Coming To Terms With Disclosure
Pat Phelan followed a story about video blogger Sarah Austin, who was getting paid by Flixwagon and there was no disclosure about this fact anywhere. There was nothing in the contracts that forbid disclosure, but she did not want to disclose this fact because “I just think it is better for business not to disclose that I stream with them for peanuts!”
There are many facets to this issue, including in some cases, contractual and legal ones. I am going to try and stick to the ethical issues and avoid any potential legal issues. I am not a lawyer.
Why disclose in the first place? The main reason: to make people aware of any potential conflicts of interest. But when is disclosure just plain silly or redundant?
I write posts on various Creative Weblogging blogs. They pay me to write posts of a certain length on 22 different tech blogs. I have also written posts for GigaOM and Web Worker Daily–they pay me, too. I’ve also written on voip.com’s corporate blog–they also pay me as well. I think that constantly disclosing I’m paid for these posts is silly because it should be inherently obvious someone is paying me for those posts.
Of course, in all of the above cases, I have varying degrees of control over what gets posted. They are paying for the content, not for me to write something specific beyond being within specific topic areas. It’s a bit like a newspaper paying a reporter for articles. Same idea, different technology.
There’s also the whole concept of Sponsored Posts that Creative Weblogging does. These are blog posts paid for by a sponsor to link to a specific site. I’m not a huge fan of writing these posts–and won’t do them on phoneboy.com. At least Creative Weblogging properly discloses these posts.
I also blog/write a fair bit about Nokia. On this topic, I disclose–almost to a ridiculous degre–that I work for them, especially when I blog on my own blog. Even though, in most cases, my work with Nokia has nothing to do with what I am writing about.
Some other commenters on the post go so far as to say that disclosing relevant friendships is important, as it can taint your point of view. One other one took it to an extreme: “Do we need to disclosure who we like/dislike/sleep with/secretly admire because it will affect our transparency? Sheesh.”
It’s hard to know where to draw the line here. I don’t want to be so laden with disclosures that my posts have no substance left. I try to disclose only the pertinent relationships that might affect my editorial coverage, except when I feel the relationship is obvious (e.g. on a commercial blog).
In the Sarah Austin case, if she was badmouthing the other services and she’s getting paid by Flixwagon, then yes, that’s a clear conflict of interest and it should be disclosed immediately. Based on what I’ve read, though, it’s not clear to me Sarah Austin is violating any ethical standards here. It’s definitely a grey area, though I’d have to say if it were me, I would disclose it.
What about you? How much disclosure is too much?