Washington Post, Michael Barbaro and the Blogger/Wal-Mart Flap
We got an e-mail from Barbaro, asking to discuss some of the posts on The Marquette Warrior, saying he couldn’t reveal what the subject of his story was, and asking us not to publish the e-mail.
We didn’t publish the e-mail, but we immediately inferred what the story was about, and checked with a colleague in the Journalism Department to ask whether we were obligated to conceal the fact that Barbaro was working on a story. The colleague assured us we were not.
Which makes sense. Any reporter is required to abide by restrictions a source places on information, if there is an implicit or explicit agreement. For example, a source might say “I can tell you about that, but only on background.”
But an unsolicited e-mail plopping into one’s mailbox is a different matter.
Kurtz doesn’t seem to show any “mainstream media solidarity” toward Barbaro, and gives us bloggers ample opportunity to express our views. He quotes us correctly as saying:
“This isn’t really news. Wal-Mart is simply doing with bloggers what flacks have been doing with broadcast and print media for decades.”We forcefully insisted to Kurtz that Wal-Mart has not subverted anybody, since all the bloggers in question were pro-business and pro-Wal-Mart long before the company’s PR person (Marshall Manson) started e-mailing us stuff. Kurtz’ article accurately quotes us on that.
He also quotes Brian Pickrell of Iowa Voice and Bob Beller of Crazy Politico.
But Kurtz’ apparent bottom-line (being the last quote that he uses) is from Richard Edelman, CEO of the PR firm that represents Wal-Mart.
“We encourage all our clients to reach out to the blogosphere. It should be part of any smart communications program.” Bloggers, like journalists, “do not need to disclose their sources,” Edelman says, “but they should attribute specific content to a company or another blogger if used verbatim.”Sensible. And exactly the standards that apply to more traditional journalism.