Edelman/Wal-Mart blog campaign revisited by Journal of Mass Media Ethics

The ethics of Edelman’s involvement in the Wal-Marting Across America blog campaigns is the focus of four articles (a case study and three expert commentaries) in the latest issue of the Journal of Mass Media Ethics (Volume 22, Issue 2-3, 2007):

The Case: Wal-Mart Public Relations in the BlogosphereDavid A. Craig (Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Oklahoma)

Abstract: This article presents a case study in media ethics that experts will analyze in additional article within this issue. This case concerns bloggers on a site called Wal-Marting Across America, which featured a couple who were traveling around the country and parking in Wal-Mart parking lots. The blogs were generally positive, upbeat stories of the Wal-Mart employees they met along the way. However, Working Families for Wal-Mart was created by Edelman, the public relations firm for Wal-Mart. Laura and Jim were professional journalists paid by Wal-Mart. Moreover, Richard Edelman had been a leading advocate of transparency and honesty in public relations work.

Commentary 1: This PR Firm Should Have Known BetterLois A. Boynton (School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)

Abstract: This article presents the author’s perspective on an ethical situation regarding the public relations firm Edelman and their involvement in a pro-Wal-Mart blog that pretended to be impartial. The author is particularly critical of Edelman’s involvement in the controversy given their participation in crafting a public relations code of ethics, which explicitly forebids the type of deceit they practiced. However, he credits Edelman executives for their rapid response and admission of guilt and responsibility.

Commentary 2: A Case of Covert PersuasionSherry Baker (Brigham Young University, Tanabe, Japan)

Abstract: The author makes the distinction between information and covert persuasion, which she defines as advocacy disguised as information or as independent opinion. She feels the episode clearly violated the ethical tenents of both public relations and journalism.

Commentary 3: We Have All Been Here BeforeJohn J. Pauly, William R. Burleigh, E. W. Scripps (J. William and Mary Diederich College of Communication, Marquette University)

Abstract: The author discusses how the ethical code that was supposed to offer guidance for this situation was bypassed or ignored. She also raises ethical questions about the nature of blogging and of corporate information campaigns. She suggests corporations be made more responsible for arguments they create and issue.

The articles are behind a paid firewall, but you can always contact the authors and ask – nicely :) – for a reprint.

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  4. I’ve just posted my master’s thesis on this topic. The hypothesis is mostly theoretical (I tried to overturn a fundamental concept in PR theory), but the data part should be more ..interesting. I tried to “reconstruct” the entire conversation on the subject – I collected 201 blog entries and 1600+ comments – and then see how the conversation developed step by step. I also looked at what mainstream media had to say on the subject.

    Here’s a link to my blog entry about this study: http://www.lordofthewebs.com/blog/?p=46
    The page has links to full text versions in pdf and html. The title is “Significance of the General Public for Public Relations: A Study of the Blogosphere’s Impact on the October 2006 Edelman/Wal-Mart Crisis.”

    Any feedback will be very much appreciated.

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