Paid to Stir it Up


Originally uploaded by gflan_1999.

With much fanfare, The Cincinnati Enquirer recently launched a new blog on its Web site, Cincymoms.com, apparently aimed at the newspaper’s primary demographic these days — busy soccer moms in West Chester and Mason.

Some sources inside the Enquirer, however, are questioning the newspaper’s practice of using paid “discussion leaders” to post items on the blogs in an attempt to generate feedback, without identifying the leaders for readers or making it clear that they’re being paid.

Critics say the practice echoes what happened when the Enquirer launched its “Grandma in Iraq” blog last year. Although editors knew the blog’s author was a military public relations flak, they initially didn’t reveal that fact to readers. The blog was pulled after some readers uncovered the fact and alleged the blog was concealed pro-war propagandizing by the U.S. government.

Enquirer editors, however, insist the two situations are different and defend their use of discussion leaders on their blogs.

In a response to an e-mail inquiry, Michael Perry, The Enquirer’s managing editor for non-daily publications and new initiatives, states the discussion leader positions were advertised in the newspaper and there wasn’t an effort to conceal their use. More than 100 women applied and 10 were selected, Perry wrote.

“We did this for a few reasons: Other sites in similar situations have done this,” Perry wrote. “The women we hired are moderators to some extent, alerting us to spam and helping us delete it. They also let us know about other possible objectionable material.”

Perry notes that the leaders comprise only 10 people out of more than 2,500 registered users. In the three weeks since the blog launched, it has had more than 9,800 posts about more than 1,300 topics.

“Is this practice necessary? I don’t know,” Perry writes. “We have not needed them to start discussions among users; users are doing that themselves. Just look at the numbers. But it was great from the beginning to have moms taking ownership of the site, championing it in the community and helping monitor the content.”

As newspapers increasingly shift to more and varied online products, questions about how the content is produced and what the newspaper’s role is will probably continue to become more common, media critics agree.

— Kevin Osborne

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One Comment on “Paid to Stir it Up”

  1. The Dean Says:

    Don’t forget that the Grandma in Iraq blog was championed by people inside the Pentagon.

    Glad to see you picked up on this story, too!


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