Why is anyone concerned that I tell you who is paying me when I write about something?
Every time I write about a person or a company it's a conflict of interest. Because I want to be on their radar. It's good for me. And the same is true for every other intelligent blogger because that inherent conflict of interest underlies why blogging is so valuable for someone's career.
The reality is that readers are not hurt by the conflict of interest. Readers are hurt by bad content. But only once. Because if readers hate the content, they leave. (I know this to be true because of all the people who leave comments on my blog that say “This post sucks. I'm unsubscribing.”)
Mainstream media is mostly about money, so they reveal every time they have a financial conflict of interest. But bloggers are more about influence than money. So they have conflict of interest all over their blog, with every post. For example, every time you link to someone, you are hoping for some sort of acknowledgment, or some sort of good karma. Do you need to acknowledge that so as to protect your readers? Of course not.
Here's how it really works: Guy Kawasaki keeps such close track of favors exchanged that I think he must have it on a spreadsheet. When I link to him, he definitely notices, and he definitely helps me in exchange. So, should I list the conflict of interest every time I link to him? And every time I say I love Alltop?
No. Because if I tell you I love Alltop, and you go there and it's stupid, you will think I'm stupid. (Note: What Alltop is good for is finding out what sort of blogs exist in a given category. Amazingly, there is no other efficient way to do this.)
And what about my blog post about oral sex? I've gotten way more oral sex since I wrote that. Mostly because I realized from my research and from the comments section that men who don't do oral sex are losers. So I stay away from them. Should I disclose that I had side benefits from that post? Should I disclose that I have benefitted beyond the benefit of just educating the public? No. Who cares? Insanity. But honestly, getting more oral sex far outweighs any financial gain I could have gotten from any given post.
And that is saying something. Because I've made a lot of money selling posts. For example, when I wrote a post about PayScale, I was getting paid $5000 a month to talk about them. (I considered not revealing the true value of the contract, but then I thought: Well, PayScale is the poster child for transparent salaries, so how can they complain?)
But readers don't need to know that I was paid to write the post. Readers should just want the post to be useful and interesting and all the other things you want from any post. Who cares how I get paid as long as I write well? The post got about 100 comments, and it got picked up on 20/20 and in the New York Times. That means it's a good post. In fact, it probably means that PayScale has good ideas and that's why I chose to work with them. You should just trust me to take money from smart companies—if I take money from stupid companies then I'll write stupid posts.
Here's another reason bloggers shouldn't talk about who sponsors them: It's boring! Here's my post about telling you that LinkedIn sponsors my blog. Here's my post about how to use LinkedIn if you're a journalist. You know what? The second post did way better than the first one. There are tons of incoming links to the journalism post, and I got three big speaking gigs at journalism conferences, which made LinkedIn happy (they wanted journalists to use LinkedIn and then write about it.) And it made me happy because it gave me a platform for telling journalists they should sell their columns to the highest bidders because bloggers are doing it.
So we don't need stupid rules about conflict of interest for people who are putting themselves on the line. That rule is for old media, where writers were putting only the brand of the newspaper on the line. In old media most journalists were no-names, writing under big (newspaper) names. So if they wrote something moronic, so that they could increase the value of a stock they held, or, maybe, get more oral sex, they would put only the newspaper brand at risk. Not their own.
Which means that the arcane conflict of interest rules are to protect the newspaper, not the readers. And this, by the way, is why newspapers are going down: because they are more about themselves, and their hierarchies, and rules and structures, than they are about what their readers want. Readers should not care about the business dealings of the writers or their publishers. Readers just want good content.