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Spinning openness
March 28, 2007 7:40 AM   Subscribe

How to control your look of openness by Microsoft. An inside look at how Microsoft spun wired's article covering Microsoft's video site Channel 9. It's an interesting peek at how PR works.
posted by srboisvert (37 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
I was thinking of posting this myself, but I was too lazy after all. Thanks for doing it, srboisvert, it's an interesting look behind the scenes of a giant corporation's PR machine.

I'm a journalist myself, and although vaguely aware that the other side 'does its homework', I was still amazed at the coordinated effort of the MS team. "We want Fred to concentrate on writing his article now" is something I expect from an editor to write, instead of the subject of the article. Good job by Microsoft, I have to say, but it goes to show that good reporting about important subjects will become ever harder and more frustrating, as subjects retreat further and further into their PR trenches, only granting 'access' when they have a story to sell. Very frustrating.
posted by NekulturnY at 7:53 AM on March 28, 2007


...good reporting about important subjects will become ever harder...as subjects...only [grant] 'access' when...

Good reporting should have been this hard all along. If you are depending on "access", you are doing a bad job IMHO. Like, if a chemical company dumps a bunch of toxic junk in a river, you don't skip the story because you don't have "access". You write the story and then ask them if they want to give a reply. Make them come to you.
posted by DU at 8:00 AM on March 28, 2007 [3 favorites]


The cover, as you may have heard, is a technically ambitious exercise in mylar-craft featuring Jenna Fisher ("Pam" from The Office) in a business suit carrying a sign that says "Get Naked and...". Lift the mylar sheet and she's taking her own advice.

I totally missed this suprise cover when I got my copy in the mail. A month later, and the issue would have gone into the trash, with her sign-covered, airbrushed-to-the-point-of-cartoonish naked limbs and a hip unnoticed by me.
posted by ken_zoan at 8:09 AM on March 28, 2007


I wouldn't have realized it was Jenna Fisher on the cover if I didn't see the little blurb, she seemed so unreal.
posted by drezdn at 8:17 AM on March 28, 2007


And so on. By the way, as far as I can tell, everything in the memo is accurate. I also think the executives were very well served by the document; they did indeed stick to their message and they got pretty much the story they wanted. This was also, as it happens, the story I wanted--or was it just the story I thought I wanted because I was so effectively spun by Microsoft's PR machine? The mind reels...
Mind reeling indeed. But I'm more intrested in this bit here:
April issue of Wired, which went on sale this week. The cover, as you may have heard, is a technically ambitious exercise in mylar-craft featuring Jenna Fisher ("Pam" from The Office) in a business suit carrying a sign that says "Get Naked and...". Lift the mylar sheet and she's taking her own advice.
I might just have to take a look here, I havn't read Wired in a long ass time.
posted by delmoi at 8:52 AM on March 28, 2007


Thanks, srboisvert. As you pointed out: "It's an interesting peak at how PR works.". The problem with knowing about PR is that the most successful an operation is, the less you hear about it.

NekulturnY: "good reporting about important subjects will become ever harder and more frustrating". What the Wired story describes is not new: while editing a trade mag (about marketing) 15 years ago, I learned that PR agencies had continually updated files on most journalists in Canada, cross referenced to every story of every client.

When you know about the inner workings of professional PR, you see its marks everywhere on the public sphere. Only amateurs talk to journalists unprepared.
posted by bru at 9:10 AM on March 28, 2007


"Good reporting should have been this hard all along. If you are depending on "access", you are doing a bad job IMHO. Like, if a chemical company dumps a bunch of toxic junk in a river, you don't skip the story because you don't have "access". You write the story and then ask them if they want to give a reply. Make them come to you."

Oh, you sweet child. I wish I too was a member of the Neverneverland Press Corps.
posted by klangklangston at 9:15 AM on March 28, 2007


Excellent. srboisvert posted this exactly as we hoped and planned he would.
posted by Merlyn at 9:17 AM on March 28, 2007


The nearly hysterical anti-reporter stigma in this culture really gets to me. Lord knows there are no hard-working, well-meaning journalists just writing to pay the bills. No, they must all be covert operatives furthering their own perverted agendas. They're all 'digging dirt' and trying to ruin lives.

Still, even Microsoft's manipulative maneuvers can be circumvented with some solid reporting work. I would hope.
posted by Curry at 9:19 AM on March 28, 2007


Oh, you sweet child. I wish I too was a member of the Neverneverland Press Corps.

