Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Times Sees a Conspiracy (Maybe): I suspect it is by now well known that I am no fan of Wal-Mart. So when I got an e-mail from a reader about an article New York Times reporter Michael Barbaro is working on about Wal-Mart’s outreach to the (largely conservative) blogosphere, I so wanted to find something outrageous, unethical, or even mildly deceptive about the company’s activities.

Sadly, I just don’t see what the story is.

Blogcritics.org reports, with its tongue firmly planted in its tongue, about Barbaro’s line of questioning, which “seems to have been aggressive and penetrating—as if he was searching for a sign that Wal Mart was planting stories he himself should have been honoured with.”

Barbaro appears to have noticed several stories popping up simultaneously on conservative blogs around the country, and concluded that the stories were the result of some sort of insidious campaign by Wal-Mart and its public relations agency, Edelman. Of course, stories about Wal-Mart pop up simultaneously in the mainstream media all the time, usually as a result of an insiduous practice called the “press release.” Will Barbaro be investigating this next?

John McAdams, author of the Marquette Warrior blog, provides a pretty comprehensive list of mailings he received from Edelmen, along with details of what he used and when and why. Once again, the only real difference between the bloggers’ reporting and that of the mainstream media is that the bloggers appear to be more transparent in terms of their sources.

I’m note sure why Barbaro thinks there’s something strange or wrong or newsworthy about a company reaching out to the media. As far as I can see, Wal-Mart is doing two smart things: first, it’s recognizing the influence of the blogosphere; and second, it’s building a relationship with potential allies and advocates. That’s just basic public relations 101, isn’t it?

What’s really interesting, however, is the fact that Barbaro’s story is getting so much attention on the web before publication. That’s an indication of how much the game has changed. The fact that Barbaro is even reporting this story is viewed as news by the blogosphere, and has given rise to some interesting speculation about his story. It may even change the way the story comes out, or—if Barbaro realizes he’s on to precisely nothing—stop it coming out all together.

Will companies learn from this, and pre-empt investigative stories by blogging about the reporter's questions? Maybe not, since most companies want to maintain friendly relations, even with hostile media. But it's a useful weapon to have in the PR arsenal.

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