Press releases in sheep's clothing

By Peter Nowak, CBCNews.ca

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama is planning to host weekly "fireside chats," updated for the digital age of course on YouTube, in an effort to bring more transparency to the President's office. Obama's campaign was hinged on the buzzword "change," and his effort to present the world with weekly information updates is certainly that - a big change from the clamped-down, tight-lipped previous administration. But if, as the Washington Post reports, Obama's videos are simply going to be one-way communications, there will certainly be little change in the level of transparency.

In fact, the videos could make things worse.

Corporate blogs have become very common in the technology world. They're ostensibly designed to provide the public with information directly from the horse's mouth, whether it's about the company's new products or its opinions on a given subject. Google runs a series of particularly informative corporate blogs and is generally not shy about making strong statements through them, whether it's about uncompetitive cellphone markets or interference with internet access by service providers.

The problem with these blogs is they're double-edged swords.

While the company is able to share its information and viewpoints through them they also shield their writers from questioning, which effectively allows the company to control its message. Many journalists are thus tempted to leave it at that. "What's Google's position on net neutrality? I'll just check the company's blog." That equals an unequivocable win for the company and a big loss for the real story.

In effect, many of the blogs out there are essentially press releases disguised as "Web 2.0 interactive communications." Don't let Obama's videos fool you, a YouTube blog is a press release by any other name.