Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Truth, Trust and Transparency

As Atrios points out, the mainstream media continues to hold bloggers to ethical standards that don't apply anywhere else. Astroturfing (faking grassroots interest) is nothing new, but companies that try to do so through blogging are pretty obvious, as opposed to the same effort applied over the airwaves. In fact, bloggers, with their need to document and analyze, can be more transparent than traditional media:

From the Holmes Report:
Bloggers More Transparent Than Mainstream Media: Last week, a group of bloggers from the United States toured Amsterdam at the invitation of the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions. The bloggers were given free flights on KLM and accommodation at either the Lloyd Hotel or the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky (both are five-star hotels near the centre of Amsterdam). In exchange, the bloggers agreed to run advertising for on their site for a month, and to be interviewed about their experiences on the trip.

They were not required to write anything positive about their trip or to blog about it at all (although most did). Still, there were those who questioned whether accepting the invitation was ethical.

Obviously, that’s a good debate to have. Given the transparency of the whole venture and the absence of any quid pro quo, I don’t really have a problem with these bloggers accepting the hospitality of the Dutch. Actually, I think it was smart and forward-thinking of the Dutch to reach out to bloggers the way tourist authorities have been reaching out to mainstream reporters for years.

And whatever your opinion of the blogger ethics, they are at least holding themselves to a higher standard than their counterparts in the mainstream media. Because while the bloggers were enjoying their fully-transparent junket, reporters from Los Angeles television station KTLA were accepting free accommodations at the Pasadena Ritz-Carlton Hotel in exchange for favourable coverage, and told their viewers nothing of the exchange.

In many sections of the PR community, there’s s still a feeling that blogs represent the wild-west of media relations, unregulated and free of standards. My observation is that the best blogs, the ones that have devoted a great deal of energy to building up credibility with their readers, hold themselves to higher ethical standards than the mainstream media. They are more open about their biases, quicker to correct erroneous stories (with more prominent corrections), and considerably more transparent than their “mainstream” counterparts.

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