This Opinion Brought to You by Our Sponsors
But he left out the part about how blogs can be lucrative.
The WSJ recently revealed that Howard Dean's presidential campaign hired two Internet political bloggers as consultants (@ $3,000 a month) so that they would say positive things about the former governor's campaign in their online journals. Putting aside the obvious ineffectiveness of the effort, this raises the same kind of ethical questions that surround the Education Department paying conservative commentator Armstrong Williams $240,000 to promote the No Child Left Behind Act on his syndicated television program.
Payola is a glorious tradition in the radio industry. As a matter of fact, just the other day a programmer for Buffalo's WKSE-FM was dismissed for "improper acceptance of gifts" from record labels. It is hard to believe that in a world of satellite radio and music downloads that anybody even remembers what disk jockeys do, much less bribe them to do it, but clearly the blogosphere is the next stop on the payola express.
Frankly I was getting pretty tired of all the chest beating about how the bloggers broke this story or that one. How they chased Dan Rather off the air (where were they 20 years ago when he starting wearing those sweaters?) and uncovered the great CBS cut and paste scandal. I don't think at the end of the day they changed one vote in the Presidential election and have been suspect from the beginning that they would be used inappropriately. The problem is there is no definition of "appropriate" in the blogosphere, so payola seems a perfectly natural evolutionary development.
Let's face it, blogging is a hobby (or maybe a person-to-person call from God to fix the world), but it simply won't pay the rent. Yeah, companies like BURST might be able to sell some ad space on your blog, but you'll still be driving a Scion. So when some smarmy PR firm offers you a fist full of dollars to take a position favorable to their clients, what do you do? You take it. After all, who cares? You are not under the watchful eye of a professional managing editor whose job is to assure ethical copy. You won't get tossed out of some meaningless journalism society because you broke an unenforceable rule.
Steve Hayden, vice chairman of Ogilvy & Mather told Fortune: "If you fudge or lie on a blog, you are biting the karmic weenie. The negative reaction will be so great that, whatever your intention was, it will be overwhelmed and crushed like a bug."
By whom? The National Society for the Prevention of Giving Bloggers a Bad Name? The Ana Marie Cox Fan Club? Jeff Jarvis armed with a riding crop?
One of the things that make blogs appealing is that they have no rules. But no rules mean that they will never escape the shadow of doubt. (Not that having rules stopped payola in any other industry.) So let's not overreact to bloggers and understand that they are subject to the same corruption that infects every other medium. With one tiny exception: they are accountable to no one.
Managing editor's note: In the spirit of watchful eyes and ethical copy we'd like to note that George Simpson handles public relations for BURST! Media.