I don't see anything particularly naive about this expectation. If news organizations a) weren't all owned by the same few entities and b) reported on each others' screwups I think we could come pretty close.
posted by DU at 9:21 AM on March 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Good reporting should have been this hard all along. If you are depending on "access", you are doing a bad job IMHO. Like, if a chemical company dumps a bunch of toxic junk in a river, you don't skip the story because you don't have "access". You write the story and then ask them if they want to give a reply. Make them come to you.

Gee, is that how it's done?

I guess that explains why today's media are filled to the brim with well reported, critical and insightful interviews with CEO's of chemical companies who dump toxic waste? As opposed to carefully guarded statements by groomed-for-tv PR reps who haven't been near a chemical plant in their entire life?

Oh, and let's not forget the brilliant job that was done by the US press corps on the Iraq intel and subsequent war. Loved how those officials got creamed time after time by reporters who had them "come to them", after digging up damaging stories.

The point is that real journalistic work has become (mostly) irrelevant to media concerns, and PR agencies know this. They know a reporter has only limited resources (time, information, money), and they can afford to wait longer and spend more, feeding him just enough information to have him write the article they wanted to see.

Our friend Fred's story was written before he even started: he was effectively copywriting, without even knowing it. And I think that journalists are copywriting a lot more often that they (want to) know.
posted by NekulturnY at 9:21 AM on March 28, 2007


We anticipate an advance draft of the piece by mid-March

That's fairly condemnatory of Wired's approach to journalism, isn't it?
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 9:21 AM on March 28, 2007


I only read Wired for the articles.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:24 AM on March 28, 2007


I only read Wired for the articles.

For me it's Jargon Watch and the glossy pictures of things I could never afford.
posted by drezdn at 9:28 AM on March 28, 2007


I'm sorry, but isn't Wired just a self-righteous Sharper Image catalog? Complaining about being spun by Microsoft's PR team is kinda rich when the entire magazine is nothing but a smorgasbord of gadget porn.

It's a nice article, but I have this sinking feeling that I just need to find a copy of Manufacturing Consent and digest it.

That said, I want to see Karl Rove's journalist files.
posted by solistrato at 9:33 AM on March 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


*looks again*

Yes, it appears the word "should" is in my comment.
posted by DU at 9:36 AM on March 28, 2007


I'm sorry, but isn't Wired just a self-righteous Sharper Image catalog? Complaining about being spun by Microsoft's PR team is kinda rich when the entire magazine is nothing but a smorgasbord of gadget porn.

LOL, pretty much.
posted by delmoi at 9:42 AM on March 28, 2007


game warden to the events rhino, on the reporter's own blog entry there's this comment:
I'm Wired's research editor, and I wanted to address Ribble's question and Microsoft's suggestion in the memo that Microsoft would see a copy of the story before publication. It's simply not true.

Wired has a rigorous fact-checking process, in which our researchers contact every source in a story to verify all facts. For that reason, sources may glean what the story is about from the sorts of questions they are asked, but our policy is clear: we do not share copies of stories with sources prior to publication, period.

If you have any other questions, feel free to contact me.

-Joanna Pearlstein, Research Editor, Wired
posted by Firas at 9:46 AM on March 28, 2007


Tired: Wired
posted by boo_radley at 9:46 AM on March 28, 2007


"I don't see anything particularly naive about this expectation. "

Of course you don't.

You write the story and then have the sources come to you? How do you verify anything? How do you get more than what a terse press release gives you? Why, you have to interview people. You have to chase after people. You have to get some level of access to people.

In journalism, there is an unfortunate but necessary undercurrent of unethical behavior in that every Story (rather than story) comes from someone telling you something they shouldn't have, and you violating their trust by printing it. It serves a greater good, but it's often still shady.

