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Thoughtful Article: Blogging Ethics: When And What Should Bloggers Disclose?

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Worth a read:

Is there a new blogger scandal brewing? Allen Stern over at CenterNetworks seems to think so. Allen takes issue with the new video blog Webb Alert (which mentioned Read/WriteWeb today), saying that the blog doesn't disclose its connection with advertising network Federated Media (which hosts it and sells advertising for it) and suspects that the whole thing may be an elaborate scheme to push traffic to FM clients (and notes that FM clients have been gushing over the show in return for the disproportionate links they get).


Disclosure is a tricky business and as a practice is still ill-defined even in the realm of traditional journalism. The general idea is that anything that might be seen as a potential conflict of interest between a writer and the subject of his story should be disclosed to the reader.

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More from the article:

Disclosure is necessary, however, and at times I think that maybe it is the overzealous trend toward complete and utter transparency offered by bloggers that makes blogs so attractive to readers. So when should you disclose?

* Financial association -- I don't mean advertising, which is obvious, but less clear affiliations such as investments, ownership, or partial-ownership. For example, WIRED should mention they own Reddit when they write about the company. (Of course, you might not always even know when you're investing in a company.)
* Employment -- If you are paid by a company you are writing about as an employee, contractor, or consultant, you should disclose that.
* Competition -- If you are writing specifically about a direct competitor to a company you are involved with in an aforementioned manner, especially if you’re writing in a negative way, it is probably best to disclose it. For example, WIRED should disclose that they own Reddit whenever they write about Digg.
* Personal involvement - This is by far the trickiest. As I illustrated before, personal or emotional involvement with stories can get complicated and, well, personal. I don't think it always needs to be disclosed. For example, I don't feel the need to disclose my political views whenever I write about politics. However, if I'm reviewing a company run by a close friend, I would disclose that fact or pass the story to a writer with less emotional involvement.
You'll notice that I don't include a rule about disclosing when you were paid to write about a specific topic or company. The reason is that any blogger who wants to be taken seriously as a journalist cannot and will not accept money or gifts from a source (or vice versa). That said, it should also be noted that there is a big difference between accepting gifts in exchange for writing a story and accepting review copies of goods for free.

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Related links from the comments section of the read/writeweb article:


Hmmm, the guy of Read/Write Web looked a bit obstinate to disclose the blog affiliations with other companies, and its criticism of this transparency looked fishy. Oh well. In the other hand, Walt Mossberg was really sincere and it was very thoughtful of him to go up to those extents of acknowledging all the possible associations with other companies. Of course, considering the bastard the guy who now owns "The Wall Street Journal" it will be a bit impossible for now on to avoid any kind of relationship (direct or indirect) with another companies.

I personally consider ESSENTIAL to disclose all these kind of intercourses between a blogger and companies of any kind. We know how easy is to find affiliations between mass media and political organizations and parties or big companies, so it's easier to find one of these affiliations with bloggers involved. I mean, it's quite easy to corrupt a single person, and most bloggers (particularly those so called prominent) don't look very trustful to me.

I don't know, if your being paid to shill for someone then I think disclosure is appropriate.
But if your blogging because you feel passionate about something, and most bloggers blog because they do, then your position should be apparent by the posts.

Say your a democrat and your reading a political blog post and finding yourself agreeing with the points presented, why would it matter if the person who wrote it was a republican, socialist or a libertarian. Would disclosure of that make the points you agree with less relevent?

When reviewing things, this should be provided. For example, Zaine Ridling is quite passionate about XYplorer or Opera, but we know he is simply a happy buyer, and he's not affiliated with the companies providing them. Another example are the people working at Ars Technica, which reviews devices that they use, and they're quite honest about them (except those reviewing Apple products, the iPhone review is a perfect example of this). Or Coding Horror. An example of how it should not be done it's WinSupersite, as nobody can believe this guy is talking honestly, or sometimes, Scobleizer (although I must admit that I've been out of touch with his blog for some months now). That's what these bloggers were talking about.

A political blog is not an adequate example as it's practically impossible to find someone really independent. In your case (USA) you have, for example, the Daily Kos and Michelle Malkin's blog (not quite sure about this one, so feel free to correct me) and we all know they are not exactly independent, but terribly biased towards one or another party, so biased it almost makes me wanna puke. Besides, we know that republicans and democrats are the same dog with different necklace...

*mouser bans Lashiec for talking about politics in the forum*


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