Two posts in one week and both about the same issue of Wired no less.
Yesterday’s kerfuffle in which Wired is “shocked, shocked” to learn there is a PR industry has been all over the blogosphere. Microsoft screwed up by accidentally sending Fred Vogelstein of Wired the internal briefing document written for the folks he was interviewing. This has been portrayed as a nefarious “secret dossier” about the reporter, never mind that Fred only merited a whopping five bullet points in said document (and Fred doesn’t contest the characterizations). Reactions were bimodal: 1.) this is how the PR business works although forwarding the briefing document is definitely not best practice and 2.) you mean there is a PR business that does this?
We’ll see if it sells more magazines, but it was disappointing to see the publication spent so much time on the backstory and generating controversy around the “secret dossier” that the story of how transparency works on Channel 9 (the nominal subject) was lost. Channel 9 is a developer community that has roughly five times the number of users as Wired’s own site with far deeper user engagement. Explaining how and why is left as an exercise for someone else.
As an aside, the fact stories like this can be told so subjectively is why the world finds a use for PR agencies.
Wired may be happy in the sense that controversy probably generates buzz and drives traffic, but poor Fred is having to take one for the team. Not just the comments about him in the briefing document and here (from the oh-so-non-transparent Fake Steve, my favorite source of industry news and analysis, ironically sponsored by Wired) but longer term because every company in the world now has the briefing on him and he’ll likely have to change his journalism modus operandi. Perhaps we can just fast forward to having Wikipedia entries on every journalist, summarizing their past prose, proclivities and peccadilloes, thereby saving the energy involved in every company preparing for their own interviews. The Channel 9 team did have some fun turning the tables by interviewing their interviewer (video is here on Channel 9′s sibling TEN).
I am a big believer in transparency but the interesting discussion is where are the limits. There are and will be limits. I think Wired did a disservice making the leap to “radical transparency” without much substantiation (even the cover image stopped short of “radical” transparency). Perhaps Wired will embrace their own mantra and practice what they are preaching. They could post the stories they’re working on, let people vote on who to put on the cover and might as well share all their financials (no Reg FD issues when you’re privately held). Reporters like Fred could post all their interview notes and logs of what PR people they have met and been pitched by. Put the ad revenue per page right by the page number. Letting readers have the data to look for any correlations between editorial coverage and advertising revenue would be a radical blow for transparency.
And just for the record, I should note that it was a Microsoft employee, not Waggener Edstrom our PR agency, that accidentally sent Fred the briefing document.