I wrote a blog post over at Mashable this week that made someone mad. This is fairly par for the course, given my position as outspoken editorialist. Every once in a while, though, I’ll irritate a reader, sponsor or strategic partner enough for someone to ring up my superiors and call for my head on a platter. This week contained an incident along those lines.
My bosses have always been supportive of me, even when I’m fairly out there in my opinions, irking the world, and generally making it difficult to be my friend. Still, I’m not so far out of whack with my written pieces that I play fast and loose with the facts. If I have what some consider an untenable position, I support it fully with facts or reasoned analysis. If I have a bit of information about a company that may not be completely flattering, then I make sure it’s true to the best of my abilities given the reach of my contacts.
Mashable is a blog that isn’t known for it’s hard-hitting, nail-’em-to-the-wall investigative journalism. There are sites like that, we just aren’t that kind of blog. Still, there have been a number of times in the past when we’ve had access to credible information that doesn’t make certain companies look their best. When we have that information, and it’s germane to the topics at hand, we report it.
This week, there was a story in which just that happened. I wrote a story based on credible information I had available to me to me. The company’s PR guy drops a line to all my bosses the next evening asking for my reprimand, but not before he and I had a brief exchange that led my to believe all was well. The piece I put out about his company wasn’t at all negative about his company, it only revealed a bit of information that they hadn’t anticipated becoming public knowledge.
When the PR fellow wrote me, he attempted to spew a list of facts and firsts about the company that were patently untrue. I’ve been in tech professionally for more than half my life, and been following this company’s tech sector since it became a sector. Off the top of my head, I was able to correct a number of claims he made in his communication with me (and claims made to other media outlets), and I imagine this is what pushed him over the edge to try to get me into trouble.
Essentially, I’m telling all of you this because these incidents happens often enough for it to be a pattern, and I’d rather not become soured on more Web 2.0 companies because of their shady corporate communications departments.
The overwhelming majority of PR folks I talk to on a daily basis are smiley, cheery people, and most of them are truly honest folk who are just doing a job of conveying information. There’s a minority of them, however, that seem to be conniving power-weasels, bent on making bloggers’ lives miserable in any way they can.
I’m reminded of one a few months ago that almost caused me to change my phone number. I had written a funding story, and I had somewhere in the article transposed a number incorrectly (instead of $3.89 million, I had put $3.98 million). I promise you I’m not exaggerating, and my wife can back me up on this, this PR lady called me around 12 times a day for two or three weeks straight, saying that my screw-up entitled her client to a podcast interview to “set the record straight.”
What these PR people don’t realize, though, is that they don’t have the power in the relationship. Going around and generally annoying or starting feuds with bloggers will not win you any career points, particularly if your company has things to hide. What’s more, it makes me not want to deal with or write about your company at all, let alone shine the positive sunbeams on your company’s accomplishments.
Undoubtedly, the PR people in question is going to eventually read this blog post, and they’ll immediately know who they are, so here’s a bit of a narrow cast message to them: you know the ways in which you insulted my craft and abilities, and you know the secrets of your company. Given that precarious precipice you sit on, was it wise to make an enemy of me? Was it the brightest move to stalk me? Was it worth it to be as hyper-sensitive and defensive as you were?
I really don’t dig long-term investigative journalism as my preferred way to spend my days, but these horrendous PR people have motivated me to take a deeper look at their organizations. To them I say: for your sake, you’d better hope your falsehoods end only with your product pitches.
I feel somewhat better having gotten all this out of my system Though I’m sure I’ll be just as irritated again next month when it invariably happens again with someone different, I’ll try to not inflict it on you, my readers.