Under assault as never before, Wal-Mart is increasingly looking beyond the mainstream media and working directly with bloggers, feeding them exclusive nuggets of news, suggesting topics for postings and even inviting them to visit its corporate headquarters.
But the strategy raises questions about what bloggers, who pride themselves on independence, should disclose to readers. Wal-Mart, the nation's largest private employer, has been forthright with bloggers about the origins of its communications, and the company and its public relations firm, Edelman, say they do not compensate the bloggers.
What's the big deal? Is the old media jealous that it is no longer the sole focus of companies' PR efforts? Does the New York Times disclose every contact its reporters have with PR hacks working for politicians, companies, or interest groups?
Oh, no, it's the authorship of the content that they are whining about:
But some bloggers have posted information from Wal-Mart, at times word for word, without revealing where it came from.
Glenn Reynolds, the founder of Instapundit.com, one of the oldest blogs on the Web, said that even in the blogosphere, which is renowned for its lack of rules, a basic tenet applies: "If I reprint something, I say where it came from. A blog is about your voice, it seems to me, not somebody else's."
The entire PR industry is based around writing press releases that read like news stories. Newswires run them verbatim, and old media often lift significant content from them. So the Times' indignant rant about some teenage amateurs posting Wal-Mart's content is a bit overdone.
I have been contacted by Wal-Mart's blogger outreach effort. In fact, they tipped me off to this New York Times story. I think Wal-Mart found me initially because of a pro-Wal-Mart post I'd written. I'm still waiting for the envelope of unmarked bills under my doormat.