Non-traditional media not in Target’s sights

January 25, 2008 at 3:41 pm 3 comments

Sally Saville Hodge

Should bloggers be treated like “real” journalists?

For Target, the answer is an emphatic “no” – at least, for now. And we suspect this stance is not unusual.

Target’s PR folks stated their position loud, clear, and not terribly gracefully when blogger Amy Jussel recently asked them for an explanation of what some believe was an inappropriate billboard. Their response?

Amy,
Thank you for contacting Target; unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with non-traditional media outlets. This practice is in place to allow us to focus on publications that reach our core guest.

Once again thank you for your interest, and have a nice day.

Marketing Edge discusses very effectively the many ways this response was bad PR; there’s no need for me to try to further polish this particular apple.

But it begs a revisitation of an increasingly asked question: Should bloggers be treated like “real” journalists?

It’s a troubling question to this former business journalist. I was trained to meet high standards and earned no small degree of credibility and influence as a result – supported by the news organizations behind me. Those standards?

  • The facts had to be accurate, verified as so to the best of my abilities, and cited.
  • Exclusives needed to be based on confirmation by at least two, and preferably three knowledgeable and trusted sources, and backed by the kind of detail that spoke to the story’s accuracy.
  • Unnamed sources were to be used sparingly; one-source stories were inadequate.
  • The subject of the article was given every opportunity to comment.
  • Writing about businesses in which I had a vested interest was not allowed.
  • Objectivity was key.
  • And, by the way, good writing was not optional.

There are exceptions (slate.com and smokinggun.com, for example), but far too many blogs adhere to no journalistic standards. Perez Hilton can hide behind the First Amendment all he wants, but the fact that he’s found a social media soapbox and an audience doesn’t make him a member of the Fourth Estate.

I’ll be the first to admit that adherence to those standards by traditional journalists often appears to be slipping. Sloppy reporting is obvious, and objectivity is increasingly hard to find. And we all know how “facts” can be twisted to the writer’s purpose.

It all makes for a sticky wicket to be sure, further complicated by the fact many traditional journalists use blogs and bloggers to help them shape their coverage – whether for story ideas or to validate news sources. The boundaries are blurring.

It’s hard not to sympathize, to some extent, with Target’s position, gracelessly stated as it was. Perhaps the solution for corporate practitioners lies in using the same kind of discretion they use in responding to traditional media calls: Evaluate the outlet’s reach, credibility and influence vis a vis their business’ mission and audiences, and proceed accordingly.

And do a better job of monitoring the conversations from every channel so they’re poised to respond effectively.

Update: New York Times “Target Tells a Blogger to Go Away

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Entry filed under: New/Social Media.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bill Sledzik  |  January 31, 2008 at 1:29 am

    Hi, Sally. Discovered the blog when your link came through on Technorati today. No signal from WordPress, which means no one has clicked the link. Ah, there we go!

    I love your take on the Target story. A lot of PR bloggers in my world see Target’s position on nontraditional media as an insult. That’s understandable, but somewhat unfair. Sure, Target handled it “gracelessly.” But when it comes to blogger relations, where do we and our clients draw the line? Do we respond to every blogger, no matter how outrageous or insignificant? Do we sort them by Technorati ranking and talk only to the top 100,000?

    In an ideal world, we’d have a conversation with the lot of them. But who has the time or the resources? Your conclusion is right on. If you monitor the conversations, you’ll have a pretty fair sense of when to jump in. Like so much in this business, it’s all in how carefully you listen.

    Reply
  • 2. Mike Keliher  |  February 1, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    Don’t you think that even a template answer addressing the ad would have been better than a template answer blowing off an entire segment of media outlets? I guess that’s the bottom line for me.

    Reply
  • 3. Sally Hodge  |  February 1, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    Agreed, Mike. A prepared statement by Target stating its stance on the ad in question would have been the solution. But it goes back to monitoring the conversations. (What does it take to set up a Google alert, anyway?) Clearly Target wasn’t on top of the conversations for its PR folks to have been aware that buzz was building and maybe decide it was time for some sort of canned statement — for any/all media channels.

    I could get into a riff about Target’s PR folks (and what about its agency?) appearing to be nothing more than order takers, but that’s a topic for a whole different post!

    Reply

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