There’s been plenty of talk in the blogosphere about a New York Times story involving blogs and Wal-Mart. It seems a PR person with Edelman – the “Me2 Revolution” firm that recently hired Steve Rubel – sent out some emails discussing Wal-Mart’s position on various things, and some bloggers repeated parts of those emails without saying where they came from. That has produced all kinds of sturm und drang about whether bloggers’ ethics have been compromised, and whether Edelman somehow crossed a line with its blogger campaign.
Whenever one of these things blows up, which they do from time to time, I like to go to the source, which in this case is Edelman – a firm that I think gets Web 2.0 and the interactive conversation idea better than just about anyone. And Richard Edelman has a post on the topic that I think gets across some important points about the strategy, without getting all hot under the collar and defensive, or blaming it on a few rogue bloggers or whatever.
Among other things, he says that PR companies need to
“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… 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.”
What Mr. Edelman sort of hints at without really getting into it is that bloggers – if they are to have any credibility at all – need to govern themselves the same way credible journalists do, as Jeff Jarvis points out. Want blogs to be seen as alternate sources of information, just like the “old” media? Then behave that way. In other words (among other things), declare potential conflicts, and don’t use material from PR companies without sourcing it. Can you get away with not doing those things? Sure you can. Lots of media outlets do too.
As I was saying to someone at the blogger get-together last night in Toronto, with Naked Conversations author Shel Israel, bloggers and the “old” media have to do exactly the same things in this new Web 2.0 world – win the respect and continued attention of their readers every day, with every article and every post. Want more on the subject? Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit has plenty.