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Fashion's Double-Standard
May 12, 2011 10:22 AM   Subscribe


 
The FTC can go stuff it. I have a better lawyer than theirs.

This said, I wonder when we started assuming people were so dumb that they have to be told that the blog they are reading got paid to give away gift cards. I blame the mommy bloggers.

I've been on both sides of this (print and digital). I still am. The print side the ethics policies don't let you keep the products/books/CDs. The digital side I seldom se something like this, and when I do I'm pretty open about it. I think most bloggers are. In fact it's a scandal when it comes out that someone didn't disclose, but even if not I think it's generally obvious.

Disclosure to me is a free speech issue. I don't see a need for disclosure. Maybe if there was only one website in the world, but if one site is giving rave reviews to the XOOM and the rest say it sucks...even if it pay-to-post I don't see what business it is of the readers.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:34 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Disclosure to me is a free speech issue. I don't see a need for disclosure. Maybe if there was only one website in the world, but if one site is giving rave reviews to the XOOM and the rest say it sucks...even if it pay-to-post I don't see what business it is of the readers.

It's certainly unethical not to disclose, IMO. It's representing one's opinion as unbiased when it is not in order to induce people into puchasing products, for the pecunary gain of both the blogger and the company concerned. Put simply, most of the time it's paid lies, intended to decieve and is uncomfortably close to fraudulent.
posted by jaduncan at 10:41 AM on May 12, 2011


Because print media already gets lots and lots of money from said companies ad adverts ? I'm really not grasping the issue here ..
posted by k5.user at 10:42 AM on May 12, 2011


Can we impose this requirement on political ads?
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:46 AM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, I will concede failure to disclose is unethical, but ethics shouldn't be mandated by law in my opinion. I think sites that do disclose end up with an unfair credibility hit.

This opinion provided by Pepsi.

I like to pretend I am media savvy enough to be able to understand what is genuine and what is obvious paid product placement, and if I can't tell, then I don't really care. If it's subtle enough to slip under my radar I'm fine with it.

It's when product placement is as clunky as it is on and episode of "Bones" that I get irritated. In either case, a disclaimer at the bottom of a post isn't going to change my opinion about the writing.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:53 AM on May 12, 2011


The print side the ethics policies don't let you keep the products/books/CDs.

lol wut?

All the alt-weeklies I used to write for let you keep the CDs / books / etc reviewed. Granted, it's not the NYT, but I've never seen anything that implied it was any different.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:56 AM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


The print side the ethics policies don't let you keep the products/books/CDs.

Hi! Been a print and online journalist for 12 years! Used to work for Village Voice Media!

Your statement about print ethics in generally not true.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:59 AM on May 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Isn't the obvious answer that blogs are (or are made to appear) personal, non-commercial, opinion-based writing, while print is commercial and ad driven? I don't think anyone expects unbiased objectivity in product features from Vogue or Parenting.
posted by schoolgirl report at 11:06 AM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yes, it is.
posted by hellphish at 11:06 AM on May 12, 2011


I think people do expect print journalists to understand the concept of objectivity, or at least their editors to do so.
posted by smackfu at 11:07 AM on May 12, 2011


smackfu: "I think people do expect print journalists to understand the concept of objectivity, or at least their editors to do so."

Depends on the beat.

Medical print journalists are held to a far higher standard than say, fashion journalists.
posted by zarq at 11:09 AM on May 12, 2011


Why Does the FTC Mandate that Bloggers Disclose Freebies & Samples When Print Writers/Editors Don't Have To?

Is it Ghostbusters IImoney?
posted by DU at 11:10 AM on May 12, 2011


Because the blogging community can't afford to buy laws yet.
posted by mhoye at 11:11 AM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


The print side the ethics policies don't let you keep the products/books/CDs.

I used to edit a book review journal. We kept the books, which were almost always galleys/pre-pub editions; no publisher ever asked for them back. It was never expected that you'd send the books back.
posted by rtha at 11:12 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


To clarify - our reviewers kept the galleys we sent them. We kept the extras, or the ones we weren't going to review (generally because it was on a subject outside the scope of our magazine). Publishers sent us galleys without our having to ask, a lot of the time. We were on a List.
posted by rtha at 11:14 AM on May 12, 2011


Oh, I will concede failure to disclose is unethical, but ethics shouldn't be mandated by law in my opinion.

Does law serve another purpose?
posted by Sys Rq at 11:31 AM on May 12, 2011


Your statement about print ethics in generally not true.

and

All the alt-weeklies I used to write for let you keep the CDs / books / etc reviewed.

Yeah, I wasn't speaking for anything outside my personal experiences.

