PR Guy Says Bloggers Should Shut Up And Take Press Releases

from the well,-then dept

When we first started Techdirt, one of the things I said clearly on the site was not to send us press releases, as we had no interest in writing about them. Yet, so many PR people clearly chose not to read the site and they send them anyway. They don't read the fact that we don't want press releases -- and in most cases they clearly don't read the site because the press releases obviously are about stuff we never write about. And it just gets worse and worse. These days, my inbox is filled with more press releases than regular email -- and I don't post any of them. You would think that PR people would eventually recognize how inefficient it is to send these press releases -- but since it's so easy to just cc every email address in a press list, they never even think about it. This leads me to write posts trashing PR people. But, of course, that does no good, because (as already established) the PR people who send us press releases obviously don't actually read the site.

While there are some PR people who understand this, and with whom I have a good relationship, the vast majority don't seem to care at all. And, now, some seem to be going in the opposite direction. Romenesko points us to a marketing/PR guy who claims that bloggers with large audiences have a responsibility to just accept these press releases -- even if they have no intention of writing about them:
In my view, a popular, well-read blog de facto takes on some of the public trust that the mainstream media have always assumed.... Why shouldn't I send you a press release? If you've got 2,000 readers, you're like a small newspaper. Newspapers don't complain when we send them press releases. They may throw the release away, but they don't write articles ridiculing the person who had the audacity to send it, as some bloggers do when they get an unwanted release.
Well, we've got a lot more than 2,000 readers, and if we have any sort of de facto "public trust" with our readers, it's to write about what we think they'll find interesting -- and they've made it clear they don't care about press release "fake news." And if we ridicule PR people -- it's not simply for sending us a press release. It's for clearly not reading the site where we ask them not to send us press releases and for not understanding what we want to write about.

We do want story ideas. We have always asked our readers for story ideas. But press releases aren't story ideas. They're attempts to spin a story in a positive manner with a bunch of unwanted and useless information that actually makes our job harder.
The fact is, in a very short time, you've become a key cog in our society's communication machine. You're part of something that's destroying the old model; at the same time, you're being given the opportunity to help create something worthwhile to take its place.
Yes, and part of that "something worthwhile" is getting rid of simply parroting spin from a company PR person. It's about having a real conversation. Spamming people with press releases is part of that "old model" that isn't working. Why do you think it's okay that journalism is changing, but it's just hunky dory that PR people do the same old thing?
Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that you have an obligation to actually write about what's in press releases. The world will go on whether you tell your readers about XYZ Widgets or not. But understand that you have an audience and people are going to want your ear. Accept that as a compliment, and don't be indignant when it happens.
No. You've got it wrong. We know that we have an audience and people are going to want our ear. And that's why we make it clear how to get our ear. You're the one choosing to ignore the very clear terms of engagement that we've laid out -- and thus, you shouldn't get upset when we point out that you weren't paying attention. Since you seem to think our "ear" is so valuable, isn't it up to you to at least understand how to get that ear to pay attention? If you want to be lazy and not understand, that's not our fault.

Finally, the biggest problem with press releases is simple: they're not actually about getting the ear of the blogger. They're about using the blogger as a one-way path to that blogger's audience. It's missing the point of why many (though certainly not all) bloggers do what they do. They blog to be a part of the conversation -- which is more than a one-way path. It's a multi-directional conversation where everyone gets something out of it. If you stop looking at the blogger as a one-way road to an audience, and realize that the blogger, the readers and the company you represent should all be part of a larger conversation, you might realize just how ineffective press releases are for that purpose.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
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    Anonymous, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 2:52pm

    PR People

    I think those PR people need to hire some PR people. Ones with brains, if they can be found.

     

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    GeneralEmergency (profile), Jul 10th, 2008 @ 3:27pm

    Mike is RIGHT.

    Broadcasting, IN ANY FORM is D-E-A-D. Why? Because it is inherently arrogant and impolite to think that in this age of two way communications, that what you have to say is above or not open to rebuttal or criticism or comment.

    TV is actually starting to piss me off these days precisely because I can't talk back.

    So all you weenie, whiney PR people out there...start your OWN blogs and slapp your dull PR-Babblicious goo down there and if, and that a BIG -if-, anyone actually bothers to read it and takes the time to comment that your latest product/service/whatever is lame/dull/toolittle/toolate/donetodeath read it, suck it up and count your lucky stars that at least they read what you wrote.

