Blog for Bling

May 6, 2009 at 8:38 pm (By Miles Lascaux)

Is this the elusive “future of blogging?” And if blogging is the new media, is this the future of journalism?

 “In a disclosure at the bottom of her Web page, Ms. Smith notifies readers that she accepts compensation for blog posts, but says, ‘We always give our honest opinions.’ Still, in an interview, Ms. Smith said she never writes anything negative about products she is asked to review because, ‘I choose not to be critical.’

“Other mothers who initially welcomed merchandise and the occasional $20 gift card in exchange for product mentions say they were dismayed by the messages some companies expect them to deliver, disguised as their own words. Their experiences made them question what they were reading elsewhere, sandwiched between cute tot photos and advice on curing hiccups.

” ‘To say mommy bloggers should be independent like Consumer Reports is crazy. We are not professionals,’ says Shannon Johnson, who blogs about her life raising three children in Utah. ‘But bloggers should be honest about what they are getting. How can you possibly not be biased if you are receiving a gift card?’

“In one of Mr. Murphy’s recent campaigns, Sears Holdings Corp. offered bloggers $11 to briefly spotlight an apparel sale as a fabulous bargain. Mr. Murphy also has hired bloggers for other recent Sears offers.

Blogger Jessica Gottlieb of Los Angeles accepted $250 to steer her readers to a recent Sears promotion: ‘For all you Moms like me who are having a mini (or maxi) meltdown due to the economy, let me give you the best tip ever,’ she wrote. In the post, she is pictured wearing a $39 Sears dress.”

 What would you think about a newspaper or network reporter covering the automotive beat who owned a free car from GM, but who thinks that doesn’t undercut his objectivity? Is it even possible to get an honest opinion from such a person?

“Independent” and “unbeholden” were supposed to be among the very few virtues of the new media. That and being able to cuss a lot.

Of course, it turns out, even the independents and unbeholdens among the old media icons were sometimes anything but:

 “The documentary record shows that I.F. Stone consciously cooperated with Soviet intelligence from 1936 through 1938. An effort was made by Soviet intelligence to reestablish that relationship in 1944-45; we do not know whether that effort succeeded.

“To put it plainly, from 1936 to 1939 I.F. Stone was a Soviet spy.

That Stone chose never to reveal this part of his life strongly suggests that he knew just how incompatible it would be with his public image as a courageous and independent journalist. His admirers, who have so strenuously denied even the possibility of such an alliance, have no choice now but to reevaluate his legacy.”

-Miles Lascaux

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8 Comments

  1. Ron said,

    Am willing to write blog posts for sexual favors, hereafter known as “Blooty.”

  2. Icepick said,

    “Independent” and “unbeholden” were supposed to be among the very few virtues of the new media.

    The same old question arises: Who watches the watchmen?

    That and being able to cuss a lot.

    Fuckin’ A, Bubba.

  3. amba12 said,

    I thought premium cable was for being able to cuss a lot (#Deadwood). (I don’t know if there’s actually a Deadwood thread but see how Twitter culture sticks like burrs? specially those spiky little hashtags)

    Remember when there was a novel sponsored by Bulgari? By Fay Weldon. She was so thoroughly shamed that I don’t think it’s so blatantly happened since, although “product placement” (unashamedly paid for in movies) is, in novels, hard to distinguish from social realism — remember Stephen King back in the 80s or so being criticized for using “brand names,” and how others praised this as adding to his work’s verisimilitude, since we live in a universe swarming with brands?

    It all makes poor David Foster Wallace, with his “Year of the Depends Adult Undergarment,” (in Infinite Jest) look prophetic. RIP.

    (BTW, I took some trouble picking out the links for this comment. I actually envy those of you who have time to follow them.)

  4. wj said,

    It is possible (if probably unusual) to be the kind of person who can take a free car (or money or whatever) from one of the folks you are writing about, and still write objective opinions. But two thoughts immediately arise:
    1) if what you write is negative, the attempted bribes (and that’s what they are) will be unlikely to be repeated,
    2) if you would write positive things anyway, why would the supplier bother to pay you off?

    That kind of bribe also suggests that the person paying it thinks that they need to pay to get positive coverage. Maybe they just think that everybody else is paying, so they have to offer in order to level the playing field. But more likely they know that their product is inferior. Hmmm….

  5. reader_iam said,

    This is such a huge topic one could write a whole series of posts, or even a book or more, about it. For one thing, it seems to me, the context changes based on the details. Take the Gottlieb example above (caveat: I’d not heard of this example before & therefore an uninformed about the details). I don’t have any problem per se with Sears paying someone money to promote a sale. (In fact, if Sears would like me to Tweet a promotion, please get in touch ASAP and let’s talk.) I do have a problem with “best tip ever”–unless in fact it was, which I truly doubt. I do have a problem if the tip was presented as if it was something Gottlieb just happened to stumble upon for herself when she was at Sears picking up, say, a pair of Toughskins for her son. (Again, SEE CAVEAT; I’m not saying this is how it was presented.) I do have an issue with nondisclosure.

    I don’t have a problem with Bloggers essentially selling access to their readers (and readers, no whining about that statement–it’s not like your e-mail addresses are being given out, and you’re already getting product for free) as long as no deception is going on. I think there’s a way to write such promotions so that it’s not deceptive WHILE spreading the word about a sale.

    Other types of promoting, including–perhaps especially–writing reviews present additional and thornier problems, though not unsolvable (but also not one-size-fits all–it depends on specific categories). And here I find myself back to what I said at the start of this comment … one could write a whole series of posts, or even a book or more, on the topic, so I think I’ll stop there.

    Except to say this: I’d like a chance to prove that at least some of this stuff could be done ethically, with disclosure and therefore a minimum of exploitation, and I’ll even be so arrogant as to say that I’m well-equipped to do it, for a few reasons. So if anyone knows anyone … let me know. (Hey, my work’s mostly gone, and is slated to be gone, due to economics, so what the hell?)

  6. reader_iam said,

    I’m put in mind, by the way, of some of David Ogilvy’s classic books on advertising. He eventually came to be seen as an old fogey about ethics and not lying, but I think there’s a lot to be learned from reading him. I picked up a couple of his books as hand-me-downs from a fellow college student (majoring in art, merchandising and marketing) way back in the day, and I’ve kept them for their good sense and insights.

  7. reader_iam said,

    2) if you would write positive things anyway, why would the supplier bother to pay you off?

    They’re paying you for access to their readers; for whatever ability you have to get the attention of those readers, to get them to stop and consider for a minute; and for your writing and platform, both of which are likely cheaper than retaining an ongoing employee and related infrastructure. This seems as clear and obvious as day to me. Therefore, with all due respect, wj, I find that particular argument to be very weak, as I do wherever I find it.

  8. reader_iam said,

    And I guess I want to say that if readers feel it’s unethical for bloggers to blog for pay (off), maybe they should examine in themselves how ethical it is for them to continually consume without paying in some way. There’s more than one form of exploitation in the world, after all.

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