Saturday, July 4, 2009

Rules for Thee and Not for Me

There's a particular irony to Poynter having posted this the day after the story broke about The Washington Post's plans for paid "salons" and access to newsroom people.

FTC to Investigate Bloggers Receiving Pay for Posts

The common practice of posting a graphical ad or a link to an online retailer -- and getting commissions for any sales from it -- would be enough to trigger oversight.

Well, hell's bells.

Obviously, if you're on this page, you can see that I, like many others with blogs, run ads, albeit thoroughly unremunerative ones. They are clearly ads.

I don't and would never write a pay-for-post item meant to look like news or commentary, or tout something in an item for money. Those kind of postings should get some scrutiny, in my opinion. If you're representing something as legitimate reporting or commentary, people ought to know that you're not being paid to shade the truth.

But I am at a loss to understand why a clearly identified ad on a blog is somehow suspect and worthy of FTC notice when ads in print are not.

If you've knocked around newspapers, especially smaller ones, long enough, you've probably been drafted at one time or another to write a "story" that was fed into an advertising section.

Duncan Black, AKA Atrios, often mockingly mentions the need for a blogger ethics panel because of what he sees as a double standard that is applied to blogs and not the mainstream media. I don't agree 100 percent of the time with him, but frequently do. And this seems to be another example of rules for one kind of reporting and commentary and not another. What difference, for example, is there between a book review to be found on a blog somewhere and that of a newspaper's website that would warrant an FTC investigation? It's possible the stand-alone blogger violated some disclosure rules, and certainly most newspapers have some rules about not accepting gifts or not writing reviews of books by friends (or enemies) but lapses happen.

(For the record, I write some reviews for a newspaper website for which I am not paid, though I am able to keep the books, which are filling my bookshelves.)

It's actually pretty creepy if the FTC truly intends to do what the story says.

Amusingly enough, this ad popped up on my page as I was preparing to post this.

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