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World Bank to Bloggers: Drop Dead

UPDATE: Bill receives WDR2011 in Sunday 12:30pm email from World Bank. Should we complain now that he is getting special treatment?

This morning we learned that the World Bank does not consider bloggers journalists. According to Bank policy, it won’t give press accreditation to bloggers, denying them access to the media briefing center where new reports are released under embargo before they are published for the public.

In this case, the report we won’t be allowed to see an advance copy of is this year’s World Development Report, on Conflict Security and Development. It’s due to be released to the public on Sunday night.

I was shocked, actually, since the World Bank is usually ahead of the curve when it comes to technology and communication. They have dozens of internal blogs which they encourage their staffers to post and comment on. Many of these these blogs don’t shy away from substantive debates about real development issues, including thoughtful self-criticism (a relevant example is this blog post by a World Bank staffer questioning whether anyone even reads the WDR any more, which makes us think they would WANT bloggers to write about it, but that’s another story).  Last year, the Bank opened up a new, user-friendly site with free access to 2,000 development indicators, and is hosting a competition to develop new apps that take advantage of this data.

We’ve given the WHO flak for shutting down debate saying that they “don’t participate in discussions on blogs” and shamed the UN for telling us they “didn’t have a communication policy for blogs.” But the World Bank? I expected so much better.

The White House has been accrediting bloggers since 2005, as do many US cities and states. Even the Millennium Challenge Corporation (a US aid agency) treats print and new media journalists equally.

I’m drafting an email to the Bank’s media department about this and encourage other bloggers to do the same. If we start now, we might just receive accreditation in time for the World Bank’s 2015 “Mainstreaming New Media to Facilitate Progress of Democratizing New Technologies”  report.

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  1. baggins wrote:

    the bloggers! united! will never be – ooh look, shoes…….

    Posted April 8, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Permalink
  2. David Theis wrote:

    This isn’t true. We offered it to Bill early.
    Do you still want it?


    Posted April 8, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Permalink
  3. Laura Freschi wrote:


    Respectfully, it is true. I applied for the user name and password required to enter the Online Media Briefing Center through the World Bank web page this morning.

    After several phone calls with other press center staffers who told me the registration was pending, we spoke and you told me that as a matter of policy, the World Bank does not give early access to blogs.

    Your offer to email Bill the report directly a few hours early is not the same as allowing us access to the protected areas of the site for “accredited media outlets.” I don’t know when the WDR report was put online, but presumably those journalists registered by the Bank have had access to that report for days, and did not have to send several emails and make phone calls to get it.

    Best wishes,

    Posted April 8, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Permalink
  4. Brandon wrote:

    Regardless of who said what to whom and when, saying that delaying blogger access is tantamount to a message of “drop dead” is pretty irresponsible on the part of Aid Watch.

    Posted April 8, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Permalink
  5. Pineappleskip wrote:

    If every catchy headline was irresponsible, I don’t think there would be very many responsible newspapers.

    Seems the world bank has a bit to learn about online credibility – and how to lose it – time will tell what they learn.

    Posted April 8, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Permalink
  6. Robert Tulip wrote:

    Petulant. Blog ≠ Newspaper.

    Posted April 9, 2011 at 3:43 am | Permalink
  7. William Easterly wrote:

    Mr. David Theis, World Bank media chief,

    thanks for your kind offer of making the WDR available on Sunday night.

    I have referred your offer to the aid commentators’ union, which under our landmark 2010 collective bargaining agreement, does not require my colleagues and I to work on Sunday nights.

    Thanks, Bill

    Posted April 9, 2011 at 7:38 am | Permalink
  8. Moussa P. Blimpo wrote:

    Many Bloggers are also experts, thus more likely to dig deeper in the WDR, to question the methodology, to compare with other studies, etc. Journalists, at least most of them, even the most respected one, will limit themselves to quotes like: “World poverty in progress…,” WDR says.

    So, if the WB lets the bloggers take the lead too early, journalists’s quotes could become something like, “WDR plagued with methodological flaws” or “WDR says world poverty has progressed, but experts point to evidence showing otherwise”.

