Name calling over Federated fallout

Dust-up continues over a Web site built by Federated Media promoting Microsoft's "People-Ready" ad campaign.

Charles Cooper Former Executive Editor / News
Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.
Charles Cooper
3 min read

"You're an idiot."

That was the response waiting in my in-box this morning sent over the transom from Tech Crunch's Michael Arrington, a class act all the way.

I suppose the proper response is something like, "Oh yeah, and your mom wears army boots." But after spending a thoroughly gorgeous day hiking in the mountains north of San Francisco, I'm feeling in too good of a mood right now. But I digress.

So what led to Arrington's bad hair day? (Full disclosure: this question comes from a guy as bald as Yul Brynner--and proud of it, sports fans.) The kerfuffle began Friday after Valleywag reported the existence of a Web site built by Federated Media promoting Microsoft's "People-Ready" ad campaign. The site featured quotations from several bloggers--a list that included Arrington, Om Malik, Fred Wilson, Paul Kedrosky, Matt Marshall, Richard MacManus, Mike Davidson and Federated founder John Battelle--about their respective people-ready awakenings.

I spoke with Microsoft to check the story out and left a couple of messages with Federated. I also sent both Arrington and Malik notes asking whether either Microsoft or Federated let them know ahead of time that their comments would be posted on a page below a banner displaying the "People Ready" question as well as the Microsoft advertisement. I also wanted to know whether this was done gratis or did money or inventory get swapped in return. By late afternoon, I posted my blog with the information I had at the time.

Battelle later left a talkback note taking issue with the story. At least he didn't call me an idiot. Neither did Malik--or at least not yet. And give the guy credit: Malik wrote on his blog that he has asked Federated to suspend the campaign on his network's sites.

Arrington was having no such second thoughts.

"The main thing I'm pissed off about right now is that they pulled all the ads, which mean we're taking a revenue hit. We're running a business here, and have payroll to make. We run ads to make that payroll. Those ads have now been pulled."

I can sympathize. Business is tough and the guy's obviously feeling a lot of pressure. But does the evolution of media necessarily mean we make room for these gray areas where marketers join the supposed "conversation?" Late Saturday, Battelle posted his latest thoughts on the blogstorm engulfing Federated Media.

Battelle's is a measured explanation and defense. But it still leaves me unconvinced that this concept of "conversational marketing" isn't just another slick way for corporate interests to plug their products--with the seeming endorsement of supposedly independent observers of the scene.

Years ago, when I worked at Ziff-Davis, Bill Ziff was asked about the church-state separation between editorial and sales. "Can we be bought?" Ziff said rhetorically. "Of course, but the price is too high."

That was easy for Ziff to say. He ran a billion-dollar publishing enterprise that was decades old and there were strict edicts. No such rules yet govern the blogosphere. There's not even consensus that "rules" should apply.