Flacks Posing as 'Citizen Journalists'

When the Tallahassee Democrat combed the community in early 2007 for residents whose blogs and articles could fill out the paper's local coverage, Stacey N. Getz was happy to sign on. "Getz's Let's Talk Tallahassee blog is a paean to civic boosterism, inviting readers to submit ideas to help business leaders and developers improve the city," writes Adam Weinstein. But Getz didn't disclose that her PR firm, CoreMessage, had worked for Wal-Mart Stores when she wrote a blog post bashing the company's critics as "illogical lunatics." Weinstein argues that this exemplifies a problem with the news industry's growing embrace of citizen journalism. "As newspapers' circulation numbers and ad revenues free-fall, their executives have decided that publications must go 'hyper-local' and online, and they've enlisted the help of amateurs such as Getz to do it. But as her Wal-Mart plug shows, the newspaper industry's embrace of 'citizen journalism' has a downside. Reader-submitted content rarely gets vetted by editors. ... By forcing their beleaguered staffs to depend on outsiders for content, then running the content without much editorial oversight, newspapers may be taken in by crackpots and sly marketers who make Jayson Blair look like a grade-school plagiarist."