Friday, October 09, 2009

To tell or not to tell...

That seems to be the question these days. It follows on changes to the FTC's rules requiring, among other things, that bloggers to disclose if they've received product samples for review.

There's been a lot of discussion on the subject online and in MSM including a good piece in the Globe and Mail. There was also a lively Twitter debate between Jeff Jarvis and Mark Glazer (thanks Mathew Ingram).

And while the ruling doesn't apply to Canada, the principles do.

For the record, I am in favour of disclosure. I think it's always easier to be up-front, honest and transparent. Then, people know who you are and where you stand.

I think a lack of disclosure by some (many?) PR practitioners over the years, contributed to giving our profession a bad name.

However, I think Jeff Jarvis brings up a good point about fairness. Why should bloggers be singled out when MSM journalists receive product samples all the time? Shouldn't both be held to the same standards? If not, the rules seem skewed in favour of companies over those with an individual voice.

I'd much rather have a level playing field with the same code of transparency, ethical behaviour and freedom of expression for all sides.

UPDATE: Here's a good legal perspective on the new FTC regulation from the Council of PR Firms' legal counsel, Davis and Gilbert LLP (by Michael Lasky).


Janine said...

I have to say I struggle with this, Martin. I'm not so comfortable telling folks "hey, lookee, I get stuff for free" -- it feels a bit like boasting. And sometimes I do feel a bit guilty that I receive samples at no cost while others do not.

That said, I simply wouldn't be able do my job if I had to purchase all the products I evaluate and feature on BeautyGeeks and in my freelance writing.

For me the whole issue comes down to striving for a balanced critical voice so that no-one has to wonder whether I received something gratis or bought it myself.

Still, despite my discomfort, I suppose I'd better get to work crafting a few measured lines for my blog bio.

Martin Waxman said...

Thanks so much for your candour, Janine. I don't think you need to feel any guilt at all. You're going through the same questions I think PR folks, bloggers and journalists are grappling with. Hopefully, together we can all resolve how to handle this transparently.

As someone who sends people products to review as part of my job, I think it's important reviewers objectively sift through what's new out there and then provide a balanced perspective. That's something you do and with a sense of style, I might add.

Gini Dietrich said...

Dang! It's like we're in one another's heads. I wish I'd seen this before I wrote my blog post today, but I'll link to it right now.