I’ve written before about how traditional media appears to be debasing itself in a desperate bid for eyeballs. That example was the IHT. This time it’s the WSJ (I declare an interest: I’m a former staffer and still undertake projects for them.)
Yesterday’s online Journal has a piece by one Mark Penn, opining about blogs:
In America today, there are almost as many people making their living as bloggers as there are lawyers. Already more Americans are making their primary income from posting their opinions than Americans working as computer programmers or firefighters.
An excellent deconstruction of his argument can be found at Read/Write Web.
I’m not here to contest the figures, though it looks like they do need contesting.
I’m here to question why someone who is the CEO of a PR firm is writing a piece in the WSJ that’s not properly flagged as such.
There’s no telling from the byline that he’s not a Wall Street Journal employee:
There’s no telling from the URL: indeed, it’s called article (rather than comment, blog, column, or somesuch in it: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124026415808636575.html
There’s no telling from the tagline at the bottom. In fact there’s no tagline at the bottom.
There’s a blurb at the side, buried beneath a list of his recent columns and above a “People who viewed this also viewed..” list:
Indeed, there’s absolutely nothing on the page to flag that this is a column written by someone who is not a reporter or editor and that his opinions do not represent anybody’s but his own’s or his company’s or his company’s clients.
If I had the time I’d take a closer look at who those clients are and how they may benefit from his pieces. But I shouldn’t have to do that. I buy the WSJ so I don’t have to. Or shouldn’t have to.
The WSJ should clearly flag, at each and every opportunity, that this is someone who is not being edited by them—I hope, at least—and that the opinions being expressed have absolutely nothing to do with the journalistic reputation of the paper.
But the bottom line is the same as that for the other piece I wrote: that traditional newspapers are doing themselves, and their remaining readers, a great disservice by mistaking externally sourced commentary as content, and mistaking quantity for quality.
The sad thing is that someone will think this column—with its 27 comments and ripostes in places like Read/Write Web and Huffington Post—is a success, elevating WSJ.com to the level of a cool social media site. No, guys, it doesn’t. It just means you’re becoming no different from all the commentary that’s out there, dubiously motivated and free of the basic principles of our profession.