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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today announced that it is enacting guidelines for bloggers aimed to help curb "pay-to-play" writing that sometimes occurs in the blogosphere. For example, when a company's product is reviewed by a media outlet, that product is typically returned after the subsequent review. For bloggers, the boundaries are not widely defined.
The goal of the FTC guidelines is "to make product information and online reviews more accurate for consumers, regulating blogging for the first time and mandating that testimonials reflect typical results," according to this document. The FTC suggests that some blog content may be misleading to consumers because they don't know the true motivation behind why that blogger is writing in particular praise of a product, service or company. The new rules, which take effect December 1st, state that bloggers must disclose conflicts of interest.
Indeed, these new guidelines come at a point when the differences between blogging and journalism are becoming hazy to some. Given the tremendous popularity and growing influence of the blogging community, it's undeniable that the words of a blogger can certainly influence the masses. While some bloggers are fairly balanced in their review of a product or coverage of a particular company, others are blatantly promotional or biased. So can blogging be a form of journalism, given a particular blogger's propensity for seeking the truth? Perhaps, but according to me, only in rare exceptions is that answer yes. Reporters, unlike bloggers, are formally trained to seek the truth and strive to share unbiased coverage of an event, issue, company and so forth.
On the other hand, blogging certainly allows consumers to have a voice in the media, as many of today's journalists frequent blogs for story ideas.
Newspaper journalist Gina Chen discusses blogging versus journalism in a Save the Media blog post. She says she feels that "blogging isn’t journalism, but journalists can blog. In fact, as a tool, blogging is particularly suited to journalism because it can help journalists connect and understand their readers better."
In a time when word-of-mouth and online referrals very much influence consumers' purchasing habits (check out this Nielsen study), many blogs are an outlet for advice and recommendations. So what's your opinion? Do you feel the FTC guidelines are warranted for the sake of the consumer? Or is the FTC limiting a blogger's voice by mandating that they disclose potential conflicts of interest?