So much goes into building an effective, broad corporate PR program that often times some things are overlooked. This includes the federal rules and regulations that govern how information is disseminated.150px

I have worked for a public company and have had to work with rules such as Regulatory Fair Disclosure, which determines when material information can be released and the methods a company can use. It was that experience that prompted me to submit a session to the BlogWorld and New Media Expo.

Well, I found out recently that they accepted my proposal! I get to speak on a panel with some great minds that we are still working to confirm. Look for an announcement soon.

So, go register for the event and come watch me speak!

I would like to welcome TechCrunch to the world of actual journalism. Find a story, verify info, interview sources, write story, fact check, publish, repeat.

Here’s the quick background: TechCrunch obtained multiple documents from an alleged hacker who had broken into Twitter employee’s email accounts, Google Documents (There’s a reason it’s not compliant, but that’s a different issue) and other documents and information. TechCrunch verified w/Twitter and its lawyers the accuracy of the documents and even interviewed them. Then they published some of the documents. They were even kind enough to redact personal information.

Journalism 101

From the days of muckraking and yellow journalism, obtained documents have been one of the best sources of great information for reporters. The methods and tactics used to acquire these documents range from the legal (Washington Public Records Act, Federal Freedom of Information Act) to the potentially unethical.

But here’s an important step that separates journalist from sensationalist: The journalist attempts to verify the information before publishing. The Sensationalist does not.

As a holder of an actual, real-life journalism degree, I sat through hours of press law and have filled out my fair share of information requests. I have also obtained information through anonymous sources or obtained information in other ways. And I used those documents. But after verifying on my own.

The right to publish

Now, the debate over whether or not TechCrunch should have published or not is broken into two parts:

  • Is the information newsworthy?
  • Is the information “off limits?”

The newsworthiness discussion is for another day. I am focused on the ethics involved in publishing the documents. TechCrunch absolutely acted within the boundaries of accepted journalistic ethics in publishing those documents. If it had simply published the entire .zip file without making an attempt to check facts or redact personal information, it would have been very out of line.

Instead, it looked for the information it deemed “newsworthy” and ran with it. To recap, it verified the information with Twitter, attempted to elicit on-the-record comment from Twitter and published the information that was applicable to the story it accompanied. TechCrunch even solicited comment from third-party companies named in the documents.

One could also make the argument that Ev and Biz and some of the Twitter team are “Limited Purpose Public Figures.” This means that some of their information is subject to federal and state open records laws and that their expectations of privacy are a bit different than the average citizen.

In this case, the combination of a good journalist and a good lawyer are difficult to beat.

Should they have published

Well, in my opinion yes and no. If TechCrunch wants to use this as a standard for applying journalistic ethics to its reporting (coverage?), then great. But the fact is that TechCrunch is a blog. Its writers express opinion and insert themselves into the stories they are writing. Independant sources are a rarity, as is interviews with the subjects they’re writing about.

I’ve written about the difference between blogger and journalist before, and I think it is completely applicable here. And this gets right to the heart of the debate. If the New York Times had published those documents, would we have even flinched?

I’m sure my opinion is different than some, so tell me what you think.

In my last post, I raised the issue of what I call the Twitter Relations Model. Essentially, Companies are putting on events with limited invite lists ant the expectation is that the atendees will tweet about it. The net result is a super-effective word of mouth PR/advertising campaign.

So, I talked about the problem. Now, I’m here to offer a solution. Stowe Boyd is championing something he calls “microsyntax.” Essentially, a couple of characters that denotes a more involved meaning. For example, a forward slash before and after a city or address or location denotes that I am actually there: /Kent, WA/ for example.

So, my solution is a microsyntax for sponsored Tweets. I am proposing a four-character sequence that looks something like this:

My proposal for a sponsored Tweet Microsyntax

My proposal for a sponsored Tweet Microsyntax

Essentially, it’s a $ at the beginning and end of a tweet. An extra step and the loss of four characters, but in the interest of disclosure, I think it might be worth it.

The effect

If you see a tweet with the dollar sign, then assume it is a sponsored tweet and the opinion being expressed has been bought. Omit the symbols and you are claiming the opinion as a true representation of your thoughts and feelings.

Some companies are blatantly sponsoring tweets, but that’s OK. Izea CEO Ted Murphy says that the company has strict disclosure policies and that participants will be disclosing their relationships. To me, this is no different than advertising on any other content broadcasting platform. So long as it is obvious what is a sponsored tweet, then more power to you.

The effect of the dollar sign microsyntax is simple: Force disclosure of what opinions belong to you and what opinions belong to the company paying for them.

What do you think?