I used to do CD/Book reviews and keeping the CD/Book was part of the compensation. I meant people don't get to raid the pile of freebies, and I was more talking about larger ticket items like iPads/iPods and the weird unsolicited products like Dremels, smart phones, computers, booze, and such.

I wrote for AOL and I had to buy concert tickets and get reimbursed even though I could have been comped. Same when I went to some VIP event that I'd write about. Or diner.

The Society of Professional Journalists have their ethics policy online. It pretty much says no freebies. It also more-or-less coincides with my current employer's policy.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:32 AM on May 12, 2011


Does law serve another purpose?

Not everything that is unethical is illegal. Not everything that is illegal is unethical. There may be a venn overlap but it is far from 100%.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:34 AM on May 12, 2011


Hey, cjorgensen, before you blame the "mommy bloggers" (which, by the way, is not a label all mothers who blog about parenting are particularly fond of), take note that some mothers who blog are on the forefront of promoting blogger transparency.

(Disclosure: the creators of Blog With Integrity are friends and in some cases coworkers of mine. I don't personally work for the organization but I support its core mission.)

I think the FTC rules are definitely discriminatory against writers who work in new media. I have no problem at all with disclosure -- as a writer I think full disclosure by writers of compensation they have received from companies or people they write about is great and appropriate and probably should be mandatory. But if it's mandatory for bloggers it also needs to be mandatory for mainstream journalists.

In my view it would be a much better and more democratic world if mainstream news organizations had to be consistently open and explicit about their corporate ties.
posted by BlueJae at 11:37 AM on May 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Free speech in the US doesn't extend to commercial speech. If it did, truth-in-advertising laws would be unconstitutional. In my opinion, commercial speech should be *better* regulated: isn't this the source of objections to Citizens United?
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:54 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I post disclosures on my book reviews (despite the fact that plenty of book bloggers don't) for two reasons:
  1. Like I said, plenty of book bloggers don't follow FTC compliance guidelines. And plenty of them (not always the same bloggers, but sometimes) write reviews that are consistently nothing more than, "I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH! LOOK AT THE PRETTY COVER!!!" Since my whole schtick is honest book reviewing, disclosing is another way to set myself apart from those kinds of bloggers.
  2. Since I'm uber honest, sometimes I pan books (self-link, natch). And so the phrasing of my disclosure ("A review copy was generously provided by the publisher") is carefully crafted as a nod to the publishers. Because I really do appreciate that they send me books (free books! Nothing better!), I'd like to keep things respectful and pleasant even if I can't guarantee that I'll like what they send me.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:08 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was mostly kidding about the mommy bloggers (and yes, I know some of them don't like the term). I follow some of this stuff quite closely when it's happening. The first time I recall the baby poop hitting the fan was with the Walmart Moms. Some of them disclosed that they had been brought to to some event and given gifts and were offered gift cards to buy stuff to write about. Some didn't.

I think it's kinda crappy to not disclose that you got free stuff, but them I am of the mindset that when I get free stuff I shout out, "Hey, free stuff!" But even if they don't disclose they got behind closed doors compensation I don't think it approaches the level of criminality. Like has been pointed out this isn't regulated on the print side. And like I've already said you can tell when bloggers are doing this. When you can't tell I don't think it matters.

Like product placement in a movie, it's seldom done subtlety. If it's done well enough that I don't notice then I am not going to care.

If the person represented that all writing was done independently of any compensation and later it was revealed that this wasn't the case there would be an appropriate backlash and hit to the credibility. If someone wants to risk that more power to them. It's their blog. If you don't like it don't read it.

Another reason I think this is a stupid thing to regulate is under whose laws? The FTC has fuckall to say about the New Zealanders I read. I've read about laws in Europe and online privacy and I note them with interest and I move on. It's pretty darn hard to regulate the entire internet.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:26 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Every print book reviewer I know gets books for free and doesn't disclose this: it is assumed that readers of things like the New York Times Book Review or NY Review of Books know that the reviewers get free books and either don't care or are jealous. Given the fact that very few people can make a living reviewing books, I don't see any problem with this not exactly luxurious perk.

If getting a free book meant that you gave it a good review, virtually all book reviews would be good. This is hardly the case. When you get all of the books for free, there's no reason to privilege any one of them, so I don't exactly see the conflict. If some publishers were sending reviewers cars and houses along with some books and nothing along with others, then, yeah, that would be a conflict.
posted by Maias at 1:18 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


The NYTimes would still review books if they didn't get them for free. So if they write a negative review, and the publisher cuts them off as punishment, it won't matter. Does the same apply to a blogger?
posted by smackfu at 1:29 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does the same apply to a blogger?

