The Danger of “Contributing Writers”

April 26, 2012

by Kerry Martin 

Everyone has an opinion.  And since the advent of social media, those opinions have been easier and easier to broadcast throughout the world (like on this blog, for instance).

For the print and online news media, those opinions have started to mix with traditional, fact-based journalism.  Content from the opinion pages has leaked into other sections, and writers who usually covered standard beats can now express their views as “columnists.”  As this practice has become the norm, most readers have adjusted, learning the writing style and standpoints of their favorite reporters-turned-personalities.

But for outlets hosting content from subject matter experts or just other voices, readers oftentimes can’t distinguish the difference between real on-staff reporters and these so-called “contributing writers.”  The danger therein is twofold:  these bloggers don’t always have the same fact-checking editors that other trained journalists have, and their opinion is given more credibility behind the banner of esteemed news publications.

Take for example Steven Salzberg, a professor of medicine and biostatistics in the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins University who writes for Forbes.com.  He wrote a post earlier this week criticizing the University of Florida (UF) for eliminating its computer science department due to budget cuts while also commenting on the budget increase for its athletic program.  Salzberg had to make two corrections to the article about incorrect numbers quoted in the article and his insinuation that the University Athletic Association (which maintains a separate budget from the academic budget) could use its budget surplus to cover the cost of the program.  The most flagrant of errors in the article, however, was the fact that nowhere had he written that the changes to the computer science department were proposed … planned … not enacted.

More than 350,000 views later, the damage had been done.  Salzberg’s article was referenced in dozens of other posts locally and nationally (by other bloggers and actual journalists alike) further adding to the credibility of his false presumptions.

The University Relations team at the University of Florida quickly responded to the article with a response posted on the College of Engineering’s website about his incorrect claims, as well, UF President Bernie Machen addressed the situation and how the university is continuing to evaluate proposals for mitigating the budget.

Salzberg even wrote a follow-up piece about it—the view count is already up to a whopping 8,500.  And who said the corrections section doesn’t work?

(It should be noted that as one of the three members of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, the University of Florida is a Curley & Pynn client, that fellow C&P employees earned their degrees from UF, and … well, this is just my opinion.)


You Mean You Forgot the Conversation We Never Had?

April 26, 2012

by Dan Ward

Email marketers (OK, spammers) are becoming more and more sophisticated, but this one takes the cake.

Not only is it personalized, it also includes an email that I supposedly sent to the spammer, requesting that he follow up with me! It obviously is meant to reach busy people who might say, “gee, I normally wouldn’t give this guy the time of day, but apparently we’ve already talked and I asked him to follow up. He must be legit.” It also is meant to skate through spam filters, and on this point it was successful.

What made it a little less successful is the fact that “Steve Smith” sent the exact same message to my partner, Kim Taylor, suggesting that she made the exact same “follow up” request to him at the exact same time on the exact same day.

Memo to “Steve Smith at Tri-Cities Financial:” Since you have the power of putting words in my mouth, I wonder if you can guess the words I’m thinking of right now.


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