The stodgy old media industry has a rule that newspaper reporters, and TV news hosts, shouldn't trade on their public trust to endorse products. It's become redundant: the reading public typically wants journalists to drop the pretense of objectivity, and wear their prejudices in public. (For the record, my current passions are the iPhone and Facebook.) But there are limits to journalistic endorsements, and Federated Media just crossed them.
John Battelle's ad network has roped in some of its star writers to an ad campaign on behalf of Microsoft's "people-ready" catchphrase. In the ads, and the companion site built by Federated Media, Michael Arrington explains how his Techcrunch site became "people-ready". "When is a business people ready?" asks Gigaom's Om Malik. "The minute you decide to strike out on your own..." Other writers who've been paid to repeat Microsoft's slogan include Paul Kedrosky and Matt Marshall of Venture Beat, as well as Fred Wilson, the blogger-investor.
I can't blame Battelle's team for latching on to this idea. The campaign is slick; and Microsoft is a deep-pocketed client. But it's disappointing that so many of his most reputable writers have signed on as spokespeople. One would have thought that tech opinion-leaders as influential as Om Malik and Paul Kedrosky would ration their credibility more carefully, and reserve it for companies and products for which they felt real enthusiasm.