Psst buddy, wanna free story?

Posted: 05.24.11

As we were putting this issue together The Burson-Marsteller FaceGate scandal was just breaking. At the time it seemed like a very big deal, but as of print time, the stench is already evaporating.

I’m not quite ready to give it up though.

To recap: Apparently Facebook hired marketing firm Burson-Marstellers to place negative stories about Google’s So- cial Networking technology. When the news broke, Burson-Marstellers were so appalled at themselves that they said they’d never do a thing like this, except this time, and they haven’t the faint- est idea what possessed them to do it (outside a bunch of gazoola bucks from Facebook). They’ll never ever do it again.

The story is dying out pretty fast probably because no one is really sur- prised that Facebook would do some- thing mean and lowdown—we saw the movie. (Social Networking, for you cave dwellers.)

The whole thing broke because one blogger, Chris Soghoian, instead of tak- ing the bait, blogged about the offer from Burson operative John Mercurio. He was offended that Mercurio offered to ghost write the piece and place it in a prestigious press outlet like, oh say, the Washington Post, Politico, The Hill, Roll Call or the Huggington Post.

“I am quite capable of authoring my own anti-Google stuff thank you,” Sog- hoian tweeted May 3.

How could Mercurio be so stupid? The clear implication, at least as I read it, is that Mercurio figured Soghoian would be so thrilled to be published in a major outlet that he’d forget about all ethics he was supposed to be packing in his journalist kit.

Mercurio, you have got to know, also claims to have been a journalist. He was hired by Burson in 2010. The breathless announcement of his hiring published by Burson says Mercurio had previously worked as the Executive Editor of The National Journal’s Hotline. His boss, Josh Gottheimer said, “our Media de- partment is already home to a bevy of former top-tier journalists—some of the best professionals in the business. John’s political expertise and judgment will add even more depth to our newsroom.”

Yes, Mercurio’s judgement is truly

impressive. Another member of Burson’s bevy of journalists, Jim Goldman former Bureau Chief at CNBC was hired about the same time. He pitched USA Today about the evils of Google’s Social Circle and possible FTC violations. The story didn’t hold water says USA Today, and instead USA Today writers Byron Aco- hido and Jon Swartz, worte about the campaign.

Dan Lyons of The Daily Beast put all the puzzle pieces together and figured out that it was Facebook who hired Burson.

There is good news here

These have not been good times for journalists of any stripe. With circula- tion dwindling people have lost their jobs. Some, obviously, have gone to the dark side and the apparent ease with which Goldman and Mercurio managed to slip into their jobs begs the question of what kind of journalists they were in the first place.

It’s not hard to believe that journal- ists could be stupid, gullible, greedy, or lazy but if they’re really greedy, they must be pretty incompetant. As Mercu- rio and Goldman have demonstrated, there are other jobs.

In spite of the well-known fact that there’s no money in journalism (or al- most any writing for that matter) joural- ist schools report that enrollment is up. It’s pretty obvious that there are still a lot of people who get into the business because they’re curious, and they love to write even if the pay is peanuts. As it turns out, there is value in that, and that value could increase.

If Seghoian had any trouble getting any play in major media sources, he’s getting it now. There are videos running on everything from Al Jazeera to the Washington Post.

New business models

This is all happening at a time when there are real signs of hope for the publishing industry. Adobe, Apple, and publishers like Conde Nast and Hearst come together to enable single issue purchases and subscriptions purchases. The New Yorker is Conde Nast’s first publication to offer an iPad subscrip- tion. Print subscribers will get free ac-

cess to iPad copies. Conde Nast promis- es to follow up with Vanity Fair, Glam- our, Golf Digest, Allure, Self, GQ and Wired. Hearst announced that Popular Mechanics, Esquire and O, The Oprah Magazine, are coming to the iPad.

Clearly, the publishers will follow up with Android offers, and eBook strate- gies and more will come.

Jon feels sorry for the companies that are trying to make money selling tablests (see his Back Page editorial). I’m thrilled that tablets will get so cheap that everyone will have one and digital publications will become as plentiful as newspapers.

There are plenty of good writers just waiting for jobs.