Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bloggers for sale

No, no, I'm not talking about that. But I did come across two interesting articles in the arena of blogging for profit that I thought I'd share:

  • Bloggers for sale: Call it payola for the internet age or simply a new spin on marketing, but many bloggers are increasingly getting paid for writing about products without telling their readers.

  • Influential bloggers get free computers, Vista from Microsoft: Microsoft Corp.'s efforts to woo influential bloggers by sending them free computers loaded with the Vista operating system is generating controversy, with some online writers attacking would-be Vista reviewers for taking what were tantamount to bribes, while recipients defend their editorial independence, arguing that journalism-style rules prohibiting such gifts are outdated.
Interesting questions raised certainly in both pieces that touch on an issue I've long been interested in: are bloggers journalists, or what? And if so, what kind of standards of journalistic ethics (hey, stop snickering!) are they obligated to follow.

I think the answer to the first question is some are, and some aren't. Well, not quite journalists, but something close. They do basic research, talk to people, try to get the story, and get it out, with a side dish or partisan spin. More like columnists maybe. Others are just about the partisan spin; I wouldn't put them in the semi-journo category.

That brings us to the second question, what standards of journalistic-type ethics should bloggers hold themselves to? Besides a requirement to be aware of libel law, there is no requirement for bloggers to hold themselves to any kind of a standard at all, beyond those that may be set by any aggregators/communities they join. Nor should there be, the Internet is meant to be a bit Wild West like.

It is purely voluntary, but the good bloggers should, and will, hold themselves to a standard, whatever it may be for each person. It's a matter of credibility. Because it's that first group of bloggers, which try to meet some level of journalisticy standards, which are taken more seriously by the wider community of readers.

And when it comes to the kinds of blogging ethical standards questions raised in these two pieces, the answer usually is disclosure, and honesty. Don't hide the fact you took a computer but rather include that fact in your posting, and explain why. Then the reader has all the information, and is able to judge accordingly.

In the interests of journalistic full disclosure I'll say last month I was contacted by a book publisher and asked if I'd be interested in copies of political books from time to time so I can review them on my blog. I accepted and a review of the first book, the Harper bio I mentioned the other day, will be posted soon. And the review will include a note that a review copy was provided.

I've got to say though that personally, you can't keep the computer people. Some bloggers awhile back were offered cell phones to review and were allowed to keep them; I passed as I wasn't with the particular wireless carrier but some accepted. That's fine, again as long as the circumstances are disclosed.

But a free computer? That's just ridiculous. There's a line, and taking a free computer is way over it, IMO.

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Olaf said...


I agree with the "full disclosure" point, but should they ever keep the computer. Why shouldn't they, as long as they make it clear that they did?

Seriously, I know we all do this for an ego kick or something along those lines, but a lot of people put a great deal of work into their sites and the quality of their commentary, and receive nothing tangible in return. I say people should squeeze whatever they can for the work they put in, so long as they disclose the fact.

Jason Cherniak said...

If I were offered a free computer, I would take it. If it sucked, I would say so.

Saskboy said...

I was offered a shaving kit, to review on my blog, and keep. I assume because of a shaving post I did before, and possibly its high google ranking has convinced this business that's how they can get into the top 10 Google hits for shaving. When/if I do the reivew, I'll say it's a product review and that company X gave me the razor kit.

Olaf said...

Good score, Saskboy!

Maybe I should do a post on toothpaste, and send a link to Crest. Because I could really, REALLY, use some toothpaste right now. I'm down to the very end of the tube, and have had to limit my usage to twice a week.

Needless to say, no one is too pleased with the situation.

Andrew said...

I have recently agreed to review some books of my choosing, which the publisher sent me and is allowing me to keep. Obviously when I review them, the info as to how I got them will be included in the posts. (I always post the source of my books in my reviews - its just what I do)

I've reviewed books for free on and off for a few years, and to be honest I'll happily allow a company to subsidize my book-junkyish ways if they want to.

lance said...

I tend to agree with the consensus; full disclosure.

p.s. -> OT but related. Saskboy has it correct. If you do want advertising, the trick is to get to the top of google on a specific subject.

The companies looking for advertising or reviews will contact you then. They may want advertising on a specific post as it relates to Google, but there you go.

It's all good. :)


A BCer in Toronto said...

How many blades are they packing onto those razors now Saskboy? I look forward to your review.

Anyway, maybe this is my journalistic background interfering here. But a $2000+ computer...even if you declare you're keeping it, and you give the product a crappy review...I don't know, it just smacks of a bribe. There should be a line somewhere is all I think.

But anyway, as long as you don't hide it, to each their own.