Sunday, March 05, 2006

Letter to the Editor: The New York Times, Wal-Mart & Bloggers

An e-mail from a reader who has some experience as a business person trying to get some favorable media coverage.
The attempt by the NYT to show conservative bloggers as being in the pocket of WalMart and other big businesses is just another example how they trot out their tired story frames and fit the “facts” they research to fit a prewritten story idea.

I have a unique perspective on the MSM vs. “new media” issue. I started up an automotive web site to promote my custom embroidery business in January of ‘02. Since you can’t get traffic if the site has no special content, I got credentialed to the media preview that year of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Since then, I’ve expanded the one site into a family of automotive news web sites that I’m now trying to leverage into it’s own enterprise. To do the sites professionally, I work with the car companies and have been credentialed to at least 14 major automobile or motorcycle shows. Would I lie online on one of my sites? No, that would betray my readers. Do I try to stay friendly with the car companies? Of course I do. . . .

Full time journalists tell me that among working reporters who aren’t political activists the desired beats are travel, entertainment, sports and automotive. The reason always given to me is the amount of free travel, food and swag available to the reporters. The New York Times itself, a few years ago, created the meme/cliche that you can tell how the auto companies are doing financially by the size of the shrimp at the Detroit auto show. I actually was interviewed this year by a Gannett reporter doing a story on how the reporters are wined and dined at the NAIAS. I helped another reporter for the Chicago Tribune with his story about reporters (and literature dealers) selling collectibles on eBay. The funny thing is that of anyone, journalists know best how the news is manipulated by companies, government agencies and non profit organizations. They experience for themselves how junkets, freebies and press releases ease the job of reporters. See, journalists believe that they can’t be bought by petty bribery like free travel, food and drink, or $10 phone cards from Kia when they introduced the Sportage SUV, or $10 gift cards from Staples when they were a corporate sponsor of the CIAS in Toronto. It’s simply considered a perk of the job.

As for the NYT’s attempt to discredit bloggers as thoughtless hacks reprinting unedited press releases, though I’m sure that the NYT automotive writers write their own copy, as is the case with automotive writers for some other major dailies, particularly in the Detroit area, and the same is true for the automotive enthusiast magazines, the vast majority of newspapers that publish automotive news are essentially publishing press releases and publicity photos. I suspect the same is true with many other news beats, particularly involving press releases from NGOs and NPOs with a political axe to grind. You already pointed to the hypocrisy of the NYT reporter questioning your ethics for being on the receiving end of a PR campaign while he himself is using press materials supplied by anti-WalMart union activists.

Reporters are generally lazy, like most folks. If someone helps them do their job, that’s one less thing they have to do. Add this attitude and the idea that stories can be framed before they are researched and written to the fact that the journalist can never be unbiased about an issue, and it’s easy to see how the “news” is less than accurate. Look at the Mudville Gazzette site today with examples of how the reporters’ framing of the Coalition forces commander’s press conference completely is at odds with the thrust of the transcribed remarks.

Ronnie Schreiber
Speaking for bloggers I ask: “Where are our perks?” All we get is story tips and press releases by e-mail!

He is also presuming that the Times story will be negative. We suppose it could be about how Wal-Mart is out front of other businesses in taking bloggers seriously and cultivating them in the same way that print and broadcast journalists have been for decades.

But probably not.


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