There’s no question that the rise of owned media has both emboldened companies and shaped more of a peer-to-peer relationship with journalists.
In the old days, if a company took issue with a critical article, it might write a letter to editor, contact the publication’s ombudsman or cajole a correction out of the journalist’s boss. These actions seem downright quaint in today’s world in which companies can use owned media to blast away and deliver their point of view directly to the target audience.
In some cases, a company’s digital properties command a larger following than the publications that report on it.
While that’s the not the case in the Walmart-NYT “disagreement,” this situation provides another indicator of the evolving balance of power between the media and the companies it covers. The humble servant-master relationship is quickly becoming a relic of the past.
Playing the role of your seventh-grade English teacher with red pen in hand, Walmart’s David Tovar wrote a post that literally marked up the NYT article for what he considered to be shoddy treatment.
We’d expect Elon Musk to do battle with the NYT for a perceived slight.
I didn’t think Walmart had the chutzpah to counter punch one of the most influential papers in the country.
Still, it makes sense.
In an environment where anyone can step onto a digital pulpit, why wouldn’t Walmart aggressively insert its voice into the NYT story and try to diffuse the negative? And if it can be done with a bit of cleverness, all the better.
There’s virtually no downside.
Walmart certainly isn’t counting on NYT journalist Timothy Egan to make the pilgrimage to Bentonville for a détente. Would the NYT as a publication now treat Walmart more harshly? Unlikely. If anything, its various editors will be more sensitive about ensuring that Walmart gets a fair shake.
Obviously, I don’t have access to the analytics for the Walmart corporate blog, but the 300+ comments indicate the post reached a sizable audience. Perhaps more revealing, the social shares for the post tallied 4,774, including 39 journalists.
My only quibble is that the post would have been even stronger if someone outside the communications function bylined it.
Still, I think it’s fair to say that the post turned into brand-building action and one that we’ll be seeing more of in the future.
Side note: Ari Rabin-Havt offers a different perspective, writing “Wal-mart flunks its fact-check: The truth behind its sarcastic response to the Times” for Salon. If this was a debate class, Ari definitely earned an “A.” But he misses the bigger picture. There is a sizable audience (not already sympathetic to the Wal-mart cause) who believe the company showed guts in standing up to the New York Times.