Freak out: Twitter infested by PR

A couple days ago, our top online editor, John Byrne, posted all of the BusinessWeek Twitter addresses on his blog. Suddenly, there were some very uncomfortable people roaming these halls. They thought they shared their Twitter streams with a small group of friends and colleagues—and suddenly dozens of strangers were jumping on: Flacks! Sure enough, PR blogs were already spreading the word. (Peter Himler wondered how John’s colleagues would feel about it.)

This was no surprise to me. I have more than 2,500 people following my tweets, and I wouldn’t be surprised if half of them worked in PR. I ask questions, I receive pitches. That’s part of the game. Sometimes they’re useful. It became clear to me in my early days of blogging, four years ago, that the historic divide between press and PR was no longer the same in the world of blogs.

In social media, all sorts of walls come down. There have long been walls between companies, industries, different stages of production, even hierarchies within companies and academia. Nowadays, people “friend” foes at rival companies. Peons “friend” their bosses. In journalism, we can also see the walls around our processes breaking down. There used to be a stark divide between “notes” and finished stories. Now they’re just different forms of content. The secrecy surrounding stories is in retreat.

Perhaps the biggest wall that has fallen is between writer and reader. These days some of us blog about the stories we’re working on and ask for help. (See VoxStimuli blog) And how could I overlook the ancient wall between church and state? It used to be unscalable, at least for those of us down the org chart. Now we all have to deal as adults with the moneymaking side of our business—and can’t pretend that we’re too clean or virtuous to pay attention, or to take action.

With all these changes, it’s no surprise to me that the people whose livelihood revolves around what we’re publishing would be interested in following us on Twitter, or commenting on our blogs.

Ethics, in this world of falling walls, are as important as ever. But following them doesn’t consist any longer of simply obeying three or four ironclad rules. Much is new. It’s more complicated. This means we have to struggle and think. The conflicts aren’t mapped out for us in black and white anymore.

(Posted first on My VPN wasn’t working…)

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