The ‘Total Disclosure’ debate and Oracle OpenWorld

Speaker MicrophoneBy Joaquim P. Menezes – Oracle's decision to invite bloggers to this year's Oracle OpenWorld Conference that runs November 11 – 15 has sparked quite an animated discussion in the blogosphere about issues such as: transparency, disclosure, “press” freedom (as bloggers will be registered as press), compromise and so on.But before we get to that, as there's still some confusion about what types of privileges invited bloggers will enjoy, here's a brief run down on what I've been able to glean so far:- From a financial perspective, invitation means “free registration' for bloggers. It apparently doesn't mean Oracle will be picking up travel/hotel costs or expenses.- While it's called an “invitation”, apparently there's no “invitees list.” Registration is “open” but to qualify you need to “blog about Oracle, enterprise software, Enterprise 2.0 or another loosely-coupled subject.” If you meet this criterion, you need to register as “Press.”(As an aside, Oracle's late-in-the-day decision has led to some interesting situations such as folk stating that they started blogging about Oracle about a month ago – but had registered for OpenWorld – and paid for it – before that, and now want a refund).Okay, so now about the disclosure and “integrity” debate – one that incidentally, is as old as the hills.Here's one view: As bloggers are to be treated as press and offered a press pass, they need to disclose in their blogs that Oracle “paid” for their conference fees.”If not,” says a manager of application services, in his post on the Oracle AppsLab blog, “it is pretty hard to convince readers that these bloggers are going to be impartial knowing that Oracle paid for their trip.”The manager cited adverse comments in the blogosphere on the AMD/Acer laptop giveaway to selected bloggers.His argues that when bloggers – whose registration costs are picked up by Oracle, say something positive about Oracle (even if it's true) – they invite the charge that they were “paid” to do that.”Would you trust any studies commissioned by Microsoft/Oracle/IBM (or any organization) where the outcome of the studies favour the sponsor in question?” the manager asks. “That’s [advertising] and marketing.”A very interesting perspective and at first blush it seems very logical. But I don't completely agree.For one, I don't believe that a research study being commissioned (or registration expenses, or even T/E being picked up) by a company ipso facto means the analyst's (or journalist's or blogger's) freedom and integrity are compromised.I guess the acid test would be if there's something unfavourable to the company that needs to be reported but isn't because the person – analyst, journalist, blogger – has had their T/E tab picked up by the company.That would be compromise – that would represent “integrity erosion”. And it's very likely that happens in some cases, but I don't believe we can generalize and claim this is an inevitable consequence your registration (or travel expenses) being paid for by a company hosting the event.In fact with most technology trade pubs, often the only way they can be present at an event is when the hosting company picks up their T/E tab.Has this compromised their coverage. In most cases, absolutely not.What about studies, surveys etc commissioned by tech firms ?Again, it's the same principle. Much would depend on this ethics of the firm and the person doing the study.The fact that Company A pays an analyst firm to do a study, and then uses material from the study report in its marketing initiatives, doesn't automatically mean that the report's conclusions are untrustworthy.It would be if the analyst firm deliberately skewed the report results and its conclusions to say something – which while favourable to Company A – just wasn't true.But there's another aspect to this discussion, as well.On occasion a company – or its communications folk – may try to control journalists, analysts, bloggers etc by using “access” as a weapon. This is a more subtle – but effective way – of controlling the message, and I've experienced this from time to time.So journalists/analysts etc. who don't toe the line suddenly find access to key execs, conferences, sessions etc. cut off – or made exceedingly difficult – while others putting out more favourable reports magically find doors opened.

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