Microsoft PR zeros in on blogs; some don’t disclose gratuities | Blogads

Microsoft PR zeros in on blogs; some don’t disclose gratuities

by henrycopeland
Monday, October 14th, 2002

Nick Denton writes: “we launched Gizmodo in August as an experiment in commercial blogging. Within three weeks, Microsoft had Gizmodo down on their list of online influencers, pinged Pete, and invited him over to Redmond. Whatever your thoughts on Microsoft’s software, the company’s marketing machine is extremely impressive. Of course, Pete now feels he has to be a little rude about Microsoft, just to show he can’t be bought.” Mitch Ratcliffe notes Gizmodo’s disclosure that travel expenses were covered by Microsoft and kvetches that another four bloggers invited to the event made no such disclosure.

Yes, it’s healthy for bloggers to disclosing their biases. As I’ve argued before, well-marked advertising serves to unambiguously articulate the relationship between the writer and the sponsor. Yep, that’s what we’re trying to do with Blogads. “Establishing a clear space and format for advertising will clarify what is flogging and what is blogging.”

This can work to all everyone’s advantage: readers get full disclosure, the blogger gets a clean consciousness and some cash, the advertiser gets face-time with readers and some loyalty-ruboff.

To provide some context: although few people realize it, plenty of journalism is fueled by gratuities and complimentary relationships with advertisers. Often this means that good news gets highlighted and bad news gets ignored. The practice is rarely reported: newspapers don’t like to wash each other’s dirty laundry in public and reporters like to keep their jobs. Here’s one instance, as recorded in The New York Times. Dean Singleton, who runs 46 daily newspapers and 81 nondaily newspapers in the US, once “upheld the firing of a reporter who had failed to file a news story consisting of an advertiser’s news release verbatim, and instead added accurate details that wound up making the advertiser look bad.”

In Europe, many newspapers and magazines publish articles as a quid pro quo for advertisements. As editor of the Budapest Business Journal, I once spent six months in Hungarian court after we documented the willingness of a half-dozen leading local publications to publish articles for cash. It turns out no one was bothered by our accusations; the practice was common knowledge among professionals, and the cynical public assumed the press was rotten anyway. We heard later that what landed us in court wasn’t our report; it was that we failed to catch one of the biggest offenders and therefore appeared to be participating in some obscure political vendetta.

(Update: Nick Denton offers additional color in this new post.)

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