Steve Rubel Says Journalism is a Shade of Gray

Question: Where do bloggers fit in the world of journalism?

Steve Rubel: You know, what we like to do is, as a society, is put things in boxes and label things.  And, you know, we like to be able to say this is an elephant and this is a zebra and it was very easy to do that with blogs and journalism. It was easier than it is now, even a couple of years ago.

So, bloggers operate in a certain way, they want to be treated in a certain way, they have an expectation level, there was an ethos of transparency and an ethos of, you know, things that you do and you don’t do with bloggers. That was kind of an unwritten rule that was published. 

But what we’ve seen over the last couple of years though is that the elephants and the zebras have mated and I don’t know what’s what anymore so we have journalists that blog all the time and are on Twitter and yet we still have to treat them like professional journalists and there’s absolutely, and it’s our way of operating with them. 

There are bloggers that basically run little media companies and we have to, they expect to be treated in certain way but not quite in the same way that the Times wants, but with different kinds of rules of their own and then we have individuals that maybe have no rules whatsoever they’re just individuals who had day jobs who are publishing for passion. 

So, it’s very blurry and so the rules of engagement really vary and the blending of what’s a journalist and what’s a blogger is you know, it’s obliterated.  I mean, it’s more clear if you work for a major media organization that you’re a journalist, that’s pretty clear cut, but, you know, let’s take an example like TechCrunch which is one of the most popular blogs in the web which is independent. You know, is that a media company? Do we treat them like we do journalists?  I don’t know, or Talking Points Memo is another example. 

So I think that, I think that each individual is going to develop their own rules of engagement. Each company will develop their own rules and engagement and some of those will be written and some of those will be unwritten and we’ll have to test them in an ethical way and see and we’ll see what works and what doesn’t, I mean, I’ll give you an example with blogging, you know blogging is, as a company and not with people or fake blogs never went anywhere. It was something that was kind of a non-starter. 

On Twitter, there seems to be more receptivity towards that kind of stuff. I don’t know if it is as effective but there seems to be some more acceptance there.  So, every community, every site seems, every person seems to have their own rules and it’s extraordinarily messy and it’s not easy to just, you know, box things up.

Question: Do you have any blog horror stories?

Steve Rubel: So I joined Edelman in 2006, and I started my blog in 2004 and when I was, the first two years I was blogging I was in a small PR company with 30 people so we had, you know, 15 clients and you know, that gave me a canvas that was huge. I could write about anything, anybody and not be concerned about it because I didn’t really have to worry about getting tripped up.

When I went to Edelman, you know, that’s a client, that’s an organization with 3,500 people around the world and, you know, we have thousands of clients and I don’t even know who our clients are, I mean, it’s just so, it’s just huge and, you know, we could represent one company in one market and not represent them anywhere else, I mean, you know, so it’s really.  It’s a very huge organization.

The wakeup call I’ve got was about two years ago. When I got on Twitter actually, in a stream of consciousness I just begun to write about my media habits and one of the things that I, at that time I was getting a complementary subscription to the print edition of PC magazine and so what I ended up writing was, I get a copy of PC Magazine for free but I throw it away. Now, the reason I said that is because actually I was reading it online at that time. 

Well, somebody who doesn’t like us and doesn’t like Edelman reached out to the editor of PC Magazine at that time and, you know, he was understandably upset about it, and he wrote a pretty nasty up op-ed criticizing not just me but basically threatening to blacklist our entire PR firm. 

So, he was basically saying, he was posturing that he would, you know, any approach from our firm to him or his editors will just be a non-starter because of this little tweet that I wrote. And that was a huge wakeup call. I had to go on my blog and write an apology. I mean, it wasn’t like somebody twisted my arm, I was all ready to do that. I had no intention of slamming it. I was just something I wrote in the stream of consciousness and then Twitter didn’t give me a lot of room and it was early, early days for Twitter but that was a sign to me that I can’t do what I was doing before. I don’t have that level of freedom, it’s not because somebody is watching over me but because I just, you know, I have to protect the firm, I’ve got to protect our clients and obviously a part of that,  I’ve got to protect me. So that was a pretty bad experience then. But you know, I came out better for it and I think so did Edelman.

Recorded on: May 27, 2009

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