Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Question to My Fellow Bloggers

My question is this... what, as bloggers, do we owe to our readers and general public? After the Armstrong Williams scandal, I looked to see how prevalent journalists being paid to act as PR people was. I have found several journalists who have taken money from people and not disclosed the payments (not to be biased, but they all seem to be conservitive journalists so far). I also ran across something else that peaked my interest. Maybe the rest of you knew about this, but I did not. What I am referring to is two conservative bloggers taking money from the John Thune campaign to attack Tom Daschle and any journalists that might right positive articles about Daschle (or negative about Thune). (Link and Link)

most of us make no secret of our bias towards or against certain politicians or parties. But, what is the responsibility of the blogging world to disclose our personal financial interest in our blogging. This goes further than just political blogs, but to any kind of blog.

The problem I see is that credibility is of no importance in the blogging community. First, we are fairly anonymous. I could pass by any one of the other bloggers out there and never know the difference.

Second, even if we do get busted for being paid for something and not disclosing it, it is easy to shut up shop, change your handle and start all over again. Anywhere Armstrong Williams goes, his name follows and no one will trust him any longer. But I could easily change from the Barking Dingo to Howling Wolf, or any number of names.

So, I am curious as to what you think. What is our responsibility and how or should we even try to keep ourselves honest?


Smoke Eater said...

Dingo, like you said, most of us make no bones about our political bias/affiliation. I was VERY un-abashedly supporting President Bush during the election, and as you can see, I still have that tilt to my posting. The problem for me comes in where it came for Mr. Williams, and while I can change my handle and start over, any "legitimate" monies I could earn for my blogging would go out the window, as well as anything I might have thought of using for school or in applications for any type of legal, journalistic, or other "comparative" career. If you're just blogging to have a place to rant that's one thing, but where I come in is as a prospective law student. And while I do blog anonymously (for now), I would like to be able to come back to some of these posts (archived of course) and show them to my professors and prospective employers as proof of my ability to talk about a subject (biased as I am of course), but also I try (note, I said TRY) to present an un-biased P.O.V. and I don't squelch differing ideas, I just don't allow hateful and just plain RUDE comments, so that shows something about my character too (I'd like to think at least). Anyway, I've rambled a while, and need to get to dinner, so let me know what you think.

Sigmund, Carl and Alfred said...

So, are you asking about accountability?

Hmm..where have I heard that before?

By the way, the Armstrong Williams thing is a big deal, and it only highlights the issue of accountability.

Dingo said...


The one difference that I see is that with blogging, it is/can be for a specific subject/time period. Like the "Daschle vs. Thune" bog. It was not until after the election that the monetary interests were discovered. But, the author of the blog can set up shop under a different name for the next election with none of us the wiser.


Yes, this does ring of a certain prior discussion. I would argue though that market forces are taking care of the Armstrong Williams scandal. His name is now mud in the journalistic world. His syndicated column has been dropped by two papers (so far) and probably won't be able to find work on any network other than Fox. Accountability for blogging does pose another problem (admittedly, which you did hit on before and I did not give as much thought to it). Maybe you were right about some sort of limited regulation... I don't know. I hate to see any form of censorship. Do you believe a disclosure law would be censorship?

Thanks to both of you for your comments.

Boomr said...

I think there are two different standards: one for the person running the blog, and another for the people posting comments.

For the actual blogger, I think the standard has to be transparency, whether it's just announcing an opinion or a general political bias, or whether it's disclosing some further personal interest in the subject matter. I think if Dingo were going to make money off of the public outcry that might stem from one of his posts (once he gets more than 3 readers, of course), then we as loyal barking dingo readers should know that. There should be some limited accountability to disclose this kind of personal interest.

That's not censorship, by the way. It doesn't prevent anyone from saying whatever he wants, it just requires him to disclose some kind of benefit he might obtain from his political stance. Politicians have to disclose such biases, judges do, even some stock brokers have to, so why not political commentators? Free speech is not free if it's paid for.

As for the mere posters, anonymity is a pretty effective shield, and the whole idea of allowing ANYONE to post responses to a blogger's column is to get a wide range of uncensored opinions. In that context, I don't think it really matters much what a poster might gain from the discussion, because he was not the one to initiate the dialogue in the first place. When I post, I try to disclose as many biases or personal interests as I can, but that's only for purposes of giving the other readers some idea of my personal motivations to let them know whether they can agree with me or not. I don't think I, as a poster, should be required to do so, but it's a courtesy that I think politeness demands.

My two cents. In the interests of full disclosure, I earned nothing for posting this particular piece, except the money my employer pays me while I procrastinate.

Ogre said...

I think you've figured it out with the idea that there is almost no credibility with blogs. As with the rest of the internet, it is the best the world has to offer, but also the worst of the worst. The only chance one has it be be credible and build individual credibility, much like a newcomer to a town in the 1800s might have done.

And there's people who take money to blog? Sign me up!

Sigmund, Carl and Alfred said...

You mentioned 'disclaimer,' and simply put, how would that read?

Now, to simply say the market forces will take care of it does not address the issue.

Does anyone with a press pass, easily had, qualify for constitutional protections- and have nothing but the marketplace to fear?

Something is wrong here.

Dingo said...

We were talking about disclosure, not disclaimer. Disclosure is letting it be known that you have a financial interest in presenting a certain opinion. A disclaimer would be something along the lines of "Blogger.com does not endorse these opinions"

No, market forces will not take care of the blogoshere, but it is working in the MSM (Rather, Williams, Blair)

Anonymous said...

Great subject, Aaron. Disclosure is the answer. Disclose everything, who you work for, etc. Nothing wrong with bloggers (or anyone else) earning money, just let the audience know up front. It will work itself out, I think.