Bloggers, Flacks, and Media Ethics Redux
Howie Kurtz weighs in on the bloggers and P.R. firms controversy that has the blogosphere (but judging from the dearth of comments, no one else) in a tizzy. He basically agrees with most of the bloggers who have commented on the story that running with stories from P.R. firms is a longstanding practice and not problematic unless one “runs the corporate spin verbatim, without disclosing the source.”
He does make a couple of noteworthy comments about bloggers and media ethics, however. His lede:
I knew a few days ago that the New York Times was planning a piece on big companies like Wal-Mart using friendly bloggers to get their message out.
The reason I knew this, of course, is that some of the bloggers posted preemptive pieces after the paper contacted them for comment. (I have very mixed feelings about that, since no reporter wants to get scooped on his own story because he’s trying to be fair by calling people. Welcome to life in the blogosphere.)
Indeed. If one is going to interview people who publish stories, quickly, on a regular basis then one needs to set forth ground rules ahead of time. For example, John Hawkins frequently does blogger surveys that he intends to post about after a certain deadline. He invariably asks that people refrain from discussing said surveys prior to his publication. So far as I am aware, that request has always been honored.
Kurtz agrees with Steven Taylor as to the real story:
What’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. Dell got tarnished, for example, when it dealt shabbily with Jeff Jarvis over his lemon of a laptop. [Update: Or Will Collier on Ford–and he didn’t even have a blog when he had the problems with Ford! -ed.] And as I reported the other day, the Pentagon has created a unit to seek good coverage and knock down bad coverage among bloggers.
The better bloggers are going to have to figure out their own standards for dealing with corporate and political flacks, and those that blindly carry water for outside groups will probably lose credibility over time. But I expect them to be in the minority.
That’s exactly right. Readers expect political bloggers to be opinionated and partisan but they expect honesty. Frankly, the source of one’s stories is generally not that important. What is crucial, however, is that the views expressed are those of the signed author, not some cause.
There are a handful of relatively prominent conservative blogs whose positions on an issue can always be counted upon to reflect the Bush administration’s view. The party line, rather than the writer’s ideology, are paramount. I have no interest in reading those sites, regardless of whether the propaganda is the amateur P.R. effort of the blogger or a regurgitation of the professional P.R. of party flacks. What’s the difference, really?