    Oooo. That felt good. Nappy time now.

     

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    Sarai, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 3:41pm

    Long Live April Winchell

    My hero April Winchell once had her own radio talk show in Los Angeles. To give you an idea of her idea of content; she had a talent for digging up the most awful music, and she would play the offending song over and over again, until someone called in to the show and begged her to stop. Or she would play recordings of crank phone calls. She managed to fill three hours a week of radio airtime with absolutely nothing, and to make it funny as hell.

    She also had a habit of reading some of the press releases that were sent to her. It was obvious that none of these PR folks had a CLUE about the content of her show, and press agents for authors of things like diet and self-help books would deluge her with advance copies of books and a glowing press release. Her on-the-air reading of these press releases was so funny that I'd have trouble catching my breath, because I was laughing so hard.

    I still miss her show.

     

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    Elohssa, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 3:54pm

    It's just like Scams and Spam.

    I the practice wasn't effective, they would stop almost immediately.

    If some rubes didn't send every cent they had to Nigeria, 419 scams wouldn't happen.

    If some people didn't love Hormel Spam, it wouldn't be in the stores.

    If some bloggers didn't re-spew the press releases, they wouldn't send them out.

    One meaningful benefit of the environmental craze might be to eliminate wasteful mailings.

    It would certainly sell better than complaining that people who don't care about you won't listen to you.

     

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    Jake, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 3:55pm

    Does this apply to all forms of press release, or just the ones written by Marketing? I'd say a statement released by the State Department about the IT mishap that led to the social security number of every person in the country named Bill being accidentally emailed to L. Ron Hubbard or something deserves just slightly more attention than some nonentity in a suit bragging about how awesome his company is.

     

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    Simeon Johnson, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 3:57pm

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    Jim G., Jul 10th, 2008 @ 4:00pm

    Here's an appropriate quote about the kind of "conversations" corporations want to have, from http://www.maxbarry.com/2006/02/18/news.html

    "They spend billions of dollars to get their names on our lips and their logos in our eyes, but letting us talk about them is dangerous: we might say something they don’t like. They want what Naomi Klein calls the “one-way conversation:” to be able to speak to us—endlessly so, through billboards and television and radio and product placement in your movies and the back of your bus ticket—without allowing us to speak back. Unless, that is, we’re saying positive things about them; unless we’re “on message.” And so they seek complete control over their names, to ban us from uttering them unless it is to speak praise."

     

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    Press Releases are for morons, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 4:13pm

    I engaged the senior execs of the PR spammer

    I work at an organization that used to get lots of press releases. My strategy from changing that included the following:
    1. identify all the email addresses of the PR firms senior leadership and the email addresses of the senior leaders of the company they were pimping
    2. sending a response email to the sender and cc'ing all the other execs
    3. in a few sentences explaining: what a waste of time it is to send my organization a press release to someone that doesn't do anything with press releases; how wasteful they are of their client's money, charging thousands of dollars to SPAM a list that they don't have a relationship with; suggesting that the sender be fired and that the client fire the PR firm, etc.
    4. finally...asking to be removed from their SPAM list

    The good news: we NEVER get press releases anymore.

     

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    Fubar4Fun, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 4:21pm

    Where it comes from

    By far I am not somebody who knows exactly where all the PR biz comes from, but I do know the science of it.

    Most large corporations or organizations have huge chunks of cash for advertising and public relations. Sometimes these sums are larger than a productions budget and designed to con customers to buy their product or service.

    The people that work under these budgets have a single mission...get the word out to the customer base in any way shape or form and trample anyone who gets in the way or don't get paid. Kind of like a garbage collector who's pay incentive is to collect as much garbage as possible even if he/she has to generate it.

    Hence the nature of the PR response to the blogger of 'here it is, just put it on your site so people can see it' period. The blogger will look at it and, because there is no incentive to post it like a check for several thousand dollars, they toss it. (Not to say thats an issue here on Techdirt...but I am sure it is elsewhere)

    The problem with these PR people is very simple really, they cling to the old business model that has no evolutionary possibilities. They cling for their dear professional lives because it is:
    a) Proven
    and
    b) All that they know.

    The 'b' answer is the true problem with the PR person and not the issuing of Press Releases. As long as these people are stuck in the past and happy, the evolution of mankinds information sharing and commentary will continue to be anchored in the past. But, things do change and as their numbers are begin to dwindle and the corporate reigns are passed on to the next generation who's more tech savvy, the PR people will get the idea and play the game.