Depends on the blogger. Also depends on the publication. If I didn't get freebies, I couldn't review. If somebody cuts me off, I don't go. Doesn't affect my reviews though. I don't write raves to get free stuff.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:37 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why would anyone want free crap?
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:41 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacea: "Why would anyone want free crap?"

For print editors, freebies help make up for low salaries and long hours.

We've only been discussing items given for review, but many companies give gifts (ranging from low-end crap to very high end) to editors in thanks for coverage and as a remembrance during the holidays. Clothing, accessories, gift cards, champagne, technology, etc., etc. Some of that stuff shows up on eBay. Some get kept, traded to other editors or regifted.

Gifts are a much clearer conflict of interest. A few companies (the NYT, CBS, etc.,) ban their employees from receiving gifts from the companies they cover. Others don't care, or look the other way.
posted by zarq at 1:53 PM on May 12, 2011


smackfu: "The NYTimes would still review books if they didn't get them for free. So if they write a negative review, and the publisher cuts them off as punishment, it won't matter. Does the same apply to a blogger?"

The New York Times and most other media outlets request books up to six months in advance of their publication date. They do this for many reasons, but primarily because it takes time to read books and write reviews. If the Times does not receive a book galley early, they most likely won't bother to review the book, since a review would then appear weeks after a book has been published.

It is unlikely that a publisher would cut off the Times based on a single negative review, or even multiple negative reviews. Doing so would be cutting off their nose to spite their face.
posted by zarq at 1:57 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


For print editors, freebies help make up for low salaries and long hours.

I should probably have said, for some print editors.

Interns and assistants at beauty magazines (for example) are usually not paid well. But freebies are considered a job incentive.
posted by zarq at 2:02 PM on May 12, 2011


The NYTimes would still review books if they didn't get them for free. So if they write a negative review, and the publisher cuts them off as punishment, it won't matter. Does the same apply to a blogger?

Def depends. I review every book I read. Free review copies benefit the publisher and those looking for reviews of recent books in my case. If it weren't for ARCs, I probably wouldn't even pay much attention to release schedules, much less books before or near the time to their release.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:02 PM on May 12, 2011


Sorry, I wasn't clear: the implication is that a reviewer might give a good review in exchange for receiving the item free. But if they didn't like it, why would they want it at all, free or not? There's no incentive to lie.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:09 PM on May 12, 2011


Depends on the blogger. Also depends on the publication. If I didn't get freebies, I couldn't review. If somebody cuts me off, I don't go. Doesn't affect my reviews though. I don't write raves to get free stuff.

This. The only paid writing I've ever done was doing music reviews for the (now gone) gay newspaper in this area. The material to review was nearly always advance copies (sometimes over a month in advance for really big-league releases. kind of intimidating and shocking) and was always provided for free to us by various organizations doing publicity for the groups or labels.

The newspaper owner got old and tired of the struggle and sold the paper. This immediately led to a loss of cred in the eyes of those who were supplying the material I was reviewing, which meant my pool of review material shrunk to about 1/4 of the amount of stuff as before.

I did review a few things I was passionate about and paid for myself, but that's kind of the exception rather than the rule. Just as I was building up the reputation of the publication in the eyes of publicity machines again, the new owner pulled it from publication.

If I were starting a similar column now, I don't even know where I'd begin to turn on the taps for the excellent streams of material I was being supplied at the time for review. But I wasn't writing the reviews to get the free stuff. I was writing to share things I found which I thought others should know about, either to purchase or avoid. The free stuff was there because I was doing a job which the publicity engine thought was good enough to warrant getting the free advance copies for review.

(And, as others have pointed out, there was never a request to return the free stuff.)
posted by hippybear at 2:11 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


hippybear: " If I were starting a similar column now, I don't even know where I'd begin to turn on the taps for the excellent streams of material I was being supplied at the time for review. "

Company X has a product you would like to review. You write an email to their pr department or outside agency which says, "Hi, I write Column X with Y Publication, (or I write Z Blog,) and would like to request a sample of your product to review. Here are some of my reader demographics / site statistics, (and if you're smarter than the average blogger) this is why I think my highly-desirable-to-you audience would be interested in learning about your product from me, a source they trust for objective reviews."

We review all such requests for our clients and respond accordingly. If we assess a blog to be too small or inappropriate for our client, we send them a "no thank you" note. But often, we do send them a free sample, then follow up with them to see if they're going to cover.

