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Do bloggers get shares too?

Alex Ksikes [PersonRank 10]

Monday, July 20, 2009
11 years ago2,923 views

From the leaked twitter documents: (techcrunch.com/2009/07/16/twit ...) you can read:

The agenda topics for a Twitter management meeting on April 16, 2009 reads like a who’s who of Hollywood and Silicon Valley: Diddy, Oprah, Marissa Mayer, Microsoft, 4Chan. They discuss giving “advisor shares” to entertainer Diddy, a big Tweeter, but also see him as a distraction. “Diddy values his contribution higher than we do,” read the meeting minutes. In an earlier meeting on April 2, other potential advisors discussed included Shaq and Al Gore (presumably both would receive advisor shares as well).

There are companies such as Friend Feed or Ning or Seesmic which did receive a lot attention on the blogosphere. Sometimes the attention is well understood but sometimes it feels much more like a promotion (recently on this blog with Friend Feed for example).

Hence my question: Are bloggers such as Read Write Web / TechCrunch / Mashable offered shares for more coverage (promotion) of a company? Considering the influence that these blogs have, it'd be naive not to wonder.

Philipp, were you ever offered shares to give more coverage to a start up?

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

11 years ago #

Alex, I would figure that it works a little bit more subtle than offering shares. A company might invite you somewhere, and pay your trip or your hotel, and some nice lunch or something. Then they might hand out schwag (like tech gadgets etc.) Then they might feature you on their site, so your blog would get a push (e.g. your blog might be featured on a top 10 list, or win an award). Or maybe they will give you, the blogger, embargoed information prior to a launch. Or they might send you a nice expensive review gift that you may keep for a really long time (or forever). Every blogger needs to treat this stuff according to their own ethical blogging framework, and it's good when readers question this stuff and hold the blogger or journalist accountable for this.

I would *think* that once you decide to go on a route of accepting gifts etc., then you might find out much more about what companies are willing to offer... but if they think you might not be the right person for receiving gifts, you may never find out the real scope of "gift giving" or other "relationship enhancers" in the tech reporting industry.

Here are some good rules of thumb a blogger or jounalist should probably try keep to:

- don't accept gifts. Pass on gifts which you may receive at conferences, like tech gadgets. (E.g. I once passed on, unopened, a room helicopter Google handed out at a conference. Also tried to pass on e.g. the Chrome comic book, even though it was kind of in the "brochure" genre.)

- don't let a company pay for you, like pay for a hotel stay or so! (Yes, Tony/ I were offered this, but we didn't accept, for obvious reasons.)

- try to buy your own review copies. Don't rely on others to send you review stuff. If you did get a review copy, disclose it in the post. Don't even accept stuff that is "lent" to you. (I was once offered a nice review laptop. And declined of course.) In the beginning of this blog I did not think much about smaller stuff like a book or magazine issue for review purposes, but for the last years I've declined everything.

- be very careful before accepting press embargoes, if you accept them at all – they create an odd shared secret betwen you and the company you're reviewing. It may turn you into a partner of the company at the cost of your readers, who you write for. You may become afraid to negatively report on a company, fearing to be deprived of all the nicely handed information you learned to rely on! (As for secrets: This does not mean that when you hit on leaked information, that you should just disclose all of it – there may still be issues like trade secrets, privacy, or copyright which you should look at.)

There are some shades of gray here, of course. For instance, if Google would hand me a brochure, I would not immediately burn it and shout "bribery"... instead, I might just read it. Sometimes, you can escape the conflict by taking the safe road. (For instance, once at Google I was offered to eat lunch, but since the food served there was free it makes it impossible to allow me to pay for it, so I declined to eat there to avoid thinking this issue's ramifications through. For what it's worth, it would probably have been okay.)

There are many more rules, many of them really interesting, and the most complicated ones are probably arising from the conflict between "friend" and "source". For instance, I was once told it's a good journalist's rule of thumb to never just meet privately with a source from just one company (to receive off-the-record background information)... rather, you should always meet with at least 1 person from the company's competition available at the meeting to. This way, whatever they might tell you they are forced to tell the competition too. (This was not my rule, I'm just telling.)

