Cash for Comments

August 9, 2009

This article on proposed regulations for blogs, I think, shows the problems facing new media aren’t so different from decade-old squabbles and problems that have riddled the old media world. Print, radio and television.


Alan Jones: Cash For Comments

Photo: Brendan Esposito, The Age

Akin to the Alan Jones/John Laws cash-for comments furore, or subliminal flickers of coca-cola bottles at the pictures, regulators are concerned that advertising on blogs could be subliminal or covert. Effectively, bloggers are not making it clear that advertising on their blogs is just that – advertising.

Tieing issues of political economy to blogs will surely lead blogs down a slippery slope, in the slipstream of major newspapers and broadcasters. It muddies the puritan waters of grand notions of freedom of expression.

Do we need a code of ethics for bloggers? Legislation?

Blogger James Joyner puts forward a convincing case for keeping blogs unregulated here: FTC to Monitor Blogs’.

Basically, one of the main arguments in favour of regulating blogs is that

As blogging rises in importance and sophistication, it has taken on characteristics of community journalism — but without consensus on the types of ethical practices typically found in traditional media.  Journalists who work for newspapers and broadcasters are held accountable by their employers, and they generally cannot receive payments from marketers and must return free products after they finish reviewing them.  The blogosphere is quite different.”

 (Joyner quotes AP’s Deborah Yao)

Joyner responds:

“But journalists employed by someone else get paid.   That’s the nature of employment.  Independent bloggers, by contrast, are entrepreneurs.  Actually, most make no money or barely cover expenses, making them, in effect, hobbyists.”

While I largely agree with Joyner’s point, I think that this argument won’t hold up forever. Revenues for bloggers are increasing and in time, the most successful bloggers will rake in profits far greater than journalists at print publications who are rapidly becoming redundant (see ‘Bloggers earning more than Journalists’).  With increased influence comes increased responsibility to act ethically. Where these ethics aren’t adopted voluntarily I think it is reasonable that they be enforced – foremost on issues like monetary gifts and so on, and less stringently on issues like freedom of speech.