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When A Blogger Meets Public Relations 193

fermion writes "The New York Times is running a story on the evolving relationship between PR departments and bloggers, specifically between the Wal*Mart PR people and sympathetic bloggers. The interesting thing in this story is not so much the astroturfing, which is old news, but the transformation of blogging from a personal statement to a corporate bullhorn. The bloggers mentioned in the story, who presumably are able to articulate their own opinions, received Wal*Mart email and began to simply copy the PR text into the blogs. What is the use of a blog if bloggers are just going to copy sentences and sentiments from the puppetmaster's email?"
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When A Blogger Meets Public Relations

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  • Nothing new (Score:5, Informative)

    by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <akaimbatmanNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:17PM (#14866823) Homepage Journal
    The bloggers mentioned in the story, who presumably are able to articulate their own opinions, received Wal*Mart email and began to simply copy the PR text into the blogs.

    Wait, I don't understand. This is news? I thought it was common knowledge that a large portion of bloggers (the majority?) simply copy text from elsewhere as their "blog". Take Digg [digg.com] as an example. Digg integrates with many blogging services, allowing users to write commentary on the story, and link back to the Digg page from their blog. The feature is quite popular as most of the front page stories have a "blog" attached to them.

    Now with such a feature, you would expect each blogger to provide insightful commentary on the issue at hand, right? Wrong. The majority of the blogs do nothing more than replicate the exact text from the Digg story. Not only are these blogs redundant, but they add another level of indirection to anyone who might happen upon them. ("Oh, so I go from blog, to Digg, to Link, right?") Ok, so the better blogs have a direct link AND a Digg link. But this is really nothing more than sydication of rather fluffy content.

    Here's a few examples of what I'm talking about:

    http://nik-hil.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com]
    http://www.r00tware.com/ [r00tware.com]
    http://hackerslife.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com]
    http://www.petesblog.com/ [petesblog.com]

    These are examples of "real" blogs with sydicated Digg content mixed in:

    http://jacobsonster.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com]
    http://howgoodisthis.wordpress.com/ [wordpress.com]

    Now these blogs aren't entirely without value. In many cases, it's a way of aligning your tastes with those of a particular blogger. i.e. That blogger only links to articles you want to know about. It's also good for the site that's being Dugg, as they have more links to their site.

    But no, there's nothing magically articulate about bloggers. Plenty of them are happy to syndicate.
  • Re:Nothing new (Score:5, Informative)

    by grazzy ( 56382 ) <grazzy@quake.sw e . n et> on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:20PM (#14866851) Homepage Journal
    Digg has a feature called "blog" this that just copies the blog summary to your blog verbatim. It makes it very easy todo what these guys are doing.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:21PM (#14866866)
    This is like the moveon.org paper-spammers. They literally get their marching orders from moveon.org and mindlessly send form letters to newspapers all over the country. I caught on to this when I read the exact same letter in two newspapers halfway across the country. I searched on one phrase in the letter in Google, and found the entire letter in Moveon.org, along with instructions for everyone to send it to their local paper (despite newspaper letter rules against form letters).

    Astroturf blog and newspaper spamming.
  • by sphealey ( 2855 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:36PM (#14866980)
    Duncan Black over at Eschaton [blogspot.com] (one of the most-read political blogs) had a good take on this: [blogspot.com]
    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. The public relations industry existed long before bloggers came along and they had reporters' phone numbers long before they had the email addresses of bloggers. Barely edited press releases have long been published, especially at smaller newspapers. I get press releases and information from all over the place all the time. Obviously disclosure is a nice idea if there are any financial relationships, a practice not always followed by our hallowed 4th estate, but if people want to devote their blogs to throwing up Wal Mart press releases they're free.

    The main reason stories like this are even written is that contrary to popular opinnion the internet often provides a lot more transparency even when there are efforts to hide it. Astroturfing operations of various kinds through all media are nothing new, they're just usually harder to track. If Wal Mart pays 50 people to call talk radio all day and extol its virtues would anyone know?

    I'm not defending all astro turfing practices or its practitioners, and there are certainly ethical issues that can be raised. But "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.

