It’s another big moment in blogger “transparency” upon us now. The general rule is that the person who hasn’t “disclosed” enough to meet some preposterous concept of transparency is the person who the writer is jealous of, or worse. The current dart board is Tech Crunch.
I saw this coming, now didn’t I? I wrote this in 2007:
No one is free from bias of some sort or another, especially people who spend their time (paid or otherwise) writing opinions — whether in daily newspaper columns, legal newspapers or blogs, the newest, most exciting and most democratic medium of expression in the real and virtual worlds.
Opinion writers are understood by axiom to have an opinion; and it is just as axiomatic that opinions can be “negotiable” in all sorts of ways, overt and subtle.
Yet in the emerging world of blog publishing, there is a troubling trend toward mandatory disclosure of one kind of bias — the kind directly attributable to payment of material compensation to a blogger addressed specifically in a Dec.7 Federal Trade Commission informal opinion involving a company called PayPerPost Inc. — that is misguided, contrary to free speech principles and a threat to the growth of a dynamic economic and cultural phenomenon. . . .
[B]eing paid to express an opinion is not so different from being affected by one’s likelihood of getting tenure, a promotion or a choice committee assignment. The real difference between bias occasioned by cash and that occasioned by social, professional or other ambition is that one is merely liquid, and this distinction does not by itself prove a need for a particular standard of disclosure or transparency. . . .
Those who disclose more, and more accurately, will be more trusted on that account. Ultimately all a blogger, a lawyer, a politician or anyone else has is his persuasiveness, his intellectual honesty and a track record of trustworthiness. In the pure market of expression, that is all the regulation needed.
Four years later, here’s someone whose opinion actually matters, Tech Crunch’s Michael Arrington, responding to what appears to savage notices about what he describes as his blog’s “investment policy” and his approach to disclosure:
We can argue all day about whether or not my policy is a good one. You’ll have your arguments, I’ll have mine. But the really important thing to remember, as a reader, is that there is no objectivity in journalism. The guys that say they’re objective are just pretending. Everyone is conflicted in different ways, and yet the “rules of journalism” don’t require any sort of transparency or disclosure unless it’s a direct financial conflict. I’m going to have to write a longer post about this yet again.
But when you read a tech blogger call a CEO “tough and misunderstood,” should you know that the CEO in question is social friends with that blogger, and leaks confidential information to her? The answer is yes. But you’ll never know. Or when the same CEO is called incompetent by another blogger who was just turned down by said CEO to speak at his conference. Disclosed? No. Conflicted? Yes. . . .
Really, it all came into focus for me this week. A major news publication asked for “my side” after all this complaining. I spent a half our on the phone with him at his request. And he never wrote. Why? “My editors want to leave Arianna dangling in the wind,” he said, referring to the fact that Arianna Huffington, my boss, was taking heat for this situation. It never occurred to him that he just killed a story because that story might help a competitor (Huffington Post), and how screwed up that was.
I have little hope for this industry until the last of the old guard have finally been put down. They do NOT control the news. They do NOT control opinion. They do NOT get to say who gets to write content and who doesn’t. And they do NOT get to rant about their ethics when they constantly fight against simple transparency.
Bingo. No, I have no pity for Ariana Huffington. But as to this bogus concept of “transparency”? It’s up there with “journalistic ethics.”
Get real, folks.
Originally posted on Ron Coleman’s LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION® blog on trademark, copyright and free speech.