    Whereas if the bloggers comes after the journalists, the journalist would have quoted the WDR and already moved on to something else, like the French bombings in Cote d’Ivoire or any other important news that comes up.

    Posted April 9, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink
  9. Rachel wrote:

    I’m not sure how you would administer this…would every person who writes any sort of blog be allowed access to the report early? If not, who decides which bloggers are reputable enough to have access and then does this process not become totally arbitrary/subjective?

    Posted April 9, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink
  10. William Easterly wrote:

    AidThoughts criticizes Laura and I for the hubris that we at Aid Watch think we are equivalent to the New York Times. Other comments on Twitter have a similar flavor.

    I am always willing to admit virtually any and all personal flaws, but the charge on Laura is unfair and logically fallacious.

    My cousin Kenny believes that Nobel Laureates and he should have equal rights before the law. That does not mean cousin Kenny considers himself equivalent to a Nobel Laureate.

    Posted April 9, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink
  11. Taylor wrote:

    I like Bill’s work on this blog. However…

    Any organization or entity has the right to deny credentials to whomever they choose for whatever reason. Credentials – much like education and health care – are not rights.

    This is a debate had by smarter people than me (I recommend NYU’s Jay Rosen on the topic), but bloggers are not journalists. Use of the term “new media journalists” suggests that words have no meaning – I can call myself an elephant and expect people to treat that as true.

    A journalist is trained in her field, is expected to follow specific rules, expects to be paid for her work, etc.

    You can be mad at the WB press office for not giving access to bloggers – but don’t call yourself a journalist.

    Finally, one thing in this post is definitely true: no one except people in the World Bank read the WDR anymore. It used to be a big source of comment for Oxfam and the other INGOs. But it hasn’t had an impact in years.

    Posted April 9, 2011 at 11:31 am | Permalink
  12. Oscar Abello wrote:

    If there’s anything that could rightly give World Bank staff pause when accrediting bloggers, it’s that bloggers generally aren’t under constant threat of being sued for libel and there isn’t a regulator like the FCC for blogging that can take your blogging privileges away. But on the other hand plenty of bloggers have been put behind bars in other countries for their work, and the international journalist community seems to consider that an affront to themselves.

    The fact is, blogging is a medium, whether you consider bloggers to be journalists or not.

    I’m perfectly fine with the idea that some bloggers could get access to ‘protected areas for accredited media outlets‘ on a case-by-case basis, according to whatever internal standards the WB chooses. Becoming a media outlet with that kind of respect and access is something to which we can aspire, speaking as someone who writes for one blog and manages another. There’s plenty of reasons why AidWatch is already worthy of that level of respect and access.

    If the WB doesn’t consider blogging to be a medium worthy of protected access, that’s unfortunate. If the WB is afraid of AidWatch’s perspective helping to shape coverage by other media outlets, that’s even worse.

    Posted April 9, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink
  13. Aditya Khan wrote:

    Oh my god put a sock in it Bill and Laura. You whine and moan like a little schoolchild the moment your egos are pricked. Bill – you’ve sent out 1000 tweets with “Drop Dead World Bank”, and frankly I don’t know who is the bigger idiot, you for thinking that your twitter followers actually care after the first 3 tweets, or me for actually being a follower.

    So you didn’t get invited to the launch of the WDR. Tough luck. If you want I’ll offer you a free phone call where you can bitch about it to me and I’ll tell you that everything’s going to be alright.

    Accept David Theis’s offer and actually do something productive, like read the WDR and give us a review.

    Enough with the moaning. PLEASE.

    Posted April 9, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Permalink
  14. Jacob AG wrote:

    I asked my good friends Merriam and Webster what they think constitutes a “journalist,” and this is what they told me:

    1a : a person engaged in journalism; especially: a writer or editor for a news medium
    b: a writer who aims at a mass audience
    2: a person who keeps a journal

    Then I asked, what’s Journalism?

    1a : the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media
    b: the public press
    c: an academic study concerned with the collection and editing of news or the management of a news medium
    2a : writing designed for publication in a newspaper or magazine
    b : writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation
    c : writing designed to appeal to current popular taste or public interest

    You could make a good case either way–that AidWatch does or does not deserve press accreditation–but I’m with the White House on this one.

