Tony Hung, who blogs at Deep Jive Interests, pointed something out to me via email — and if he hadn’t, I probably never would have heard about it. There has been plenty of news and discussion about it, but none of it has shown up on Techmeme.com or any of the other feed aggregators and meme-trackers I follow. Why? Because no “A-listers” have written about it (as Gabe Rivera of Techmeme points out in my comments, it’s there now).
It’s an issue that strikes right at the heart of the debate the blogosphere has been having lately about PayPerPost and blog “payola,” and whether bloggers should disclose their conflicts of interest.
The issue has to do with Edelman, the PR firm that Steve Rubel works for, and Wal-Mart. Tony’s post lays out it pretty well, as far as I can tell — as well as a story in Business Week, and posts from Shel Holtz and Biz Hack. In a nutshell it has to do with Wal-Mart paying for a couple of bloggers to drive their RV across America and write about how great Wal-Mart is.
Nothing wrong with that, of course. More power to them. Except that the connection to Wal-Mart, and the extensive financial backing the company has provided, is never mentioned anywhere on the blog. In light of comments made by Richard Edelman the last time the whole Wal-Mart/blogger thing blew up, where he said bloggers should “disclose receipt of product samples, membership on advisory boards or any other financial consideration that might affect their impartiality,” you would think Edelman would have made sure to do so in this case.
This doesn’t just cause confusion by blurring the lines between blogging and payola, or blog-vertising, but it arguably does Edelman harm too — and that would be a shame, since they are the PR firm that probably walks the walk the most when it comes to blogging and the conversation (the Wal-Marting Across America blog has a post that puts all the blame on Wal-Mart haters). I’m hoping Richard Edelman responds to this one in some way soon. As Tony points out in an update, the PR blogosphere is unanimously critical of Edelman on this one.
Scoble has weighed in, as have several others, including John Dowdell, who says that he isn’t sure the story is as cut and dried as it has been described. He argues that the relationship with Wal-Mart was disclosed (although I think Tony and I would argue not well enough) and that it’s not clear Edelman orchestrated the whole thing. All fair points, which it would help to hear from someone at Edelma. If I have rushed to judgment, I will be happy to apologize.