  • by Malangali ( 932979 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:42PM (#14867046)
    I was planning to make a smart-ass comment by simply going to the Walmart corporate website and posting some fluff. I was surprised to find a rather interesting article instead. It seems that they are finally responding to pressure and will start selling Plan B nationwide. They are still going to allow their pharmacists to exercise their ridiculous right to "opt-out" of filling Plan B prescriptions (which sometimes results in rape victims being forced to continue with their pregnancy at least as long as it takes to get an abortion), but it does show that they recognize that, if they are going to do business in blue states, they have to follow blue state business practices. Here's their news release:

    Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. today confirmed that all of its pharmacies will begin carrying Plan B contraceptives, effective March 20. The company is currently required to sell the product in Illinois and Massachusetts, and pressure to introduce similar mandates is building in Connecticut and New York.

    "We expect more states to require us to sell emergency contraceptives in the months ahead," said Ron Chomiuk, vice president of Pharmacy for Wal-Mart. "Because of this, and the fact that this is an FDA-approved product, we feel it is difficult to justify being the country's only major pharmacy chain not selling it."

    Chomiuk said the company will maintain its conscientious objection policy, which is consistent with the tenets of the American Pharmaceutical Association. This policy, except where prohibited by law, allows any Wal-Mart or SAM'S CLUB pharmacy associate who does not feel comfortable dispensing a prescription to refer customers to another pharmacist or pharmacy.

    "This decision has been made after careful consideration and in the belief that we are doing what is best for the business, while respecting our individual associates," Chomiuk said.

  • by Some Pig! ( 103985 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:50PM (#14867127)
    A key part of Wal-Mart's business model is cost-shifting from the private to the public sector. Tax deals with states and municipalities are the most important part, but even the cost of storage is shifted from warehouses to trucks on streets and highways. The burden of maintaining those thoroughfares is of course on the taxpayer.

    And, for those praising Wal-Mart's economic "efficiency", please explain the advantage to the economy of forcing into leases the provision that no competitor can use the buildings after Wal-Mart moves out? The country is littered with crumbling ex-Wal-Mart centers, paid with your tax dollars.
  • by digitaldc ( 879047 ) * on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:54PM (#14867156)
    All they were found to be doing was paying the workers for the work they do

    Unfortunately, the reality of the exploitation does not match your rhetoric. They were purposely leading them to public assistance, rather than providing them basic benefits.

    For the World's biggest retailer, [forbes.com] how can you not think that this is wrong?
  • by Out4Blood ( 247541 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @01:31PM (#14867572)
    Blogging helps disseminate useful information. If several like-minded people find some information to be useful to them, then chances are it may also be useful to me.

    Arnold Kling published an article long ago which elaborates on the theme:

    http://www.corante.com/bottomline/articles/2002062 1-875.shtml [corante.com]
  • by NotQuiteReal ( 608241 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @01:38PM (#14867660) Journal
    I am not replying to be a Wal-Mart appologist, this is just a little exercise in analysis of a random "+5 Insightful Whine" post...

    Wal-Mart has a lot of employees (1.7 Million). It is a BIG company. Everything else follows from there.

    The full-timers do have insurance. But there many are part-timers who do not, just like many other businesses. Seems to me, giving instructions for finding free clinics is more of a public service for those employees who need it than an exploitive scheme. Do other companies tell their non-covered employees about free clinics?

    You might as well say Poor people exploit the taxpayer by using government services .

    Exploiting the US Taxpayer Did you know that Wal-Mart has 1500 International stores (3600 US)? Does Wal-Mart exploite the taxpayes of these other countries too?

    How does Wal-Mart compare to any large employer? How much health care does McDonalds provide for part-time employees? How about Starbucks - they have lots of part-timers.

    I don't know what all this hatred of WMT is, of late. What's the difference between a valid business model and an evil scheme? I guess it has to do with how big you are. At the end of the day, I think it all comes down to the fact that WMT has money and other people want to get at it because it is there.

    Let's check that last one... Is Wal-Mart making "obscene" amounts of money? WMT [yahoo.com]

    Profit margin: 3.6% - Doesn't look obscene to me, Sure it is billions of dollars. MCD makes 12.7% and so does PEP. TGT (Target) makes 4.58% - maybe they exploit their workers even more to squeeze that extra 1% profit out of them.

If a 6600 used paper tape instead of core memory, it would use up tape at about 30 miles/second. -- Grishman, Assembly Language Programming