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Are New Media Ethics different from Old Media Ethics?

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Should a different set of rules apply to blogs than say your local newspaper or favorite magazine?

How about a trade magazine?

Josh Friedman has the latest article discussing the ethics of bloggers being paid by advertisers to post about their products in today’s Los Angeles Times. Here is the subhead from the article:

Payments by advertisers to bloggers for writing about their goods, critics say, blur the line between opinion and product placement.

Before I go on let me say getting paid to promote a product or service and not disclosing it is unethical no matter what medium you happen to be in, but is what some blogs are doing any different than the local newspaper?

I would say in most cases yes there is a difference but many times it is not a very big one. No credible newspaper would print something shilling a product without disclosing it. However they do run ads, and some ads are definitely made to look like editorial copy. They are called Advertorials. The newspaper didn’t create it or print it but they certainly know they are deceptive when they run them.

Same certainly goes for TV. Ever watched an infomercial? How about a paid program on your local radio station? Sure they have a weak disclaimer toward the end of the ad, or if it’s one of those hour long deals they will run the disclaimer a couple of times but we all know what they are trying to do. How about those paid spots that your favorite DJ or radio hosts reads for advertisers?

Do they disclose they are reading a paid advertisement? I listen to talk radio all day and I am telling you not a lot. Sure they sound like ads but not all the time. Sometimes they get pretty damn close to just sounding like your favorite talk show host just loves ACME company’s new widget.
As for trade magazines I know for a fact that product reviews in some if not many trade magazines are written by advertisers.

All of these traditional media tactics have one thing in common, they are created with the intent to mislead the reader,viewer,listener. That doesn’t make it right, I am just pointing out that traditional media has its scallywags as well.

There is another important distinction between these deceptive new media tactics and bloggers failing to disclose paid advertorials. Most bloggers condemn these tactics. Advertorials, Infomercials, and Paid Programming are accepted traditional media practices.
Everyone knows Jason Calacanis has a serious problem with PayPerPost and I am sure he has said this a hundred times but today he hits the nail on the proverbial head with this sentence:

I would have no problem with PayPerPost if they forced their bloggers to disclose that their posts were paid IN THE FIRST SENTENCE OF THE POST.

If you want to get paid to post things about products I say fine, just disclose it and you are just as credible as the morning drive DJ. Don’t disclose and you are as credible as that guy that sits on all the late night infomercials pretending to be a journalist, doctor, lawyer, etc, etc.

I hate infomercials as much as the next guy and I love the promise that new media offers us. It gives a voice to all of us that we haven’t had for a very long time. At the same time I am a realist and I understand that while some will use this new power for good, others are going to use it for evil. Where mass eyeballs and ears go, so will the deceptive advertisers.

others blogging this story:

Social Media:

Draper couldn’t be more wrong. I agree with Doc Searls, Dan Gilmor, Jason Calacanis, Jeff Jarvis, David Weinberger and others who believe that pay-per-post efforts to commercialize the blogosphere, often by stealth, can only have a deleterious effect on the open conversational nature of blogging.

Tris Hussey:

I think there is a place for sponsored posts and a mechanism where companies can openly request reviews and bloggers be compensated for the time they put into those reviews.

Dan Gillmor:

This is not a close call. To take money for touting products in a blog and not disclose it — prominently, and in context — is not ethical. No amount of thumb-sucking justifications can change that.


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  • Tris Hussey

    Rick, Yes it is a matter of ethics. I was thinking about this exact thing when I saw a really cheesy commerical on the CBC late last night.

    How do the actions of a broadcast medium reflect on the owner?

    Ethics are the key. Ethics is where the line is going to be drawn. Some people will promote anything for a buck. Others, like me, are picky. If I wouldn’t use it or likely try it, I would take the paid review.

    In fact on PimpYourWork.com I avoid suggesting software or tips that I haven’t tried myself.

    Truth in advertising. And all this is just now be fleshed out.

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