Hooray, on the word that the FTC is cracking down on pay-for-blogging — or at least, is trying to force bloggers to acknowledge when they are taking products, trips, or other compensation to talk about a company’s products. Yes, it’s too bad the government has to get involved, but it seems like there needs to be some kind of way where you can tell if a blogger is just a paid shill for a product, or an actual, real-to-life reviewer.
Surprisingly (at least for me), I’ve found that there are more and more, seemingly legit looking news/blog operations (heck, even local newspapers) who have very real conflicts of interest in their blogging/news coverage. The most notable (which I’ve run across a few times) is where the author of a blog posts a gushing review of a company/web site–and it turns out, they are paid during the day as a public relations/marketing/social media consultant for the same firm (but you’d never know it from their post). There’s a level of trust you ought to have if you’re going to call yourself a news site, and it really is a drag for the legitimate sites when folks do but are really shilling for dollars. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had to explain to some eager startup that no, we do not take money to post your news, that no, we will not cover you if you promise to advertise on our site, that no, we are not for sale. They’re genuinely surprised, telling us so-and-so site A or so-and-so site B thinks their money is good and we ought to as well, etc.
Maybe it’s old fashioned, but I believe the wall between editorial coverage and advertising needs to stay up, and that connecting the two is a major disservice to your readers. Yes, it’s a tough wall to keep up (and even harder when you’re a small operation where lines cross and mix)–but forcing disclosure is most definitely a good thing.