Editorial/Advertising Divide Remains Vital in Blogosphere

Citizen Publishers Have Remained Honest, but the Issue Will Get More Thorny

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The Chinese wall that separates the editorial and advertising sides of the media remains vital to its sustainability. However, as the landscape becomes dotted with millions of citizen publishers who take ads to generate a second source of income, it relies more on reputation than infrastructure.

Bloggers, podcasters and video diarists who accept advertising clearly do not have the same resources as big media. There is no physical separation of roles to protect journalistic integrity and, to some degree, advertising's. In the Web 2.0 world, a site's publisher, sales director, editor, IT director and chief groundskeeper often are the same person.
Steve Rubel
Photo: JC Bourcart
Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and blogger. He is senior VP in Edelman's Me2Revolution practice.

Some of the more successful bloggers, like Michael Arrington who operates the TechCrunch network, have surrounded themselves with execs to run ad sales. However, they are by far in the minority.

To date, citizen publishers have remained largely ethical. However, you can be sure that many are hard pressed to write negatively about an advertiser whose generosity is allowing the family to go out for a nice dinner or two. What keeps them honest? It's their reputation and desire to remain credible to the community.

Even if a soloist doesn't run ads, the Chinese wall -- or lack thereof -- still can creates issues. Consider corporate or agency-side bloggers like me. I chose not to run ads on my site to avoid potential conflicts of interests. Nothing I write is influenced directly. However, it would be fair for my readers to ask how much of what I write is swayed indirectly by my firm's clients or their interests. To compensate I steer clear of writing substantively about clients because, no matter which way I go, someone can lose -- the readers, me, my employer or the clients. This is how I keep the wall intact, or at least attempt to.

We're all making this up as we go, and there will be bumps. Still, this entire issue is only going to get more thorny. The only law that works in the blogosphere is common law. So far the network itself has served as a digital ombudsmen, keeping most honest. The future is murkier.
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