But take your example of a chemical spill. Let's ignore the idea that there was some open dumping, since that's straight news and can be cobbled together with three sources in half an hour. But let's say there's chemical dumping in a river.
Says who?
Well, we've got this state worker who's willing to say that tests came back that show a chemical in the river. You need access to him, and the state agencies make you go through their PR machine first, and scientists will be threatened with discipline if you get them outside of that context. So, you've either got a scientist willing to tell you something he or she shouldn't, or you've got the state agency's pr apparatus, which is often slow and motivated by political concerns.
Then you've gotta show that it came from some company. That means getting someone on record to either confirm or deny, and trying to get ahold of any documents (internal or external) that will support the idea that company X has anything to do with the chemical. Unless it's the unobtanium manufactured only by X-co, all you can do is repeat their denials, or give 'em the ol' "Refused to comment." To get a Story, you need access to someone internal that will confirm the allegations, otherwise your chemical spill spends a day on the front page when it's fresh, and migrates to A-8 while you cover the continuing denials.
Add to that the raft of other folks you have to deal with to make a good Story (some expert to prove the chemical is harmful, some law enforcement folks to talk about what the plans are there— which are often hard to get, because law enforcement likes to hedge their bets, some environmentalists) and you need access to all of 'em. If you've previously slagged Greenpeace, they may decide to tell you to blow it out your ass if you want to interview them.
Add all this to the fact that very few journalists are lucky enough to spend the majority of their time doing investigative work, and you begin to see where you're coming across as a bit of a Jimmy Olsen.
posted by klangklangston at 9:51 AM on March 28, 2007 [3 favorites]


>>No, they must all be covert operatives furthering their own perverted agendas. They're all 'digging dirt' and trying to ruin lives.

Corporations have discovered that they're rarely held accountable by the government, so the few journalists telling the truth are one of the few things they do fear. Rather than fight what they view as bad PR one incident at a time, it's more efficient to cast doubt on the entire reporting community, essentially a preemptive attack.
posted by SaintCynr at 9:52 AM on March 28, 2007


we do not share copies of stories with sources prior to publication, period.

Thanks for that, Firas. For some reason I failed to consider the possibility that Microsoft were just full of it. It's just so out of character for them...
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 10:02 AM on March 28, 2007


Photo gallery of the Fischer cover and article if you were curious.
posted by Rhomboid at 10:22 AM on March 28, 2007


I'm sorry, but isn't Wired just a self-righteous Sharper Image catalog?

Except for, you know, some really fascinating articles.

/not cool
posted by brundlefly at 10:25 AM on March 28, 2007


I'm sorry, but isn't Wired just a self-righteous Sharper Image catalog?

It definitely was, but it seems like it's gotten better in the last 6 months. Of course, I dropped my subscription one month before they started putting naked chicks on the cover, so don't listen to me. The Nightly News is an entertaining*, if paranoid, take on the effects of media conglomeration. Plus it's really pretty and shiny and infographicky.

I feel gross using "entertaining" to describe a screed about what looks like a Real Big Problem, but it's not exactly a Master's Thesis on the subject either.
posted by yerfatma at 10:25 AM on March 28, 2007


Speaking of peeking, here is WIRED's March 2007 "Get Naked" covercovered and uncovered[NSFW?] — with Jenna Fisher. If you prefer a little more user interaction, just mouseover the photo on the home page.

I've been subscribing since 1998. Although they've had cheap shot covers before, my first reaction to the current one was "If WIRED must resort to this to get readers to open the magazine, they're in trouble."

Tech, toys, booze, and peripheral babes catch eyeballs and pay the big advertising dollar$, though.
posted by cenoxo at 10:26 AM on March 28, 2007


If there's one thing that's been grating on my nerves lately in Wired, it's all the gee-whiz look at this cool technology the US military has that I expect more from the Discovery Channel or Popular Mechanics.
posted by drezdn at 10:30 AM on March 28, 2007


a rigorous fact-checking process, in which our researchers contact every source

yadda yadda bla bla bla...
posted by quonsar at 11:16 AM on March 28, 2007


Wired will never be as good as it was in its first couple years of publication. One of my favorite articles was the feature about exploring campus service tunnels.
posted by mrbill at 11:52 AM on March 28, 2007


Kinda miss orange 8px type on acid green striped background.
posted by hal9k at 12:52 PM on March 28, 2007


For some time Wired has stuck me as one of those magazines that was just as notable for the amount of advertising present as it was for content. And like a lot of tech-oriented magazines there was always some praise for the next big technological breakthrough. So somehow, with those two ideas in mind, an article focusing on Microsoft's new respect for transparency isn't such a big surprise, especially when there's a new-technology aspect to it.

