Guardian column: Buzz off!

My Media Guardian column this week brings together what I’ve been saying here about the ethics of buying buzz (registration-free link here). Snippet:

The growth of blogs and what is ingloriously labelled “user-generated content” has spawned a new commercial practice: word-of-mouth marketing, the dark art of trying to manipulate the public to buzz about your brand. Call it what you will, it’s still just PR – and as a journalist, I’ve never been a fan of flacks, for it’s their job to spin, the reporter’s to unspin, and the public’s to be spun.

But now the internet opens direct access from PR people to the public, who can now publish themselves, letting everyone avoid those pesky gatekeepers in the press. And that’s fine: the web massacres middlemen. But what the flacks and marketers don’t realise is that they also take on a new responsibility in our reordered architecture of information. Now their credibility actually matters.