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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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  • by LeonGeeste ( 917243 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:25PM (#14866894) Journal
    Blogs are good at connecting to people that are hard to reach. Many of these people otherwise would not have found the press release. By repeating the contained information, they reach these viewers. So yes, the blog still servers a purpose -- by connecting those with a message, to those who may be interested in that message.
  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:26PM (#14866900)
    "What is the use of a blog if bloggers are just going to copy sentences and sentiments from the puppetmaster's email?"

    Traditional media, including newspapers, magazines and especially the local TV news do the same thing every day.

  • Corporate Fad (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Dr. Sorenson ( 947697 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:35PM (#14866979)
    While there will always be companies trying to infiltrate blogs as a mouthpiece, this takes a sustained effort, the expenditure of resources and a coordinated effort for it to be successful in anything but the short term. Most companies aren't good on sustained efforts with questionable benefits and blogging is one activity that has dubious results in effecting the bottom line. Companies keep business by keeping their customers happy and there are limits to the effectiveness of spin control and FUD. RIM used a lot of blog astroturfing against NTP and still ended up paying $620 million dollars, which was $162 million more than than if they had settled a year before.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:39PM (#14867014)
    "Wal-Mart was found out to be exploiting the US taxpayer by not providing adequate health benefits to its employees."

    All they were found to be doing was paying the workers for the work they do. This does not exploit workers or taxpayers. It is pretty outrageous to expect a company to pay EVERY low-value low-skill worker enough to meet some arbitrary high standard of income, whether or not the worker earns it...and most importantly (in your line of having companies give away money logic) whether or not their lifestyle needs it.

    A single mother of three working the register might need a health plan, but a teenager working the register won't (because their family has it already). In your "pay them according to demands, not their work" world, what do you do? Pay the single mother some high amount she never earned, while also overpaying the teenager so they have equal pay? Or have a pay scale based on lifestyle instead of work (so a single mother earns much more than a teenager)?

    Taxpayers subsidize Wal*Mart with $0 money. It is not the taxpayer's fault that welfare medical money is wasted, and it is not the taxpayer's fault when someone is a lousy worker is too lazy to earn more. Wal-Mart should not be blamed for paying everyone the worth of the work.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:40PM (#14867028)
    This is the only thing that I agree with Walmart on. Health care should not be linked to employment, but part of the responsibility of the government to its citizens. It is how people can justify the money that goes to the 'defense' of America, but very little going to actually defending the health of its citizens.

  • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:47PM (#14867081) Homepage Journal
    This is great. The New York Times along with most of the press don't like blogs. So they write about bloggers that post positive material about Walmart. Walmart which is one of the current targets of dislike by many in the online community. And what are these evil bloggers doing? Posting emails sent to them by Walmart.
    If a blogger was posting emails sent to them by Planned Parenthood, Amnesty International, Whole Foods, Ben and Jerry's, or Greenpeace would it get any attention? Would they have any less credibility?
    I rarely shop at Walmart not because they are EVIL but because I don't like a lot of what they carry and the lines and parking are just not worth it. Yes there are other stores that provide better service, products, and or selections for not much more money. Those stores seem to be doing fine in my city.
    This is a great piece of spin and it looks as if many have fallen for it hook, line, and sinker.
  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:48PM (#14867093) Homepage Journal
    This story is most significant as Washington DC decides whether to protect the free speech of bloggers, as the First Amendment requires, as completely as it protects the rights of mass media, like cable TV news. The mass media lobbies DC with scare stories about corporations paying bloggers to publish pure PR, as opposed to the "responsible, independent, researched journalism" from the mass media that the law currently protects. The idea is to protect a privileged class of journalists, the corporate mass media, but not the unprivileged interactive media, like bloggers.

    Of course, the corporate media's entire business model is taking corporate money and publishing their PR, even if carefully cooked to provide harmless (or occasionally stress-releasing) corporate PR.
  • by pHatidic ( 163975 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:48PM (#14867097)
    Maybe we should ask the Waltons how they feel about exploiting US Taxpayers?

    From what I've heard the Waltons are very humble, and even though they are each worth 20 billion they mostly live off the types of products sold in their stores. Of course they do so by choice, and the average Walmart employee does not.
  • Re:What is the use? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Firehed ( 942385 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @01:00PM (#14867222) Homepage
    Yes, but consider the newspaper. How else is the press release going to get out to the people for whom it's intended? Do you really think the government is going to want to send out hundreds of millions of fliers, at considerable cost to them, when the news sources can do it for effectively no cost to them? Of course not. The newspapers relay information, the blogs we're discussing duplicate it. I'm sure most /. readers know the difference between relayed info and duped info...

    The difference, in case the previous paragraph was utterly wasted, is the fact that blogged "news" can be attained elsewhere - blogs are like third- or fourth- or fifth-hand sources. The papers and broadcast news are effectively secondhand information - while you're not there in person, it's being explained, more or less directly, by someone who is. If it weren't for the paper, you'd have no other way to gain the knowledge other than experiencing it firsthand. With blogs, we have google and five billion other websites with the same data.

    Though the idea of being able to cross-check information with that many more sources is good, you can easily get minor distortions that snowball into something completely different than the original. It's the difference between RTFA and just the summary. If you make assumptions based off of the half-picture you have of the situation, and then repost them, the story gets distorted, however minorly. Look how it turned praise for Apple's simple remote [] into a criticism of Apple's new products []. And that's after only one degree of separation.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @02:09PM (#14868006)
    If they are treated so poorly at their workplace, why do they continue to work there? Ever hear of the term ``free market'' or ``at will employment''? This means they have the freedom to leave the job any time they wish.
  • by AndersOSU ( 873247 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @02:35PM (#14868309)
    People may want to believe what they read, but most of us have the ability to distinguish between reputable, non-reputable and unknown sources.

    To me the whole article reads: "Media discovers that blogged stories may not be impartial." Not that mainstream media has ever reprinted a press release as news...

    Another question is who reads these pro-Wal-Mart blogs? If it's only people who are already pro-Wal-Mart there is no impact on reprinting a Wal-Mart statement. If I stumble across a random pro-Wal-mart blog I'm not going to pay much attention to it. Trust is something that is built. If I am unfamiliar with a news source I'm not going to take what it says on face value.

    A good example is a couple of months ago the Christian Monitor came into the news with the unfortunate kidnapping of one of its journalists in Iraq. I had not previously been exposed the CM, saw the word Christian, and drew the conclusion that the reporter was putting herself in danger by evangelizing to radically militant Muslims (not that that would make her kidnapping right). I was wrong. I did some checking and what do you know the CM is a generally reputable news source, and in the future I will not fact check things I read from their newspaper, unless I am given a reason to suspect that I should.

    That is really what this is about. The mainstream, established news sources are alternating being in love with and despising blogs. Since people will never be able to fact check everything they read only news sources people are familiar with get the benefit of the doubt. Very little audience will be taken away from the New York Times because Jim in Ypsilanti thinks Congressman X is taking bribes. The key is in learning that Jim should be ignored, but maybe we should look into it if Drudge says it. However, for some reason the mainstream media feels a need to comment on a disproportionately large number of blog stories because they don't understand the notion of credibility and feel as if blogs are competing for the same market as they are.

This process can check if this value is zero, and if it is, it does something child-like. -- Forbes Burkowski, CS 454, University of Washington