Global Themes

On Globalization & Venture Capital

On “radical transparency” and stray emails

An embarrassing (and sobering) story which some of you may have already read: “Misfired memo reveals tabs kept on journalist by public relations firm” – if not, worth a read.

It talks about how an internal memo from Microsoft’s PR firm inadvertently found its way to its subject, Wired Journalist, Fred Vogelstein.

Some excerpts:

…In February, during the course of reporting on a video blogging initiative at Microsoft called Channel 9, the Wired journalist, Fred Vogelstein, received a 13-page, 5,500-word internal memo from Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, a firm that represents Microsoft.

The document, which was meant to prepare Microsoft executives for interviews, contained frank details, including some less-than-flattering observations like “Fred’s stories tend to be a bit sensational, though he would consider them to be balanced and fair,” scripted responses to questions and a strong-arm list of the points the agency expected to see in the piece.

Vogelstein, a contributing editor at Wired, was described as “tricky” during interviews. “He looks deeply for any dirt around whatever topic he is focused on and generally is tight-lipped about the direction he will take for his stories, sometimes even misleading you to throw you off,” the memo said. “It takes him a bit to get thoughts across, so try to be patient.”

Ironically, “the article Vogelstein wrote was about a Microsoft project that permitted employees to blog about the company’s corporate doings – a concept called “radical transparency.”

As Fred noted on his blog,

“As journalistic windfalls go this is about as good as it gets. There I was writing a story about how Microsoft is on the cutting edge of using the Internet to become more transparent, and there in front of me are the briefing documents they are using to manage the story. The timing was so fortuitous that I wondered whether it was intentional. When I told Microsoft about it, they convincingly told me it was not.

Here is the 13-page memo and here’s Wired Editor Chris Anderson’s take on this. 

Lessons learnt:

  • If you are on a sensitive job/case/project, it is probably wise not to have “autocomplete” on
  • Even if you do, the least one can do is to keep email addressses of the subject(s) of their investigation in a separatre address book (not the default one)
  • Almost everything committed to an email is searchable, recordable, retrievable and has the potential to come back and haunt you (and possibly ruin your career  and/or reputation 
  • It is wise to invest in content filtering software/ technology (full disclosure: we are one of the investors in Clearswift which has products in this space)

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Unusual find of the day: http://wikileaks.org/

April 10th, 2007 Posted by | Miscellaneous | 3 comments

3 Comments »

  1. Great post! On the web nobody knows one is a dog, but once they do, it will be very hard to convince them otherwise.

    Comment by Shefaly Yogendra | April 10, 2007

  2. SB
    Don’t know what really was news worthy about this piece – the fact that PR agencies keep detailed tabs on reporters (which I thought everyone knew) or the ‘outing’ of a personal email exchange between 2 professionals.

    I for one will be more cautious knowing a person is a blogger to say anything. What if they publish it even if its ‘off the record’?

    Comment by Mukund Mohan | April 10, 2007

  3. Thanks Shefaly!

    Mukund, to your point: “Dont know what really was news worthy about this piece”

    my view: The irony between the leaked memo and “radical transparency” 🙂

    Comment by Shantanu | April 10, 2007

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