    Those that cannot make the change into the linked world will soon find themselves on a one way street and no horizons other than the corners of the box they create.

     

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    Adam Singer, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 4:31pm

    From a PR guy

    Mike is DEAD on - and this PR guy is so far off its laughable.

    The world has changed, and some people are extremely adverse to that. The entire PR and marketing industry has changed and will never be the same.

    Some people embrace the future, the others are frightened by it. Regardless this post hits the nail on the head.

     

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    Duane, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 5:31pm

    Comments

    Half the content on any good blog is in the comments. The bloggers understand this, but other people seem to miss it. Without comments, a blog would be no more interesting than an old-line news site.

     

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    stephen, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 5:39pm

    press release board

    could you add a tab where readers could comment on or, better yet, wiki-edit a press release of the day? in other words, how can we turn their press release into bad press?

     

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    Emily, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 5:43pm

    They will learn...

    As a PR professional, I'm constantly surprised at how slow the industry is to catch up. I think a lot of the challenge stems from the client/agency relationship: truly engaging in personal, real, bi-directional conversations takes a lot of time and thought, and most clients don't understand or want to pay for that work. They want to be on > yesterday and agencies are under the gun to make it happen. Combine that with PR people on several accounts, and there literally isn't enough time in the day. The onus is on us to better educate our clients about the shift, and the importance of interacting with people as people, and not targets, and then to rearrange our business models to fit the new reality. Some companies will get it, and for the ones that refuse to learn...they are best left to their own devices...

     

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    Pete, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 6:20pm

    Press releases

    You have got to be kidding. I cannot understand why anyone would send a press release to some group that clearly is not a member of the 4th estate. Bloggers are generally opinion writers and under no circumstances should be given any consideration like a legitimate news organizations. Bloggers really are much to busy for such mundane things as when a new product is to be introduced or when some exciting new advancement has been made in the world of, say, computer hardware. They need to write nasty articles about how people clog up their mailboxes. Like that never happens to anyone else. Get a life and learn where the delete key is and how to spam block your inbox.

     

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    Anonymous Cowherd, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 6:53pm

    Urgh

    Pete is half-right about bloggers -- they are not either "news organizations" (being mostly individual people) or "members of the 4th estate" as that was originally conceived.

    They're superior.

    OK, maybe they're biased, but every bias is out there, and with comment feedback as a reality check, and the biases are generally out in the open. Unlike with, say, FOX news which calls itself "fair and balanced"!

    Mike, on the other hand, didn't go far enough regarding PR people sending out press releases. All such are essentially asking for free advertising space, pure and simple. And, sometimes, not asking for it so much as demanding it.

     

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    Cynic, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 7:50pm

    About 15 years ago I was at a business lunch and (foolishly) made some reference to "junk mail". The Marketing guy in attendance jumped right on me saying how valuable such advertising is and the wonderful opportunities that it provided for me to learn of new products and services to improve my life. I just about had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing out loud.

    My point: before the Internet became popular there were clueless Marketing guys willing to try to convince others that the world is flat and many citizens enjoy receiving the communications they send out.

    They are just as stupid today as then, they are just using a different medium. Kind of sad, really.

     

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    Jason Kintzler, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 8:23pm

    Press Releases

    I hear where you're coming from, however I think it's critical to point out that there is more than one form of press release and one that engages and encourages dialog is a far better approach. At PitchEngine we encourage members to adopt the Social Media Release as a form of communicating with both bloggers and journalists. I think that this will inevitably prevail as a mainstream source of PR-Media relations.

     

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    Another Cynic, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 9:11pm

    I HOPE they Learn!

    @ Pete - :-Þ Go Jump in a Lake @ John Reinan - Ditto @ Press Releases are for morons - :D I LOVE IT!

     

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    Allen (profile), Jul 10th, 2008 @ 11:02pm

    I donno, he may be half right

    I agree that "a popular, well-read blog de facto takes on some of the public trust that the mainstream media have always assumed"

    I dont see where "the public trust" has anything to do with republishing press releases. Sure the traditional press has long gratefully used press releases to cheaply generate content, but this is a practice, not an obligation.

     

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    Joan Stewart, The Publicity Hound, Jul 11th, 2008 @ 5:04am

    Pitches, not press releases

    Smart PR people distribute press releases online primarily to catch the attention of consumers who can find a release when Googling a particularly problem.

