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May 17, 2003

Interesting Theory

Posted by Mike on May 17, 2003 5:23 PM

The Scobleizer Weblog says the Google/Orlowski/blog noise thing was a trial balloon, pushed out the door under pressure from advertisers, who aren't pleased that personal, honest communication might rise to the top over their favored forms: the press release rewrite and the brochure site.

I don't think that's a nutty idea, but Scoble isn't citing much more than "sources of his own" who want to remain anonymous. I'm guessing it's a little less clear a story than he suggests, but speaking from the personal experience of a few years in print and Web journalism, if Google's under that kind of pressure, it's nothing new and it's not a paranoid flight of fantasy to suggest advertisers have been pretty upfront about the whole "blog problem" (note the scare quotes) in their communications with Google. Advertisers hate unvarnished opinion turning up anywhere near pictures of their product. From their point of view, it dilutes the value of a banner if there are ten comments from people down on the other end of the page calling the product crap, and they aren't afraid to say so to the marketing departments of media outlets trying to sell them ad space.

This is always framed in the most reasonable sounding terms, too. I've seen publicists appeal to the vanity of professional editors (me included) more than once. The relationship they try to establish is one of "the reasonable people/the professionals" vs. the uninformed, unreasonable amateurs. It's an attempt to disconnect journalists from their public, and it often works because, frankly, doing journalism on the Web is a grind. You deal day in and day out with cranks who turn up in your inbox castigating you for this detail or that, and you have to flap out in the open, knowing that on some Web sites, the reader comments are held to less of a standard than letters to the editor of a podunk rural weekly, if they're held to a standard at all. You either toughen up, or you start becoming timid, making only the safest assertions, because you get tired of being blindsided and sniped at by people who get to retain their anonymity while they try to trash your reputation.

Some journalists keep their chin out, others just identify what their audience likes and become cheerleaders for it knowing they'll get dinged less if they ape the right line, and others get sick of it and quit. Publicists know this dynamic is at work (one went so far as to apologize to me for the abusive, anonymous comments of his clients after I tore up a product in a review) and they work that angle.

Google's in a different position, but the advertisers are going to be no less quick to figure out ways to talk down the relative value of non-commercial, non-professional speech. It's an issue beyond "blogs" vs. "non-blogs," and I hope mainline bloggers figure that out, their enthusiasm for their favored form of media production notwithstanding.