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Bloggers and Disclosure

UPDATED

NY Times: Wal-Mart Enlists Bloggers in Its Public Relations Campaign. Under assault as never before, Wal-Mart is increasingly looking beyond the mainstream media and working directly with bloggers, feeding them exclusive nuggets of news, suggesting topics for postings and even inviting them to visit its corporate headquarters. 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.

It should go without saying that the bloggers should make this disclosure, right? No question, the ones who parrot a company line — down to using the company’s words — ought to be more forthcoming about the connections.

It should also go without saying, in that case, that newspapers (typically small ones) should not reprint press releases verbatim or nearly verbatim, at least not without disclosure. Yet some do, and the New York Times rarely (if ever) beats up on them.

And it should go without saying that TV stations shouldn’t use footage from “video news releases” (VNRs) without noting the video’s origins. Yet they do.

Most of all, though, it’s worth noting that people involved with stories, or their paid personnel, constantly talk with pro journalists. Now they talk with interested bloggers and others in the “new media” world. It’s part of the influencing and journalism processes, but it’s getting larger and to some degree messier.

I’d guess that most professionals realize they shouldn’t pass off other people’s work as their own. And the difference between advocacy and straight-up reporting, while sometimes less clean than we might like, is not a total mystery.

I don’t think the bloggers need to say they’re talking to Wal-Mart or its PR people when they make such postings. Journalistic transparency doesn’t have to include listing the people you’ve interviewed, though maybe that’s not such a bad idea to consider. Would that also include the disclosure that we’ve consulted the Web sites of the company or its supporters? Where does transparency end in telling readers/viewers/listeners about our research?

We should also note that the Wal-Mart PR person objected to the bloggers’ actions. That was responsible on his part. In the future when PR folks are asking bloggers for help, they should always make it clear that an outright quote without citation is a no-no.

Summing up: The Times is not making an unfair point with this story. To the extent that the paper now hammers on transgressions among professionals (and it has done so in the past, to be sure) it will be doing its proper journalistic job.

(Note: Richard Edelman, CEO of the PR firm advising Wal-Mart on its strategy with grassroots media, is a member of the Center for Citizen Media’s Board of Advisors. I didn’t contact him before writing this piece. I don’t like Wal-Mart, for many reasons, incidentally, but they have a right to be heard.)

UPDATES:

  • Richard Edelman: PR firms must be very conscious to abide by some very clear ethical standards, so that we do not compromise bloggers. First, we must always be transparent about the identity of our client and the goal of the PR program. Second, we should ask permission to participate in the conversation, and be comfortable with any communication being made public, whether by the blogger or an investigative journalist. We should support bloggers’ transperancy re. the source of their information. Third, we must reveal any financial relationship with bloggers, whether consulting or even reimbursement of trip expenses. Fourth, we must ensure that the information we provide is 100% factually correct and not “spin.”
  • Jeff Jarvis: I think some newspaper ombudsmen should do PR audits of their papers. How many stories come from flacks without disclosure? How much of the substance of stories comes from flacks without disclosure? How many benefits accrue from flacks and companies without disclosure?

11 Comments on “Bloggers and Disclosure”

  1. #1 The Intuitive Life Business Blog
    on Mar 7th, 2006 at 2:08 pm

    Walmart and Edelman PR lead the way on working with bloggers…

    Rather out of the blue a bunch of bloggers are suddenly talking about how Wal-Mart Corporation and its PR agency of record, Edelman, are sharing press releases and other material with selected bloggers. Doubtless the recent addition of uber-blogger Ste…

  2. #2 Lazycoder » Dan GIlmour gets it
    on Mar 7th, 2006 at 5:17 pm

    [...] Bloggers and Disclosure | Center for Citizen Media: Blog [...]

  3. #3 Basic Thinking Blog » Walmart und Edelman im Bloggerpitch
    on Mar 7th, 2006 at 5:44 pm

    [...] Dan Gillmor stellt auch fest, daß an der Handlungsweise von Edelman und Walmart an sich nichts großartig negatives festzustellen war, man hätte lediglich etwas genauer die Blogger instruieren sollen: We should also note that the Wal-Mart PR person objected to the bloggers’ actions. That was responsible on his part. In the future when PR folks are asking bloggers for help, they should always make it clear that an outright quote without citation is a no-no. [...]

  4. #4 NBN - Nothing But Net » links for 2006-03-08
    on Mar 8th, 2006 at 4:24 am

    [...] Bloggers and Disclosure | Center for Citizen Media: Blog (tags: blog pr disclosure) [...]

  5. #5 aTypical Joe: A gay New Yorker living in the rural south.
    on Mar 8th, 2006 at 5:01 am

    Dan Gillmor on the Times on Wal-Mart bloggers…

    Right on Dan! Yesterday, in a most-emailed article, the Times took on Wal-Mart’s working directly with bloggers,”the strategy raises concerns about what bloggers should disclose to readers.” Dan Gillmor responds: It should go without saying that the…

  6. #6 reine Formsache » Update: Wal-Mart, Edelman und die Blogger
    on Mar 8th, 2006 at 10:19 am

    [...] Richard Edelman (President und CEO, Edelman) auf seinem Blog 6 A.M. Paul Holmes (Editor, The Holmes Report) – Holmes Report Blog, hier und hier. Jeff Jarvis auf Buzz Machine. Duncan Black (Left-Leaning Blogger aka “Atrios”) – Eschaton. Scott Baradell (Idea Grove) – Media Orchard Blog. Dan Gillmor (Autor: “We the Media”) – Center for Citizen Media: Blog. [...]

  7. #7 PR Opinions
    on Mar 9th, 2006 at 5:40 pm

    Edelman, Walmart and…

    What more is to be said on the topic that has taken up more pixels than anything else in the PR world this week? Not a lot… complete transparency, as always is a key constituent of blog relations. Here’s a……

  8. #8 The Pre-Commerce Blog
    on Mar 12th, 2006 at 11:31 am

    Gatekeepers Require Scarcity…

    When Wal-Mart turns to blogs as a serious part of its communications strategy, you know there are changes going on in PR, media, and commerce. BuzzMachine, BubbleGeneration, Richard Edelman and others are taking a look at the PR and media angles. It ba…

  9. #9 Beltway Blogroll
    on Mar 14th, 2006 at 4:44 am

    Bloggers And The ‘Big Box’ Behemoth…

    Many Americans love to hate Wal-Mart. They see the “big box” behemoth, with its 3,800 stores in all 50 states, as the epitome of all that is wrong with retail these days: master of the cookie-cutter shopping experience, promoter of……

  10. #10 Lorelle on WordPress » Full Disclosure on Corporate and Commercial Blogs
    on Apr 10th, 2006 at 10:29 pm

    [...] The Blogging Journalist showcases the Dan Gillmor on Bloggers and Disclosure: It should go without saying that the bloggers should make this disclosure, right? No question, the ones who parrot a company line — down to using the company’s words — ought to be more forthcoming about the connections. [...]

  11. #11 How To Run an Effective Blogger Review Program | Gauravonomics Blog
    on Mar 4th, 2008 at 2:00 am

    [...] relations program: Shel Holtz 1, Shel Holtz 2, Richard Edelman 1, Richard Edelman 2, Jeff Jarvis, Dan Gillmor, New York Times. Share This If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed! [...]