Be Careful What You Read and More Careful What You Write
It is hardly news to anyone that the media as we once knew it is in a state of perpetual decline. Newspapers and magazines are struggling to stay afloat as everyone continues to turn their eyes away from the paper and toward their computer screens. And when their eyes go to those screens, they don’t immediately seek out the website of traditional media strongholds like the New York Times or Time magazine. No, they look for something different, something new – and so we have witnessed and participated in the rise of the blogger.
Blogs and bloggers have taken the place of newspapers and journalists in the lives of many. You could take the attitude that this is a good thing. After all, you no longer need a journalistic background to have your words read by millions and that makes for a more meritocratic system, ostensibly. If you’re good enough, people will read what you have to say – it’s as simple as that, right?
Maybe so, but what happens when you are indeed good enough, when you’re a blogger with a dedicated readership? Those who comprise the traditional media may not be an angelic bunch, but they are largely bound by a code of ethics whereby they will remain objective and refrain from making any endorsements for personal gain. But blogs and bloggers are subject to no such rules and in many cases they are young and easily impressionable. So what’s to stop them from being manipulated, indeed from allowing themselves to be manipulated?
In many cases this is exactly what happens. PR companies have long been the nemesis of the more ethically minded in the mainstream media, and now the temptresses have a whole new, vastly wider audience to sing their siren song to. With ever-more-refined subliminal techniques such as product placement becoming more and more prevalent, it’s becoming more and more difficult to ascertain when a product is being pitched to us covertly.
PR firms actively seek to choose suitable, established bloggers to help them with many of their marketing campaigns, as described in a recent article at sheposts.com. It’s as easy as looking up a blog on a ranking site like Alexa to see how many readers a blog has, then vetting the blog for ease of usability and to see if it matches with the aesthetic of the campaign they are seeking to promote.
PR professional Serena Matter describes her own approach: “I will focus my outreach efforts on the ‘tier 1’ bloggers I have found. Once I have finished outreach to those bloggers – and assuming I still have enough budget leftover – I will proceed with pitching tier 2 and tier 3 bloggers, as time and budget allows.”
If such practices were to take place in the regular news media there would be uproar. There is a difference between selling ad space and actively editorializing your content to skew a certain viewpoint for personal financial benefit, as many bloggers do.
Bear in mind that this kind of thing happens all the time. Maybe it didn’t hit me how serious this matter is until last week when I was looking for the best food for my beloved dog. I ran across a multitude of blogs, each promoting a certain brand. It all seemed a bit too coordinated for my liking and it soon became clear that the PR moguls were behind it.
How can one know the truth about a product anymore? Sure, it is undoubted that there are many upstanding blog writers out there who would refuse to partner up for a PR campaign, but for every one of those there is likely to be many multitudes more willing to take the easy money.
With no clear laws governing much online content as of yet, all we can do for now is reiterate: Be careful what you read. And, even more importantly, to our fellow bloggers out there: Be responsible and remember that your newfound power comes with great responsibilities.
By Mirela Gluck
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