Wikipedia’s ‘truth’ formula needs tweaking. But by whom?

There’s has been a great discussion going on about what it takes for someone to edit an article on Wikipedia. I recently received an invitation to a survey of communicators on my experiences with editing wiki entries. Apparently this is connected to a point raised by Phil Gomes of Edelman Digital, who brought this up, creating a Facebook group to think it through. The group is called CREWE —which stands for Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement.

The story of who could edit Wikipedia goes back some two years, when Timothy Messer-Kruse tried to edit an article, and was rebuffed –scolded, really — by Wikipedia’s editors.  Read his article here. Messer-Kruse is an author of several books, including one on race relations. In other words, he’s not someone who just popped by Wikipedia and had an ax to grind.

Prior to that, there were more egregious cases where vandals, and  ‘trolls’ changed biographies of people or created conflict within the editors.

Fast forward to what CREWE is proposing. There’s a task force of communicators from IABC and PRSA looking into Wikipedia’s policies. I was asked to join, and gladly agreed.

If you are interested in following this development, join the Facebook group. I also came across this page  that summarizes what Wikipedia expects of editors.

  • Subjects require significant coverage in independent reliable sources.
  • Your role is to inform and reference, not promote or sell.
  • Write without bias, as if you don’t work for the company or personally know the subject.
  • State facts and statistics, don’t be vague or general.
  • Take time to get sources and policy right and your content will last.
  • Be transparent about your conflict of interest
  • Get neutral, uninvolved editors to review your content
  • Work with the community and we’ll work with you.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.

It’s more complicated than this, trust me, but it’s a start. There’s a line on this page that states “Be patient and open to cooperation: no one here is out to get you.” But hearing about some folk’s experiences, it sure feels like a tough space to operate in.

There’s also a page on Wikipedia that states Wikipedia is about verifiability, not truth. But there are other nuances, such as NOR – No Original Research– and Be Bold to master if you want to craft Wikipedia article that adheres to its formula for wiki truth. Worth reading, if your organization expects you to monitor and create content.

When PR gets muddied, the big mops come out

Let’s hope the PR industry cleans up its house 2012.

Two stories at the end of last year really hit home that it’s time to bring out the big mops to clean out the stables.

The British case of executives in a lobbying and PR firm, Bell Pottinger, bragging that they could influence politicians and ..Google search results through some ‘creative’ tactics. Hmmm! Here’s how The Independent newspaper in the UK reported on the sting operation:

“Reporters from the Bureau posed as agents for the government of Uzbekistan – a brutal dictatorship responsible for killings, human rights violations and child labour – and representatives of its cotton industry in a bid to discover what promises British lobbying and public relations firms were prepared to make when pitching to clients, what techniques they use, and how much of their work is open to public scrutiny.”*

The sting was conducted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

The claim that it could do some ‘image laundering’, and what they called ‘dark arts’ struck me as nothing new. Bell Pottinger is in good (bad) company.

If you look closely at lobby firms, they seem to dabble in this pseudo science. Why? because dictators and bad governments are gullible enough to believe that their record could be scrubbed clean with a bit of good

The Livingston Group, which is a lobbying firm offering PR, proudly lists the foreign ministry of Libya as a client; other clients include universities corporations and other countries –such as the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Turkey. Here’s a short list:

  • Muammar Qadaffi had a PR agency back in 2008, called Brown Lloyd James. It specializes in Government Relations.
  • During the first Gulf war, the government of Kuwait was known to have used about 20 PR, law and lobby firms. One of them, with a strong reputation for Government Relations, was The Rendon Group. It practically stage-managed stories around the ‘liberation’ of the country.
  • China uses a PR agency for what it calls calls “external propaganda work and culture exchange.”
  • The Podesta Group was an influential lobby for Hosni Mubarak’s regime. It calls itself “a bipartisan government relations and public affairs firm with a reputation for employing creative strategies to achieve results.”

Fortunately, regarding the Bell Pottinger PR scandal, the most reputable organizations, including the CIPR (the UK PR bocy) and the PRSA (the US equivalent)  have come out and condemned this practice. They rightfully call their claims idiotic or unethical.

And the other story?

A minor skirmish, but it involved the world’s largest agency, Edelman. The agency parted ways with its client, Twitter after a few months. But the fall out was not so much about PR practice but how they handled the break-up. Edelman was in the news last year when it took on Rupert Murdock’s News Corp.

As for the PR industry, there is an interesting move worth following. The PRSA is in the process of updating the definition of PR. This was the definition, in place since 1982:

“Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.”

The new definitions, being voted on are here: worth reading, and watching out for!

Two interesting sidebars to the Bell Pottinger story, above:

* Bell Pottinger also mentions representing the government of Sri Lanka as one of its clients. The transcript speaks for itself.

* The chairman of Bell Pottinger, Lord Tim Bell, was the former media adviser to Margaret Thatcher, and chairman of Saatchi and Saatchi. As you know, the movie The Iron Lady is now showing.

Bracing for hard times. How could Communicators help?

