March 6, 2006


Wal-Mart Enlists Bloggers in Its P.R. Campaign (MICHAEL BARBARO, 3/07/06, NY Times)

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.

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, 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." [...]

Copies of e-mail messages that a Wal-Mart representative sent to bloggers were made available to The New York Times by Bob Beller, who runs a blog called Crazy Politico's Rantings. Mr. Beller, a regular Wal-Mart shopper who frequently defends the retailer on his blog, said the company never asked that the messages be kept private.

In the messages, Wal-Mart promotes positive news about itself, like the high number of job applications it received at a new store in Illinois, and criticizes opponents, noting for example that a rival, Target, raised "zero" money for the Salvation Army in 2005, because it banned red-kettle collectors from stores.

The author of the e-mail messages is a blogger named Marshall Manson, a senior account supervisor at Edelman who writes for conservative Web sites like Human Events Online, which advocates limited government, and Confirm Them, which has pushed for the confirmation of President Bush's judicial nominees.

In interviews, bloggers said Mr. Manson contacted them after they wrote postings that either endorsed the retailer or challenged its critics.

Mr. Beller, who runs Crazy Politico's Rantings, for example, said he received an e-mail message from Mr. Manson soon after criticizing the passage of a law in Maryland that requires Wal-Mart to spend 8 percent of its payroll on health care.

Mr. Manson, identifying himself as a "blogger myself" who does "online public affairs for Wal-Mart," began with a bit of flattery: "Just wanted you to know that your post criticizing Maryland's Wal-Mart health care bill was noticed here and at the corporate headquarters in Bentonville," he wrote, referring to the city in Arkansas.

"If you're interested," he continued, "I'd like to drop you the occasional update with some newsworthy info about the company and an occasional nugget that you won't hear about in the M.S.M." — or mainstream media.

Bloggers who agreed to receive the e-mail messages said they were eager to hear Wal-Mart's side of the story, which they said they felt had been drowned out by critics, and were tantalized by the promise of exclusive news that might attract more visitors to their Web sites.

"I am always interested in tips to stories," said one recipient of Mr. Manson's e-mail messages, Bill Nienhuis, who operates a Web site called [...]

In a sign of how eager Wal-Mart is to develop ties to bloggers, the company has invited them to a media conference to be held at its headquarters in April. In e-mail messages, Wal-Mart has polled several bloggers about whether they would make the trip, which the bloggers would have to pay for themselves.

Mr. Reynolds of said he recently was invited to Wal-Mart's offices but declined. "Bentonville, Arkansas," he said, "is not my idea of a fun destination."

Mr. Manson, likewise, contacted us after we posted about the Maryland law and has sent links and an invite to Arkansas. But we'd never run someone else's words as our own. We're always looking for good stories, but we provide our own spin.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 6, 2006 11:06 PM

Integrity. I like the sound of that.

Posted by: erp at March 6, 2006 11:35 PM

I don't see any ethical issue with posting the Wal-Mart releases the same way you posted this NY Times release.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at March 7, 2006 9:00 AM

Ooh! A story involving WalMart and bloggers... possibly in bed together... the floor at the NYT is slick with drool.

"the company has invited them to a media conference to be held at its headquarters in April....which the bloggers would have to pay for themselves."

A ha! I knew there would be a scandal that would destroy the New Media and restore the MSM to its rightful, traditional position!

Oh... wait a minute... the bloggers are behaving exactly the way they always do. WalMart didn't trick them into embarassing themselves! The New Media has integrity, internal logic and ...and...

Damn! We thought we had 'em this time!

Posted by: Brian McKim at March 7, 2006 9:20 AM

As long as you identify the source of the material for your readers, there isn't really a problem here. The Times' problem is it sees anyone who actually agrees with Wal-Mart's positions or opposes the Maryland law as being in violation of ethical standards.

Posted by: John at March 7, 2006 9:33 AM

Tony Soprano has more consistent ethical standards than the NYT.

Posted by: jim hamlen at March 7, 2006 10:10 AM

Not more consistent, Jim; higher.

"We're always looking for good stories, but we provide our own spin. Always."

Posted by: Noel at March 7, 2006 7:53 PM