Woot Makes a Joke; AP Responds, Makes Themselves a Joke - kenny chung : the frequency

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Amazon purchased the deal site Woot.com, which was in itself a pretty big deal (figuratively and literally). Right after the acquisition was finalized and made public, Woot inserted a line in one of their item descriptions about how the Associated Press owed them money for quoting Woot CEO Matt Rutledge. Woot copywriters (and whoever approved it) were poking fun at the ludicrous pricing model the AP implemented months ago to battle Google News and to monetize aggregator sites (I wrote a post about it in August 2009 titled “Seriously, Associated Press?“).

Now, I wish this were the end of the story. But it wasn’t, and I’m torn on how I feel about what happened next. AP released an oh-so-serious statement in response to Woot’s joke, saying they quoted Rutledge with permission and weren’t to be held to any quote pricing. Oh, and they also pulled the oil spill card in doing so.

So, on the one hand, this made for a very entertaining Internet battle, with bloggers and social media addicts tearing the AP apart for their overreaction. Reddit had some fun coverage about the issue as well.

However, as a student of Mass Communication, it made me a bit sad (and embarrassed) to see how poorly handled the situation was, not to mention how it showed desperation on the part of AP to cling onto what dignity it had left.

Oh, and there are also the issues of shoddy journalism and utter Public Relations fail. Anybody could do a simple Google search on Woot to discover that the nature of their editorial content is facetious at worst and lighthearted ribbing at best. To turn a joke into a serious matter was a huge communication mistake, and AP pretty much openly invited the criticisms of Woot loyalists and people who were just plain Internet savvier than the AP.

This was potentially an excellent PR opportunity for AP to set themselves apart from the rest of the struggling online news industry. Sure, they could have dismissed Woot’s allegation altogether or called shenanigans. But they could have also played along. The AP could have written an equally silly response to Woot to show that they have a sense of humor and “get” how the Internet works.

But alas, it was a poorly mishandled Mass Comm and PR trainwreck.

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