This is S.O.P., for the industry.
posted by zarq at 2:34 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


zarq: Thanks. That's good information. Now I just have to convince the rest of the newspaper team that we should start the damn thing up again.
posted by hippybear at 2:50 PM on May 12, 2011


I was a Borders bookseller for 6 years. We got free books from the publishers. They hoped we'd read them and recommend them to customers. Sometimes they sent more than books. Sometimes this was pretty comical (like the food mystery writer I can't recall the name of. They sent basters and pans and picnic cloths). I pretty much came to the conclusion that anything other than free books/music, tshirts, and displays was a waste of the marketing dollar. I quit that job 13 or 14 years ago and the freebies were in decline from the moment I started (the old timers would take about talking to the pub. reps. and requesting titles). I also wrote for the in house book review magazine. I got $50 and the book.

I worked for AOL as a writer for a couple of years. I got nothing free there. Even if they were sent a CD I wanted to review I had to go out and buy it. Same with books, shows, movies, restaurants, concerts, and booze. I once expensed a bottle of single malt scotch all because the author I was interviewing said it was his favorite. But as far as freebies. Not one.

I have a blog where I get free stuff all the time. Mostly coupons, but I've also gotten tshirts, coffee mugs, DVDs, pens, jackets, and bunches of other crap. I seldom solicit anything. If I do it's usually part of a joke. I think I may have a disclosure someplace on my site that says I don't do reviews so my opinions should be ignored, but I forget for sure. Maybe I just meant to add something like that. Either way I am pretty comfortable not worrying about it.

There are requirements to have a disclosure if you are collecting personal information and a prohibition against gathering said from the below 13 set. I've read about legislation that will require disclosure of browser cookie tracking )in Europe I believe). I've read about various libel laws and terms of service that of course vary by jurisdiction. Pretty soon the idea of blogging will not be an individual activity. You won't be able to fire one up without consulting a lawyer specializing in international law and you won't be able to post without having each post vetted. This is why I think the idea of FTC regulation is a bad idea. Potentially some facebook kid can get into trouble all because she wrote about a free CD?

Disclosure is great. People should do it, but there shouldn't be a law requiring it. Already sites have Terms of Service postings that make the Treaty of Westphalia look like a tweet. Does adding in a line that says, "Authors may have received compensation from the producer of a product in exchange for a review" really change things? When was the last time you read a TOS or a Privacy Policy?
posted by cjorgensen at 2:51 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


When was the last time you read a TOS or a Privacy Policy?

I read them all the time; as an Apple customer, it's very important.

holy fuck south park's main wikipedia page has 214 sources!
posted by entropicamericana at 3:24 PM on May 12, 2011


Back in the '90s, I was the editor of an indie music magazine. Every month, the publisher would call me and tell me we had to write about the newest advertisers. I was young and adamant about editorial integrity. Every month I would argue about how shady it was to write about advertisers.

Then I got older, and realized that my friends working for Conde Naste publications were awash in freebies and swag. Don't get me started on the amazing things my friend at GQ used to get in the mail! I learned that my old music magazine publisher was just doing what all magazines did.

Flash forward to now. I am a full-time web publisher running several websites that are funded in part by weekly sponsored posts. Every single post from a paying client is categorized as "Sponsored," with a special "this is an ad" icon. Each post has a bold, highlighted disclaimer at the top of the page and its RSS feed.

Despite all these disclaimers, I have readers muttering that they "didn't realize that was an ad." We now actually include the line "Our sponsor, [company name]" in the body of every sponsored post, because while I need to make a living, I do NOT want to mislead people.

This is all to say, even if you disclaim paid content, people simply don't read. Anyone who works in usability knows this, but as someone working in ad-supported web publishing, I've learned it in a whole different way.
posted by arielmeadow at 4:38 PM on May 12, 2011


You know, on the very morning that this policy was announced, I got on the phone and talked with the FTC -- something that no journalist, print or online, had done. I got a lot more info than Racked.
posted by ed at 7:48 PM on May 12, 2011


I work as a book reviewer — in print, paid. I could have built a house out of the books I've been sent for free that I've neither read nor written about. They frequently arrive in cardboard boxes with "publicity request" printed on the mailing label. If the publisher manages to get me to review their book, they win, and from my point of view this is deserved. Because I don't review books I do not like. This is because it's my role to point readers at good books rather than waste newsprint and paper on bagging crap. I like some publicists better than others, but in no way does this influence my reception of their product.

Yes, it really is that easy. The idea that I would screw my own credibility by talking up shit because I got it for free is proposterous.
posted by Wolof at 5:48 AM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, my spelling and phrasing tonight is proposterous too.

My eyeball is bruised from surgery 2 days ago, so the proofing's not all it could be.
posted by Wolof at 7:01 AM on May 13, 2011


hippybear: "zarq: Thanks. That's good information. Now I just have to convince the rest of the newspaper team that we should start the damn thing up again."

Good luck!
posted by zarq at 8:01 AM on May 13, 2011




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