Bloggers, or course, were quick to criticize the piece, and criticisms generally fell into two camps. Camp 1: The Times story is the MSM’s attempt to force bloggers into a small ethical box called “transparency,” a box in which plenty of reporters fail to confine themselves. Wrote Atrios: “Unless I’m missing something this New York Times article is just another stab at holding bloggers to ethical standards and practices which don’t apply anywhere else in the universe.” (We’d argue that these “ethical standards and practices” certainly do apply elsewhere in the universe, they’re just not upheld as often as we’d like). MyDD characterized the Times piece as an “attack on bloggers” and “a clear ‘blogger ethics panel’ moment” before asking “why is the New York Times so afraid of the Internet? According to Poliblogger, the article “suggests that the print and broadcast media never, ever use press releases to write their stories and that they always and forevermore release all information regarding the influences that have gone into their work. This is, of course, absurd.” Camp 2: The Times story is a non-story. For example, Richard Edelman (yes, that Richard Edelman) blogged the following about Barbaro’s article: “Of course we give information to bloggers, just as PR people for generations have done with print media, and I’m a little surprised that the print and broadcast media are surprised.” Wrote Atrios: ” ‘Wal-Mart PR guy reaches out to bloggers’ just isn’t much of a story. PR people reach out to me all the time. So what.”
Here’s what: The blogosphere is a young medium, still in its adolescence — too young to already be kidnapped by the PR industry. Jeff Jarvis, one of the blogosphere’s respected elders, offered these thoughts on the Times piece: “The Times is merely reporting how PR works. Only the object of this PR is the public, not the press. And some of these people, these bloggers, aren’t as slick as reporters in knowing how to deal with this.” Jarvis went on to offer this advice to his fellow bloggers:
“If you write a post inspired by what you get from a company or its PR agent, say so. If you use facts or quotes from a company, politician, PR agent, or press release, say so (better yet, link to it). If you get anything from a PR agent — things, business meetings, social events — say so. Your public has a right to know where your information comes from so they can judge it accordingly. And then you know what? You will be way ahead of the press.”
What Jarvis didn’t explicitly say is that the best journalists are masters at cutting through PR fog and now bloggers — at least the ones who want to maintain their credibility — will have to become the same to avoid being fooled, or tooled, by the bigger PR juggernauts. As the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz wrote yesterday, prompted by the Times piece: “The better bloggers are going to have to figure out their own standards for dealing with corporate and political flacks, and those who blindly carry water for outside groups will probably lose credibility over time. But I expect them to be in the minority.”
We’re glad Kurtz has such faith. Us? We’re not so sure. The number of press releases showing up in our email in-boxes is certainly on the rise. (Here’s an example of one we received just this morning: “With award-show season in the midst of Winter and the Academy Awards having just finished, I’m sure your CJR Daily readers wonder, ‘How do celebrities keep their great tans?’” Accompanying this teaser was an offer to book some interview time with the CEO of Darque Tan.)
There is a category at the PRWeek awards (the “Spinnies”) celebrating the “Best Use of Internet.” This year, the winner made blogs the focus of its campaign. We’re guessing it won’t be long before “Best Use of Blogs” merits its own, stand-alone “Spinnie” award category.