Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Where's the condemnation of the bloggers?

The past couple of weeks have seen Ketchum and Armstrong Williams (well, mostly Armstrong Williams) being condemned for paying/taking money to promote the No Child Left Behind program.

I believe that this is a bad situation for public relations, I blogged about it once already ... and will blog about it again this week.

So, we have seen Williams thrown to the wolves, Ketchum has brought some level of ruin - yet to fully be determined - to the business of paid consultants by not ensuring that Williams gave full disclosure (but, then again, Ketchum could have ensured that the program was promoted and disclosed, but that might have been too much for them). Hey, it's just like what they did for VNRs!

But, what about bloggers that were paid by the Dean campaign as consultants? What's the difference here? This past weekend, the Wall Street Journal wrote about two prominent left bloggers who were paid consultants to the Dean campaign (subreq). Slate then wrote a good discourse on the situation.

Journalists - and, let's be honest, Williams is a pundit, not a journalist - are prepared for their profession. They have the training, the practices, the ethics that they are supposed to follow. Yes, there are aberrations - Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass are the most famous - but overall the system works.

What do bloggers have? An informal blogger ethics code, but nothing concrete.

The argument for the two bloggers are that they disclosed that they were consultants to the Dean campaign. I'm sorry, but that just doesn't wash it for me. Imagine a reporter that covered Kerry or Dean or Dubya being paid as a consultant ... and still covering the candidate. Would that journalist get a free ride? Of course not. So, why should a blogger?

Many bloggers view themselves as citizen journalists. This "paid consultancy" is the sort of behavior that is going to smear the blogosphere, and get people to question the blogosphere as a resource for individual content.

Blogs have changed public relations, and its cases like this that show that the line Armstrong Williams crossed is much less defined in the blogosphere.

As public relations professionals, we should draw the line in the sand and ensure that whatever we do, we hold ourselves to a higher level of ethics. We don't need to pay bloggers to blog - we pitch, but no paid "consultants." There's full disclosure on VNRs, and there is no need to have anyone "reporting."

The fact is that when things like this happen, it's public relations that takes the hit. We cannot afford that, nor should we need to put ourselves in such a position to have our actions questioned.

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