Tag Archives: disclosure

Are Journalists Biased?

Everyone who is anyone in the blogosphere has read the stories about Mike Arrington and his investment policy update. We’ve read hundreds of offshoot posts and Tweets, all of which point fingers and take sides. You’ve seen the articles proclaiming that the author would never, EVER! allow themselves to be compromised or biased in any way. They are journalists, after all! Real journalists remember not to allow anything to enter their head while they compose beyond their subject matter. Nothing. Ever. Right?

The problem is that no one knows anymore what – exactly – the definition of journalism is. Dave Winer reminds us that it doesn’t actually matter:

“All the people participating in the “journalist or not” debate are insiders. Insiders get access to execs for interviews and background info. Leaks and gossip. Vendor sports. Early versions of products. Embargoed news. Extra oomph on social networks. Favors that will be curtailed or withdrawn if you get too close to telling truths they don’t want told.”

In his telling of this hot story, Tim Carmody points to Dave’s words. At the end of his narrative, Tim asks: “Are you in, with the compromised? Or are you out, with the truthtellers and true believers?” Those two questions jumped off the page at me. They brought me out of my self-avowed silence on this entire situation. I had chosen to stay silent for a reason: it’s not my place to judge any person other than myself. I certainly have no right to say what is “okay” for Arrington to do – or anyone else involved in this chronicle.

Tim’s questions aren’t actually fair. I truly believe there is not one single writer/journalist/blogger out there who is NOT compromised in some way. We all have a bias or two, whether we admit it or not. We are influenced every moment of every day – by our belief system, by the people we surround ourselves with and by life’s experiences. We may try our best to never allow these things determine the way in which we write, but it happens. Does this make us bad people? Hell no. Do our individual biases cause us to be less trustworthy as writers? Not always, no.

There is a HUGE difference between someone intentionally writing a story in favor of a company if they’re receiving kickbacks from said business and the person who softens their words when writing about the startup their significant other works at. The latter is still telling the truth – they simply choose to do so in a nicer/different way. This doesn’t make their piece inauthentic. It makes it warm and fuzzy. The former, however, is likely selling you a pile of utter crap. I know it’s difficult to tell the difference sometimes, and this is where transparency comes in. The people who tell you that they may have some type of bias are usually the ones you can count on. The ones who hide their partiality are the ones you likely need to read with a grain of salt.

Anyone who tells you that every word they write is 100% never influenced/biased/compromised by something is lying to themselves. I don’t care if you’re “in” or “out,” you need to be honest with yourselves – and your readers. Let’s remember that we’re all human, we’re all imperfect and we’re all biased. I still refuse to choose some “side” in this entire debate. For me, there’s nothing to choose other than to do my best to continue being forthright and making sure my community knows that I believe every word I write.

At the end of the day, that’s all any of us should ask for. Hold yourself accountable, and others will naturally follow suit.

Disclosure and Compliance Made Easy

On December 1, 2009, the Federal Trade Commission began requiring bloggers and social media gurus to make full disclosure statements. This was done to “protect consumers from potentially misleading information.” Many of us in the blogosphere had been doing this for quite some time, as we believe in transparency. I know that I personally have always tried to be as up-front as possible when it comes to my sponsors and products I have received as review units. The same holds true for many of the people in my “circle” – as well as those whose blogs I follow.

It was pretty shocking to read all of the headlines surrounding this mandate. For those of us who were already practicing full disclosure, it was as though we were being slapped in the face. It almost seemed as though people who follow us were suddenly wondering if each of us has been getting something for nothing, or trying to “dupe” our communities. Bloggers who have worked hard for years were suddenly being scrutinized. Social Media mavens had their every tweet examined by people looking to point fingers. It was an intense time in the communities I belong to.

Even though much of the finger-pointing and name-calling has died down, we still have the FTC standard to uphold. Even though we may have already been following the guidelines, we still catch ourselves wondering if we’re doing it right. Did I put the proper wording in that last post? Did my tweet include all of the hashtags it should have? Am I being 100% transparent and open in the eyes of the government?

*Photo art courtesy of Jeannine Schafer*

If you’re one of those people who are unsure and want to have your confidence bolstered in this area, I highly suggest you check out CMP.ly. This company in no way sponsored this post – or anything else, for that matter. I met the company CEO at SXSW in March via my friend Jenn, and he graciously agreed to a video interview. However, due to some technical difficulty with Ustream, the recording didn’t save out properly. The service is such a potential godsend for some people that I wanted to spread the word however I could.

CMP.ly helps you comply with the FTC guidelines by making it simple to disclose things. There are solutions for bloggers, brands, agencies and even affiliate marketers. The company has “created a set of easily identifiable disclosures and codes that can be used to identify any material connections in your blog posts, tweets or other communications. These disclosures give you flexible options and provide you with both short codes and full text disclosures that can be included in your posts.”

Not only does the service make it easier for you to manage your disclosure, it also works across nearly all mediums you might need. Use them on posts, in tweets or via SMS messages. One cool highlight is that your disclosures will stay intact when in RSS syndication or when spread via a re-tweet. This makes it easier to keep track of than a hashtag on Twitter – or via a keyword in your blog.

There are seven levels of disclosure listed on the CMP.ly site. Each of the levels is clearly defined so that you can figure out where your post or message may fit in.

  • CMP.ly/0 – No Connection, Unpaid, Your Own Opinions – This level indicates that you have not received any compensation for writing a piece of content and you have no material connection to the brands, topics and/or products that are mentioned therein.
  • CMP.ly/1 – Based Upon a Review Copy – You have a material connection because you received a review copy (book, CD, software, etc.), or an item of nominal value that you can keep for consideration in preparing to write your content.
  • CMP.ly/2 – Given a Sample – You have a material connection because you received a gift or sample of a product for consideration in preparing to write your content. You were/are not expected to return this item or gift after the review period.
  • CMP.ly/3 – Paid Post – You have a material connection because you received a cash payment, gift or item of nominal value from a company affiliated with a brand, topic and/or product that is mentioned therein.
  • CMP.ly/4 – Employee/Shareholder/Business Relationship – You have a direct relationship with a brand, topic or product that is mentioned therein. Details of this material connection or relationship are outlined in the custom disclosure fields.
  • CMP.ly/5 – Affiliate Marketing Links – You have a marketing connection to a brand, topic or product. Through the use of affiliate links contained in your material, you may collect fees from purchases made.
  • CMP.ly/6 – Custom Disclosure – You have a direct relationship with a brand, topic or product that is mentioned in your writing. Details of this material connection or relationship are outlined in the custom disclosure fields.

Whether you agree with what the FTC wants us to do or not, the fact remains that you honestly don’t have much of a choice. Personally, I don’t understand why someone would not want to be transparent and honest with their audience. Then again, I’m not inside of their mind or conscience. At the end of every day (and every post I write), I know that I have done my best to CMP.ly.

Have you?