But they still do publish some interesting articles. I'll pick up it up from time to time at the newsstand, or go read it at the library. And if it really has gotten better in the past few months, I might even subscribe again.
posted by timelord at 1:06 PM on March 28, 2007


There is absolutely no reason to airbrush a naked Jenna Fischer... what in the world were they thinking?

Oh yeah, the article. Yeah, great, Microsoft sux.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 1:39 PM on March 28, 2007


I'm sorry, but isn't Wired just a self-righteous Sharper Image catalog?

If there's one thing that's been grating on my nerves lately in Wired, it's all the gee-whiz look at this cool technology the US military has that I expect more from the Discovery Channel or Popular Mechanics.

You guys must be talking about my article in the February issue, "The Invisible Enemy," about the way-cool shiny new open-source bacteria that the Pentagon has unleashed on the world courtesy of fighting the war in Iraq on the cheap and hiding life-saving medical data from the families of wounded veterans. Strictly a superficial puff piece. A PR firm working for the bacteria put me up to it.

Sorry to be ironic, but it does get to me after awhile when people accept as conventional wisdom that Wired is about nothing but gadget-lust, when my whole life is trying to come with scoops like that.
posted by digaman at 3:17 PM on March 28, 2007 [3 favorites]


one of those magazines that was just as notable for the amount of advertising present as it was for content

Guess you're not privy to any women's magazines in your local privvy.

people accept as conventional wisdom that Wired is about nothing but gadget-lust

I've been a subscriber (off and on) since 1995 or so and I do think it went south for the past couple of years as a more literate version of a lad mag. It's definitely on its way back, but the problem will be whether the target audience relates to words on paper anymore.
posted by yerfatma at 3:53 PM on March 28, 2007


I've wondered for a while if Microsoft's marketing people (or the companies they use) are on drugs or just incompetent. Tonedeaf slogans like 'Welcome to the Social' (touting a feature that nobody wanted, not enough people can use because not enough people bought (or were going to buy) the device, and that was crippled by DRM out of the box, using language that hearkens back to 1950's square dances or something! Yeah, cool) and 'The Wow Starts Now' (when the defining image that almost anyone who looked at the OS, whether they were techies or average folks, was diametrically opposed to 'wow'), promotions like 'Powertogether' (uh, OK) and a host of others in recent memory ... it's bewildering.

I could (christ, anybody with a clue and an ear and a reasonable grasp on language could) come up with better stuff before their 3rd beer.

This comes from someone who's been, if not a fan of Microsoft -- which strikes me as weird and creepy, being a 'fan' of a product or a company -- at least someone who's often found himself defending their products in the past, personally and professionally, who's been a early adopter of their technologies since the Win 3.0 days, who had reasonably positive feelings about and experiences with their consumer and server products up to and including Windows XP in particular. For the first time ever, though, I’ve held off on one of their new OS's, because Vista just isn’t very good in my opinion and is not at this stage worth the upgrade, and has issues that would degrade the quality my daily computer use (poorer performance in games, the unacceptable copy-delete-move bug, poor drivers (admittedly not entirely MS's fault)). Weird, and sad, because I don’t have any desire, despite the fact that I'm an 'enthusiast' and have been for decades, to move to a Linux distro, and I'm not spending the thousands of dollars it would take me to move to an Apple platform. (Somebody wanted to buy me a Macbook or something, I'd be keen to try it, because it seems that the balance is shifting from the old days when Windows was an enthusiast OS and Mac for people who just wanted to get stuff done, to the reverse. But that ain't gonna happen.)

Ah well.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:42 PM on March 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


I could (christ, anybody with a clue and an ear and a reasonable grasp on language could) come up with better stuff before their 3rd beer.

Microsoft: Have you checked out our latest stuff? We're not quite as crapulent as everybody says!
posted by Rhomboid at 8:09 PM on March 28, 2007


digaman: I'm not thinking of the super virus article(I was going to mention that as an exception). I'm thinking more of articles like the one about the use of drones or training soldiers in a fake Iraq set-up that, at least to my anti-war eyes seem to come across as a PR campaign for the US military.

I realize that Wired is a tech magazine and right now the US military is probably on the bleeding edge of technology along with the fact that "there's a war on," so stories about the military are more likely to run, but sometimes the articles come across as military fanboyism.

Additionally, Wired seems to have fallen into the trend of slipping everything into the first person(more so in the short pieces than the long ones), a style that to me, always makes the article suspect.
posted by drezdn at 8:20 PM on March 28, 2007


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