    Posted April 9, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Permalink
  15. Quicksilversurfer wrote:

    Just as a reference: isn’t it interesting how on the AidWatch blog there can be such a broad diversity of point of views (and I admit that on the current topic I side with Laura and Bill) while on other blogs such as the WB [
    ] postings seem like press releases and replies seem to be carefully screened?
    Journalism in the US (where the WB is located) is by now basically limited to “reporting”, i.e. telling the reader what the other said without any analysis (as analyzing and reporting the findings could be be interpreted as conveying a bias: in other words, the journalist is only a transmission box. In that sense, bloggers have filled a void, providing analysis to the “news”. That all blogs are not equal in terms of quality of analysis and reliability is an unfortunate fact and consequence. But, from that to barring all bloggers is a huge step that imply that the public relations department at the WB is more concerned to controlling the information that to their much-proclaimed efforts toward opening the debate to non-official actors.

    Posted April 9, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Permalink
  16. Merrell Tuck wrote:

    Quicksilversurfer seems to be criticizing the WB’s Let’s Talk Development blog without actually reading it. If he’d read it he would have seen, for example, Martin Ravallion has a non fluffy post about some controversy related to microfinance research by Roodman & Murdoch versus by Pitt & Khandker:

    Also, as Bill points out, Adam Wagstaff on an earlier Let’s Talk Development post actually challenged the relevance of the WDR as a flagship report:
    That said, any attention is better than being invisible, so thanks quicksilver for citing Let’s Talk Development. Hope you & others might actually read it going forward.

    Posted April 10, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Permalink
  17. William Easterly wrote:

    Dear World Bank PR,

    Your PR strategy on the WDR generated 1 real story in the FT today, a brief mention in the tiny World Watch summary in the WSJ, and nothing in the NYT. Laura was really trying to act in YOUR best interests on getting anyone to notice the WDR :)

    Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:54 am | Permalink
  18. Merrell Tuck wrote:

    Oh, Bill, how astonishing that you, the great proponent of empowering bloggers, didn’t notice Binyamin Applebaum’s long and useful post today in Economix (the NYT blog), all about the WDR 2011:
    Gosh, does this mean blog coverage isn’t as important as news stories? Hmmm….

    Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink
  19. Brandon wrote:

    Aid Watch to reasonable headlines: drop dead

    Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:39 am | Permalink
  20. Vivek Nemana wrote:

    It seems that some of our readers couldn’t quite grasp the humor of the headline. The ‘drop dead’ is a reference to the NY Daily News headline that went, “Ford to City: Drop Dead.” The headline was not actually said by President Ford, but rather summed up his denial of federal funds to a bankrupt New York City.

    It was an important headline in the history of American journalism, and some say it may have cost Ford the election. Laura’s use of it here was intended to be comic in how exaggerated it was , and maybe you could even say it was a sly mediation on the way the traditional relationship between power structures and the media has evolved.

    But maybe that’s going too far.

    Posted April 11, 2011 at 11:53 am | Permalink
  21. William Easterly wrote:

    To Merrell Tuck of World Bank PR: your argument is powerful: you did give it to one blog (inadvertently since it was NYT that already had access as print journalists). I must surely concede you have won the argument. Bill

    Posted April 11, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Permalink
  22. Frank wrote:

    Once upon a time world class researchers at the World Bank feared and respected Bill Easterly’s fierce and insightful comments.Today, Bill is picking fights with the communications department about having access to some report one day earlier or later. Interesting and a bit sad from an intellectual perspective. You can do so much better Bill!

    Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:37 pm | Permalink
  23. Taylor wrote:

    Blogging is one of the main ways that most people receive their information about global events. What they do not always realize is that blogs are an outlet for people to express their personal opinions. While blogs are a great source to read about events and understand things better through the opinions of others, it is important to remember to read them with an open mind. I think the World Bank should support the use of blogs. At least people are trying to better understand what’s going on in the world.

    Posted April 13, 2011 at 12:13 am | Permalink

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    The Aid Watch blog is a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI). This blog is principally written by William Easterly, author of "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics" and "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," and Professor of Economics at NYU. It is co-written by Laura Freschi and by occasional guest bloggers. Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid.

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