Communicators, marketers, media folks and anyone in related industries reading this blog: I may an incurable optimist, and focus on a lot of positive strategies. But it’s time to return our seats to an upright position and prepare fora bumpy ride.

But it’s going to be a long, hard slog –to borrow a phrase from the good folks who brought us to this precipice. And it’s time for us communicators to start banding together, to find ways to use networks and tools like these to help each other out. Why do I say this?

  • Just this week I heard of two experienced colleagues still looking for work; I don’t envy being in that spot at this time.
  • The US treasury secretary is still warning of dire times, more bank failures etc.
  • Advertising budgets are evaporating. Have been, even before the crash.
  • One newspaper here in Arizona, the East Valley Tribune is cutting back circulation (and jobs). In some local areas it will be down to four days a week next year.
  • “”We’re in this together and we’ll come through this together” says President Bush. Translated: Please help us!
  • The cut back on business trips will mean trade events will lose attendees, airlines will get hit, etc

How could communicators be of help?

I get a lot of requests and helpful suggestions via social networks. For now it has been those needing insights on vendors, job openings and recommendations, pricing and marketing tactics.

I wish IABC, PRSA, the AMA and other associations will use this time as a way to deliver more value to members. Heck, even to non-members who would be potential members down the road. PRSA ran a very good piece on the role of the Communicator in an unfolding crisis. It’s still about communicating.

My short list of what we could do:

  1. Make an even bigger case for putting an end to spin. It may not seem like a huge thing at the time to call a modest improvement  “a revolution in…” but when companies fail, or fail to deliver, people’s jobs and lives are affected. We communicators are therefore culpable.
  2. Educate people on the value of social media in letting the sunlight in. Not every CEO could blog, but when we make our intranets and wikis and podcasts more blog-like, that transparency virus creeps into everything.
  3. Empower the bottom-up movement. I am a big fan of media training, but not for the typical reasons (of staying on message etc). I want to see those who are not confident with speaking to the media have the ability to convey the rich nuances of the organizations. I had a very bad experience with a bank recently that illustrates why it is dangerous and counter-productive to throw employees under the bus.

Jeremiah Owyang had some great tips on the questions we need to be asking at this time of doom and gloom.

Wake-up call for “DOS-based’ PRSA

My fellow blogger, Len Gutman at ValleyPRBlog is truly incensed by his profession’s approach to social media. I would have usually saved this quote for my Quotes of the week, but it’s too important to let it go. Here’s what Len says.

“The PRSA Web site is an embarrassment to the profession in terms of style and content. No social media strategy, no blogs, not even any discussion boards as far as I can tell. Is the site DOS-based?”

And here is the full post –I mean rant.

PR needs to do its own PR

George Simpson, a columnist for Media Post’s Marketing Daily added this to the PR debate, with some harsh words.

“Show me a child who says “I want to grow up and spend 15 hours a day writing meaningless press releases, begging for placement and swallowing my pride with arrogant writers”–and I will show you a child the school authorities should keep away from m-rated video games, listening to Metallica, or obtaining a gun permit.”

Never mind that Simpson cites stats such as this: 90% of B2B reporters use news releases as sources for their stories.

Chris Anderson’s post has somehow become a polarizing event, with the PR haters on one side of the spectrum taking hugs whacks at much more than clueless practitioners spamming journalists. (Someone commented that Anderson has no right to be offended. WIRED mag has been spamming him for years!)

Amazingly, the PR industry response has been weak. PRSA has published results of a study that very impressively states how journalists largely depend on PR for their stories –the source that Simpson uses. But while it has responded to other issues such as the recent fake news conference held by FEMA, the PRSA has not issued a statement on the Anderson problem. It’s been left to PR practitioners to stand up for what PR is really about.

How long must we wait?

Quotes for the week 10/27/07

“Stunts such as this will not be tolerated or repeated.”

Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner, commenting on FEMA‘s fake News Conference on the California fires on Tuesday 23rd Oct, where federal agency employees played the role of reporters asking questions of their boss.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m a little burnt on just being a “PR guy.” There’s so much more to what we do, so why not work on the PR for the PR and actually improve things.”

Brian Solis on the “new rules” of PR and why Robert Scoble should be a PR guy.

10Questions is a great opportunity for anyone who wants to hasten the end of the age of soundbite TV politics and start the era of community conversation.”

From a post in OffTheBus, a crowdsourcing experiment in political campaign reporting by NewAssignment.Net and HuffPost.

“The connected consumer. There are four major driving forces: Digitization, Convergence, Media Snacking and Social Networking.”

Duncan Wardle, VP Global & WDW Public Relations, speaking at PRSA’s International conference on 22 October, 2007.

“My hope is that this tried and tested ‘disinfectant’ can help restore some of the luster to the reputation of the USA here at home and among our friends throughout the world.”

Visitor’s comment left at the State Department blog, Dipnote, that just started this week.

“Bring a technology solution to a technology-induced problem … Can you hear me now?”

Dan Wool, at ValleyPRBlog, suggesting that mobile phones come equipped with a ‘drive mode’ that sends callers and texters an automatic response to know that you are driving and cannot be distracted .