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How to Handle Bloggers - Not!

"Big, powerful law firms like Nashville's King & Ballow really ought to hire someone with journalistic and new media experience to advise them on how to handle clients who complain about things published by bloggers," says media relations consultant and blogger Bill Hobbs. "Then they wouldn't do stupid things like issue threats of libel suits that they can't win against bloggers who, it turns out, have lots of friends willing to make the law firm and its client look bad for it."

Hobbs is referring to the demand letter the firm sent to blogger Katherine Coble after she posted an item on her blog critical of executive-search firm J.L. Kirk & Associates. The letter gave her two days to take down her blog entry or be sued for damages. Instead, Coble posted the letter, and that set off what a Knoxville News Sentinel blog called "A historic worldwide blog swarm on Tennessee." The blog Nashville is Talking has the full play-by-play.

Ironically, King & Ballow should have known better. As TV reporter Sharon Cobb points out, the firm is known nationally for its defense of the news media and of the First Amendment. According to the firm's Web site, it represents more than 300 daily newspapers and more than 100 radio and TV stations. I've met members of the firm and been impressed with their media (and new media) savvy.

So why did this media-savvy firm take this route? It hasn't said, but Hobbs describes why it was a mistake:

"[B]y threatening to sue Coble, King & Ballow and JL Kirk Associates have made it MORE likely that the comments that [they] don't like will be read by lots more people than it otherwise would have, and will be republished countless times on the Internet in more places than JL Kirk Associates can possibly afford to pay King & Ballow to threaten to sue."

Knoxville lawyer Rob Huddleston agrees, calling the demand letter "a real blunder." He explains:

"Yes, the practice of issuing demand letters as a way of getting what a client wants without having to resort to actual litigation is widely used. However, you can't treat every case the same. You need to know when something is going to be attractive to media -- local, state, or (in this case) global. ... If this case is going to make the media take notice (taking into account that mainstream sources oftentimes are agitated to action by bloggers), then you have to be perfect in your actions."

I agree with him when he says that this is a prime example of a case in which J.L. Kirk should have "let sleeping dogs lie." Meanwhile, the Media Bloggers' Association (to which I belong) has taken up Coble's defense. Its general counsel, Ron Coleman, has sent King & Ballow a preliminary reply

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on April 13, 2007 at 03:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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