Monday, October 26, 2009

You, Me and the FTC

In response to a new mandate on bloggers imposed by the FTC, MediaPost’s Max Kalhoff wrote in his Online Spin column,” I don't like government meddling in my personal speech….I look to the court of public opinion and trusted communities as a more viable arbiter of truth, deception and reputation -- not ambiguous government guidelines.”

He’s not alone.

There’s a lot of uproar about the FTC tracking the blogosphere and the transparency of the blogger/content provider relationship. Why? Because the FTC’s new rules state that any blogger who offers an endorsement in their postings must disclose any payments received for the acknowledgement. Failure to do so could lead to a penalty of up to $11,000.

Hhhmmm. That’s quite a dilemma, for bloggers and for the companies who’ve been courting an increasingly powerful “new media” channel. We’ve all been trying to monetize the internet since its inception, and now that bloggers have seemingly found a way, the FTC steps in to re-write the rules.

So while the bloggers and bloggees are sweating it out, I see a positive angle emerging here – for journalism. That, versus the gazillion content producers who offer varying qualities of data on any topic imaginable. This mandate will separate the hobby bloggers from the serious writers who offer value - an informed opinion.

Delineating these lines could actually save us countless hours of research, seeking out real information that we can trust and use in our lives, and our work. Life is too short to follow up on every advocacy piece to ensure its accuracy and bias. Some form of regulation to define a “gift” from a company seeking positive spin and PR from an unbiased consumer review is something from which we will all benefit. And being in the PR profession, I am confronted by this “dilemma” on a daily basis. I don’t pay journalists to review - or criticize - my clients’ services or products, so why should I pay bloggers?

Having a set of standards will help bring credibility back to traditional journalism, and accountability for bloggers. There simply needs to be.

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