One of the biggest problem zones for anyone doing reporting is always conflict of interest. A conflict arises, for instance, when you have monetary interest in pushing a company, e.g. because you have shares (you should probably not report about a company in which you have shares). Or because you have a family member or close friend within the company. If there is anything like that, at least disclose it, so readers can make up their mind. For instance, I have ads from Google's ad system on this blog, so you can evaluate what that does to my neutrality (I would say it does 0, but your evaluation may vary!).

Once you acknowledge that a conflict of interest often arises from money, you need to ask yourself how a blogger gets paid (if at all). And one of the biggest sources of income for many bloggers are their ads. There is potential for neutrality conflicts arising, for instance, when a blogger reports on the same company that is advertising in the blog. I don't mean automated ads – like AdSense – because automated ad systems don't usually come with the "attached relationships" which are dangerous.

What is dangerous in terms of neutrality however are relationships which might be "unofficially understood" to be formed when a big ad budget is paid out to a blogger. Maybe all of a sudden the reviews are just a tad nicer! Maybe all of a sudden the quick telephone line from company CEO to the blogger has been established! Maybe all of a sudden the CEO of the company expects the blogger to be a little bit "more understanding" in regards to the company's problems! This, by the way, is also a big conflict for traditional news media (on paper, on TV) – you might say it may be the biggest conflict. And, true to the "who watches the watchmen" issue, you might not always find media itself to put the spotlight on these issues... a meta conflict of interest, if you will.

Jérôme Flipo [PersonRank 10]

11 years ago #

I thought comments on Blogoscoped were limited to 140 characters :)
Always interesting Philipp, thanks!

Alex Ksikes [PersonRank 10]

11 years ago #

Thank you for your answer, Philipp. However I doubt all bloggers have your work ethic and integrity.

Looking at the various forms of bribery you have described, it seems plausible that bloggers may also get shares of a start up in exchange for more coverage. At Twitter, celebrities have received shares, so why not bloggers and journalists. After all Twitter really took off only when it started to be covered by the mass media.

George R [PersonRank 10]

11 years ago #

Philipp, what do you think about accepting favorable PageRank?
I would think that it is much more desirable than a free lunch.

Is it acceptable for a reporter or blogger to promote a book he has written?

Should there be a restriction on forum members accepting favors?
Oops, should I have turned down that gmail invite?

Roger Browne [PersonRank 10]

11 years ago #

You can't eliminate all influence.

Google inevitably gives Philipp something for free. It gives him something to blog about, and you can't avoid that without killing the blog.

I think disclosure is sufficient for readers to decide whether a blog post has credibility or not.

Consider a book reviewer. Even if the reviewer doesn't keep the book, the publisher has still given him or her a book to read for free. But if they disclose, e.g., "Review copy lent/given by [name of publisher]" then readers know the context of the review and can judge its integrity.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

11 years ago #

> Philipp, what do you think about accepting favorable PageRank?

Well, I sure hope all PageRank is always handed out algorithmically, and not decided in terms of personal favors or disfavors from any person to any other person.

> Is it acceptable for a reporter or blogger to promote a
> book he has written?

To me a blog always involved personal projects too. If nothing else, the projects are what's on my mind, what I hope to get feedback on, etc. In that way, a blog is definitely more personal than other forms of media. But of course I need to disclose it, I can't pretend it's not my project, so it's definitely not a review. Nevertheless I wouldn't want to write about something here where I'd think it wouldn't interest people.

> Should there be a restriction on forum members
> accepting favors?

I don't think so, no...

George R [PersonRank 10]

11 years ago #

"Is it acceptable for a reporter or blogger to promote a book he has written?"

I did not mention Philipp here. I appreciate his announcing his book. He does not seem to overly push or promote it. These issues seem to be more complex than Phillipp's earlier statements suggest.

George R [PersonRank 10]

11 years ago #

George:
"Philipp, what do you think about accepting favorable PageRank?"

Philipp:
"Well, I sure hope all PageRank is always handed out algorithmically, and not decided in terms of personal favors or disfavors from any person to any other person."

Google can affect PageRank without changing their algorithms. They can link to a blog from a high PageRank page.

Whether or not Google manipulates PageRank, if you have good PageRank then Google's dominance may be beneficial to you. This is similar to if you own Google stock purchased with your own funds. If the company does well it may be beneficial to you.

Philipp:
"A conflict arises, for instance, when you have monetary interest in pushing a company, e.g. because you have shares (you should probably not report about a company in which you have shares)."

This thread is locked as it's old... but you can create a new thread in the forum. 

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