“Blogola” is what The Wall Street Journal called it in a Page One story Tuesday. Brooks Barnes, who covers the TV networks, describes the public relations efforts the networks and the TV production companies are taking to win over bloggers who they feel are influential. They’re using the same techniques they employ when seeking coverage by mainstream journalists — freebies, paid junkets to Hollywood to visit the sets of new and returning shows, access to the stars.
The article says studios and networks, “fed up with the jaded attitudes of professional critics and TV feature writers, are flooding bloggers with free stuff in hopes the flattered recipients will reward them with positive coverage.”
This used to be commonplace for mainstream journalists until most major media began putting restrictions on their reporters accepting gifts, including travel. Many now don’t allow them to accept anything valued at more than $25. The New York Times, I know, won’t even let its reporters accept a cup of coffee (although if you throw in a bagel and lox, the bill can come close to $25).
So it looks like the networks are going for the low-hanging fruit — bloggers.
While many of us, certainly in the marketing community, are adamant about not being “bought,” we’re starting to try things like free books for review or even digital cameras for long-term loan. There’s been a lot of online discussion on the subject — some of it quite heated.
Most bloggers are not journalists, nor do we work for or represent a news organization. Our blogs are simply our own ideas and opinions on a wide range of subjects. We have no editors and no mandate to be objective.
The marketing blogger community, however, seems to be especially concerned with integrity, which is a good thing. I would guess integrity is not as important to some bloggers who write about entertainment and celebrities, although I am not casting any aspersions. That’s just my casual impression.
The Wall Street Journal article talks about one blogger who took a junket to see a taping of the Julia Louis-Dreyfus sitcom “Old Christine” on CBS. Returning home with stars in her eyes, she sent her write-up to the network publicist, saying, “If there’s anything you’d like me to add, just tell me and I will.”
Now how many mainstream journalists will let a publicist edit their stories?
You can’t blame the nets for targeting bloggers. If their efforts to woo and wow get them some good exposure in the blogosphere, good for them. It’s up to readers to decide if what they’re reading has been tainted by freebies.
As has been discussed in the marketing blogging community, transparency and honesty is of utmost importance. If we state upfront that the subject of a post has done something for us or given us something, I feel we are being fair by advising the reader. He or she can take that into consideration as they read our post.
I was recently pitched by a publisher’s publicist, asking if I’d like a copy of a new marketing book. I said she could send it, but I could not guarantee I’d write about it or, if so, what I’d say. She accepted those terms and sent me the book. I’ve been reading it and enjoying it. I probably will write about it, but I’ll begin that post by saying I was sent a free review copy. My readers should have that knowledge.
As blogs become even more widely read, bloggers will be targeted by more and more publicists hoping for access into their space. Just as the public relations profession needs to maintain professionalism in how it approaches bloggers, the blogging community will have to do its part to maintain honesty and integrity.
I’m sure some bloggers will succumb to the lure of free stuff and favors. It’s human nature. But those who do it consistently and allow those freebies to color the integrity of their writing will be discovered. Many, although not all, will eventually lose their credibility, if not their audience. And the better P.R. people will then move on to find others who have audience and credibility, leaving those “hacks” for the publicists peddling plastic surgeons, breast-enhancing creams and the like.
Hopefully, none of us will allow ourselves to descend to that level.
Or will we?