controversy.) People say all the time that Mainstream Media cover various corporations or government initiatives as if they were just reproducing press releases. What about the Video News Releases, stories planted in the Iraqi press, or a quarter million dollars for favorable coverage of No Child Left Behind?
says Marshall Kirkpatrick in his piece When pitched bloggers go bad: Walmart and the blogosphere
The question is one of knowing intent isn’t it? Knowing intent, in this case, should be considered both on the part of the blogger and on the part of the New York Times reporter–who failed to contact the numerous bloggers who had things to say such as this:
Yours truly is one of the people to which Mr. Barbaro is referring in this last paragraph. I have been “fed” some of these “exclusive nuggets” and have had topics suggested for posting. And though my blog was not mentioned in the Times article, I’d like make to make one thing clear: excluding this one, I have written 12 other posts on Wal-Mart in the last five months. I started writing them long before I knew about or heard from Wal-Mart’s PR firms.
Every one of those posts is original. That is to say, I picked the article, the theme, and everything that was written- every sentence and every word and every typo. I challenge Mr. Barbaro to find even one sentence in those 12 posts that was written first by someone else.
I also have a question or two. How is it that my blog escaped your notice? It is the number one blog in Technorati about Wal-Mart. It has a dozen highly original, detailed, and analytical posts on that firm, each of which averages over 700 words. It’s written by a former MIT professor whose dissertation and first published papers were about information technology in the retailing industry. I ask not out of concern for not having my blog included in the article but because of this: if you missed that, what else did you miss?
– David Starling, The Business of America Is Business
I have to say that the research on The New York Times article leaves a lot out there waiting to be brought forward. The story is much more fascinating than what actually made it into print–just as bloggers are.
We are proud of our groundbreaking work in reaching out to blogs on behalf of our clients and proud of this work for Wal-Mart. I suspect our clients have benefited hugely from insights gleaned from dialogue with bloggers.
Here are three blog postings from people I know and respect discussing the issues raised in the NY Times article:
The first is from Paul Holmes, editor of the Holmes Report, a PR trade publication. The second is from Jeff Jarvis, a widely respected blogger considered a leader in blog standards. The third is from Dan Gillmor, author of “We The Media.” As always, I appreciate your views.
Update: Robert Scoble suggests blogging — not emailing — is the best way to reach bloggers.
THAT’S an example of someone who “GET’S IT.”
Blogger is starting to feel like it rhymes with “second-class” citizen.
Let’s hire Steve Rubel, a VP at Edelman, and ask him to do PR for bloggers as a group. Then the NY Times can write a piece called Bloggers Enlist Bloggers in PR Campaign.
I like the sound of that one much better.
But then I would.
–ME “Liz” Strauss