    They can read the release, click through to a website, and perhaps even buy something without journalists entering the picture.

    Lazy PR people use the "spray and pray" method, blanketing the globe with crappy one-size-fits-all press releases that journalists and bloggers hate.

    If you really want to get the attention of a reporter or a blogger, pitch a story idea that's designed just for them. But before pitching, do your research. Read the blog to get a good idea of what the blogger cares about. If you're pitching a journalist, Google their name and see if they also blog. If so, visit their blog and post a comment or two BEFORE you pitch your story idea.

    As a publicity expert, I get more questions about press releases than any other topic. So I created a free email tutorial called "89 ways to write powerful press releases." It's a very long 12-week course that walks you step by step through every phase of writing and posting press releases online, primarily for consumers.

    You can opt into the course at http://www.PublicityHound.com/pressreleasetips/art.htm

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2008 @ 6:11am

    they are going to send press releases to you no matter what you say. so just create an email box like pressreleases@techdirt and tell PR guys to make sure they send releases to that address so that it gets to the right party for review. then just delete all emails to that account.

     

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    Parker Mason, Jul 11th, 2008 @ 8:03am

    Press Release Distribution

    Let me start off right away by saying that I am an employee of CNW Group, a news release distribution company ('press release' is such an old fashioned term).

    I completely agree with the points being made here. News releases should not be used to spam bloggers or any other type of journalists.

    That is why most newswire companies offer opt-in lists or feeds. Major media points choose to receive our wire feed. Similarly, bloggers (or anyone) can choose to subscribe to one of our RSS feeds.

    I also agree that this is still not a "conversation" with the public, and that is why many of the newswire companies (including CNW) are making efforts to allow comments or at least track discussion about each particular release.

     

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    Jeff Rife, Jul 11th, 2008 @ 9:13am

    Let's see if I understand what the PR guy was saying:

    Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that you have an obligation to actually write about what's in press releases. The world will go on whether you tell your readers about XYZ Widgets or not. But understand that you have an audience and people are going to want your ear. Accept that as a compliment, and don't be indignant when it happens.

    So, I guess he'd be OK if we told him:

    Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that you have an obligation to actually buy the C1@lis and V!@gr@ that this e-mail is hawking. The world will go on whether you have a small p3n!s or not. But understand that you have an e-mail address that I can send to, and people are going to send you stuff that might shock a hardened ex-marine. Accept that as a compliment, and don't be indignant when it happens.

     

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    Jorg Pierach, Jul 11th, 2008 @ 9:57am

    Mike: You can't have it both ways. On the one hand you say to PR people: ”Don’t send us your releases. They are all spin, and they won’t help us do our job. And if you do, we reserve the right to hold you up to ridicule.” At the same time, you are happy to accept revenue from banner ads that certainly are not relevant to every single visitor to this site. So, in essence, you are willing to “spam” your visitors with unwanted content, while denegrating PR people for sending you press releases.

    I think the common ground here might be to accept that some releases have value, as do some ads. If you don’t want to do the work of clicking through to find the ones that have value, that’s your choice. At the same time, I can choose to find other blogs to read that just give me the content I want without bombarding me with cheesy ads for products I don’t want. That’s my choice. Perhaps each of us loses something if we choose that path. Or not. It’s worth discussing.

     

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      Mike (profile), Jul 11th, 2008 @ 11:16am

      Re:

      At the same time, you are happy to accept revenue from banner ads that certainly are not relevant to every single visitor to this site. So, in essence, you are willing to “spam” your visitors with unwanted content, while denegrating PR people for sending you press releases.

      Um, no. There is a difference between an INTRUSIVE press release and an unobtrusive, easily avoided banner ad.

      I think the common ground here might be to accept that some releases have value, as do some ads. If you don’t want to do the work of clicking through to find the ones that have value, that’s your choice. At the same time, I can choose to find other blogs to read that just give me the content I want without bombarding me with cheesy ads for products I don’t want. That’s my choice. Perhaps each of us loses something if we choose that path. Or not. It’s worth discussing.

      Again, that's not the point at all. I have made it quite clear how we want to hear from people and how to pitch stories to us. Someone making a proactive decision to ignore that is quite different from choosing what source to read.

       

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        Jorg Pierach, Jul 11th, 2008 @ 12:55pm

        Re: Re:

        There you go trying to have it both ways again, Mike. You say the ads on your site are "unobtrusive," but I can assure you that's not a view shared by every single one of your visitors. Could your definition of unobtrusive be clouded by the fact that those ads put money in your pocket?

