OLD Media Moves

Wal-Mart, blogs and the New York Times' Michael Barbaro

March 6, 2006

The blogging world is all atwitter about New York Times reporter Michael Barbaro and his line of questioning toward blogs in relation to Wal-Mart, the world’s largest company and the responsibility of 5 percent of the GDP.

Wal-MartSeems there has been an outpouring of positive blogging toward Wal-Mart in recent months, and Barbaro, who has not publishing anything about this yet, has been questioning bloggers whether the Bentonville, Ark.-based company is behind it all.

A number of blogs are commenting about Barbaro and his upcoming article.

John McAdams from Marquette University notes: “We got an e-mail from Barbaro this past Thursday evening, saying he is working on a story and that several of the postings on the Marquette Warrior are relevant to it.

“At least two other bloggers on the Wal-Mart mailing list have been similarly contacted.

“Barbaro has apparently noticed that similar stories concerning Wal-Mart have appeared roughly simultaneously in recent months. In some cases, bloggers on the list simply cut and pasted information in the e-mails into their blog posts.”

The Iowa Voice blog writes: “I’m pretty sure this piece is going to be either a hit-piece against bloggers, a hit-piece against Wal-Mart, or quite possibly both.

“Just so we’re clear: neither Wal-Mart, nor anyone connected to them, have ever said “Here, print this”, and they certainly haven’t offered any money to us. They invited us to visit the HQ down in Bentonville, but I declined (they didn’t offer to pay for that, either).

“I have zero problem with ANY company, group, or politician issuing a press release to a blogger. After all, it’s their job that they get their side of the story out as much as possible.

“Similarly, part of a blogger’s job is to cut through the spin and the hype presented from both sides and present the facts as he/she has collected them and knows them to be. The pressure is, of course, on the person/people sending out the press release to present factual information, but it’s just as important for a blogger (just like a regular reporter) to check on these facts, rather than just publish them.”

Blogcritics.org’s Daniel Harrison summarizes that, “Most worrying is if Barbaro was planning on writing a piece in The Times about how Wal Mart is telling bloggers what to say – because this is evidently untrue. Seeking to eliminate competition by going one better on quality is all very well – trying to achieve it by manipulating opinion for news is not.

“Of course, the saddest part of the story is that Barbaro, seemingly seeking to eliminate the competition, by discrediting both Wal Mart and the bloggers in his aggressive line of questioning, has shut himself out of the domain of this lucrative information sphere all the more. It remains to be seen what Barbaro will decide to write: there are still confidentiality clauses to be kept, private e-mails and telephone conversations to be revealed, and many more stories to be told, but this may well be the new beginning of the end for the masthead that will soon once have read ‘All The News That’s Fit To Print.'”

Be forewarned, business journalists: If you interview bloggers, they are going to post about it and tell everyone what you’re likely to write.

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