Saturday, January 08, 2005

Promotional blogging

Several bloggers, the only one known to me before Alex Halavais' post being Elizabeth Lane Lawley at mamamusings, are making money by writing about a certain company. Once a week they have to write about this company and link to it.

To me, the idea of getting paid for what I write here is of course tempting - I would love to be able to live from it. But I have worked as a journalist, I have lived under editorial restraint and I have written in order to make certain the paper has enough readers to attract enough advertisers to make the budget balance. It's not what I do. If I wanted to satisfy advertisers, I could have a job in a women's magazine or a big news paper. I chose differently.

Making money from your blog changes the model you work within. Getting paid to blog changes the blog. It isn't personal publication any more, your blog has become a one-person business.

I think there is a difference between the practice of Christopher Allbritton, who went to Iraq sponsored by his readers, several individuals paying an individual, and Elizabeth Lane Lawley blogging about a certain product each week in order to get paid. Allbritton was paid to write more of what he already did and from a better vantage point, Lawley is paid to write one particular thing once a week, adding a link and thus manipulating google rank.

A significant part of Lawley's trustworthyness comes from her position as a scholar, an academic. It is what has made her blog important in the development of blogging, and what has given her a considerable part of her recognition. Yes, she is brilliant, but she is also positioned within a system which supposedly is not commercialised and thus should be independent of other interests but the public good. Although it may not be, what do I know - there are horrible stories about sponsored colleges reaching the protected, public educational system of Norway. Still: it is her status as a scholarly blogger which will sell a product.

Paid research is already a problem in Academia - reports being altered, held back or buried if they do not please the parties paying for the research. We know it happens, no matter how the idea makes individual scholars shudder and mutter: "but my path is clean." Now we get promotional academic blogging. Fun.


Markus said...

I support your view on this issue. Also quoted you in a short own reply here. (but in german)

Jill said...

I agree, and yet... reading the info from the company in question ( - click the link to the contract for very specific details) it doesn't look as bad as I'd feared. It's a three month contract, they pay US$800 a month (!) and they won't bother about whether the blogger writes something positive or negative.

I'd do it, for $800 a month... I'd look upon it the same way as I look upon other writing I do for pay, and I'd clearly mark it as different from my other blog content.

If I got caught up in it and wanted more and more gigs like it, though, that'd be a problem, as you say, and it'd constrain what I felt I could write and still attract money, and I'd end up just a journalist. Self-employed, but still. I do love the freedom of blogging. But I'd probably sell it for three months at $800 a month.

Although they do say to write in if you think you'd be a good pay-blogger - and no, I haven't, and no, I guess I won't. So maybe I'm not as sold out as I imagine.

Torill said...

I saw your post Markus, and I read German, no problem. Like you I will watch this development with interest.

Jill, I love to get money for my writing, get paid to do lectures or what ever. If I was asked to write something particular in this space for money, I would have to struggle a little with abstaining from the things I would like to do with that money. My compromise would most likely be to make a different blog with a different heading, a description which told everybody that this was a pay-to-blog site, offer my services and be upfront about what I was doing. But being paid to mention goods in an otherwise independent setting is what we in Norway call "tekstreklame", and it is a very dubious journalistic practice. I may not be a journalist, but there are some parts of journalistic ethics I respect.

Jill said...

Well, is it tekstreklame when it's clearly marked as being paid for, though? Liz is putting things in a specially marked up box - is that very different from having ads? If you were being paid to mention something and you didn't tell people that would be unethical, at least from a journalistic point of view. I definitely prefer being honest about such things.

I agree that it's nice to have independent un-bought up blogs, and perhaps in particular from academics.

Torill said...

The problem with taking money for promoting merchandise is that it creates insecurity. In journalism it undermines the credibility of the reporter. Several reporters in Norway have been taken to task for being spokespersons for organisations and movements, and the journalists you find selling products have left reporting.

The problem with blogging is that I am reporter, advertisement writer, editor, graphic designer, proofreader and publisher all in one. People come to read what is there because they trust me. If I write something for a magazine and get paid for it, it has passed review and the editor of that magazine has OK'ed it. I, who may work for many masters, am still the originator, but there is a filter which is supposed to remove obvious promotion.

What the paid academic blogger is selling isn't the product to us, she is selling her credibility as an independent scholar and her readers due to this credibility to the firm. The merchandise isn't her product: her readers and her google-rank due to our linking and our discussion is.

Yet, at this point it's an easy choice to make. Tempt me with the right sum - who knows how easy the choice would be?

Torill said...

Alex Halavais expands on paid blogging and the line between editorial matters and promotional.

Torill said...

Jill has a post about sponsored blogging where Liz Lawley has responded. At the risk of being obnoxious, I can't resist pointing out that the zest of the comment is that I am right!