        And what would your advertisers say to your assertion that their ads are "easily avoided?" If that were truly the case, I'd take my precious marketinging dollars to a place where they can be more effective. Sounds like you're holding your nose a bit while driving to the bank.

         

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          Mike (profile), Jul 11th, 2008 @ 2:29pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          There you go trying to have it both ways again, Mike. You say the ads on your site are "unobtrusive," but I can assure you that's not a view shared by every single one of your visitors. Could your definition of unobtrusive be clouded by the fact that those ads put money in your pocket?

          No, not at all. I think banner ads are fairly lame and not very effective:

          http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20080519/0234411163.shtml

          And what would your advertisers say to your assertion that their ads are "easily avoided?" If that were truly the case, I'd take my precious marketinging dollars to a place where they can be more effective. Sounds like you're holding your nose a bit while driving to the bank.

          As explained in the link above, banner ads are not our business model. We put them on the site more to learn about the space than anything else. They make a tiny fraction of our revenue. If people want to ignore them, so be it. I'm not going to force anyone to look at them and I don't think anyone has an obligation to look at them.

           

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    Chris Parente, Jul 11th, 2008 @ 10:59am

    Good post. There is no excuse for the "spray and pray" model of PR. It offers no value.

    To commenter Emily's point, a lot of PR people fully realize things have changed, and push back with clients to try and provide newsworthy info. A lot of clients don't understand -- and it's our job to help them to.

    Joan is right that SEO is a big focus now -- all content created for the client should be online and constructed so it raises the organic results of the client.

    And Pete is on to something to -- it would be nice if some tech bloggers covered more actual tech, instead of personalities and following the VC money trail.

    Mike -- can you share an instance when a PR person shared an idea or client news with you, in a constructive and positive way?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2008 @ 1:59pm

    Jorg, you're talking about two VERY different things here...

     

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    Jorg Pierach, Jul 11th, 2008 @ 3:19pm

    You're right. Banner ads are lame and ineffective. But when people visit your site, they don't see a disclaimer next to the ads that says: "Banner ads are fairly lame and not very effective, and besides, they comprise only a small fraction of our revenue, so if you find them obtrusive, suck it up cuz we're doin' some learnin' here."

    Nope. People just have to live with more bad ads in their lives, and you pocket the revenue, no matter how small. What if those same PR people you chide as spammers come back and say, "Well, these spam press release emails are only a small fraction of our overall marketing program, and besides, the practice helps us learn a bit more about how it works."

    From here, your position looks like hypocrisy. Is that worth the banner ad education you might be getting?

     

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      Mike (profile), Jul 11th, 2008 @ 6:13pm

      Re:

      Again, Jorg, if you can't understand the difference between an intrusive email and a passive banner ad, I'm not sure what else to say to you.

      Furthermore, there's a big difference between advertising something and cluttering my email expecting me to do a favor for you and advertise your product for free to the community gathered here.

      It's not hypocrisy in the slightest.

       

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        Jorg Pierach, Jul 11th, 2008 @ 7:19pm

        Re: Re:

        If calling your ads (like the throbbing one with the talking head from Dell currently running on your site)"passive" and justifying them as research allows you to stay on your high horse, then so be it. I guess we'll let this go agreeing to disagree on what's intrusive.

         

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    John, Jul 11th, 2008 @ 4:34pm

    Post the press releases

    I vote to make a new section on the site which shows all the press releases you receive and how they clearly don't match the content of the site.

    Then, invite readers to make snarky comments about how XYZ's health-widget isn't even related to anything in the tech industry.

    At some point, the companies (or other companies) will get their idea that their products will be laughed at (and they won't be taken seriously) unless they do a better marketing campaign than simply spamming bloggers.

     

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    entropy (profile), Jul 13th, 2008 @ 4:28pm

    I wonder what possesses these folks

    to thinks that these "press releases" even remotely fall into the category of "news" in the fist place. They are advertising, for which appropriate space should be purchased, or will be discussed in appropriate fora anyway.

     

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    planettech2, Apr 17th, 2009 @ 3:53pm

    ---------------------------------------------------- sam ----------------------------------------- -- real estate

     

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    planettech2, Apr 17th, 2009 @ 3:54pm

    Hello friends I found myself very happy to get this site it really worth very good. ---------------------------------------------------- sam ---------------------------------- --------- real estate

     

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