Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Wal-Mart Bloggers Raise Issue of Transparency

Transparency—it’s a never-ending theme in public relations.

The New York Times published an article today (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/07/technology/07blog.html ) about bloggers posting pro Wal-Mart statements that essentially came directly from the company. As Wal-Mart faces public scrutiny for employee health care, bloggers have the potential to boost the retailer’s image and reputation.

Marshall Manson, a blogger and Wal-Mart rep, contacted bloggers who wrote about Wal-Mart and offered to send them emails about the company, kind of like insider tips.

Although “inside information” is not typically credited to a source, because it’s given inter nos, situations such as this make me question the integrity of some companies as well as the field of public relations.

If a company is feeding information to a blogger, but not paying them, what does that say about the company? What about the blogger? Sure a blogger must feel cool to be getting inside information about a big company like Wal-Mart but aren’t blogs intended for people to publish their own ideas in an open forum like the Internet?

I’m being naïve, I know. Since blogging is new to me, especially in the PR context, this simply raises an issue I haven’t thought about. Until I worked for a PR firm I didn’t know that often newspaper articles come verbatim from a press release—no questions asked. How do we distinguish the difference between a writer using a press release for their article and a blogger using insider emails and company documents for their latest blog topic? Especially when a big company’s image (read money) is at stake.

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