Official’s Comments Hint the Gov’t Can Pay Bloggers

    January 30, 2005

The fallout over Ketchumgate continues. The New York Times reports that the Department of Health and Human Services said it had hired Michael McManus …

… who writes a weekly syndicated column and is director of a nonprofit group called Marriage Savers, as part of a PR campaign. Although he was a journalist, McManus was paid for his expertise rather than to write columns supporting administration policies.

As I said last week in response to Jay Rosen’s criticism, I cover the intersection between blogs and PR. I stick to this topic and I rarely, if ever meander.

So what do blogs have to do with this story? Well, Wade Horn, the assistant secretary for children and families for the Health and Human Services Department, said that it was “important to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest” and that the line between journalism, commentary and consulting had blurred…

Thirty years ago, if you were a columnist, you were employed full time by a newspaper most likely, and it was very clear,” he said. “With the explosion of media outfits today, there are a lot of people who wear a lot of hats. Where’s the line? What if you have your own blog? Are you a journalist?”

So, this begs the question – if Mr. McManus had been a blogger and not a columnist would it be ok for HHS to pay him to blog for PR? By his comments McManus makes it sound like this might be ok in W’s PR playbook. I wonder if this points to a future strategy. Jay, bubulah, you happy now? :-)

Steve Rubel is a PR strategist with nearly 16 years of public relations, marketing, journalism and communications experience. He currently serves as a Senior Vice President with Edelman, the largest independent global PR firm.

He authors the Micro Persuasion weblog, which tracks how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the public relations practice.