Caveat Emptor When Dealing With Bloggers

Last Updated Sep 16, 2008 6:11 PM EDT

The traditional news media has a fairly uniform set of ethical guidelines that PR practitioners can rely on when pitching stories: no fancy gifts, no free trips, no pay-for-play. And most traditional business journalists are pretty conservative when it comes to investing -- they don't buy individual stocks and they disclose conflicts of interest when they arise. It's not 100% foolproof, but it's just about the best you could expect in the real world.

And then there's the new breed of online journalists and bloggers. The different circumstances of online communications and blogging have led to a free-for-all regarding ethical behavior. Right now, blogger ethics are all over the map, with some bloggers trying to adhere to "old" journalism standards, while others seem to adhere to virtually no standards at all.

For PR people, this means that you need to do more research, not less, when you identify a blogger you think you want to work with. Just because they write a blog doesn't mean they adhere to what you believe to be conventional rules.

You may, in fact, find that you need to "pay" (buy an ad or a sponsorship) in order to get coverage. Or you may find that in order to get coverage, you need to "lend" the blogger an expensive sample of your merchandise, or host her or him at a lunch or other event. Or, you may find that the blogger has relatively normal journalistic standards and simply wants you to give them good information and access to experts. You just can't take anything for granted.

There are three interesting examples of blogger ethics that you can check out, each representing a different way of approaching the subject.

For an example of the high road, take a look at Kara Swisher's code of ethics on her very popular tech blog, Boomtown. Kara's partner, Megan Smith, is a high-up at Google, and Kara takes pains to explain how she handles that relationship.

On the other hand, Om Malik of the popular GigaOm tech blog recently took a position as a Venture Partner with one of his VC funders, True Ventures. He barely makes mention of it here on his outdated bio, and it's still unclear how this new relationship will affect his burgeoning media property. He disclosed it in classic PR-burial style at the end of this recent blog post, but was outed by the New York Times' tech blog here.

Then there's Michael Arrington of TechCrunch, the most revered and feared of the new age tech blogs. Arrington doesn't really have a journalism background and has had his fingers in all sorts of things, so it's no surprise that he has developed his own brand of ethics. You can check them out here if you scroll down to the end of his bio.

  • Jon Greer

    Jon Greer has been analyzing media and PR for more than 25 years. He's been a journalist and a PR executive, and has been a featured speaker for many years at the Bulldog Reporter Media Relations Summit, and served as Bulldog's Editorial Director for their PR University series of weekly how-to audio conferences.

    Jon provides PR services including media relations and freelance writing to clients including start-ups, law firms, corporations, investment banks and venture capital firms. In addition, Jon provides spokesperson training. Learn more about Jon's training programs at The Media Bridge.