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Spot-On Ethics


Josh Trevino makes some good points in his post on “The Netherlands 25″ and he doesn’t need me to elaborate on the principles or ethics involved. We agree. And we also agree that the behavior of outfits like BlogAds – which seems to have no problem linking advertising and editorial in one cozy sales package – are questionable.
Josh raises another issue that I, as editor of this site, should address head-on. I’ll do so here for those of you who care passionately about ethics, reporting and how we manage our conflicts-of-interest. You can also take a look at our editorial policies which are detailed here.
But back to Josh. His junket to Live8 was, indeed, a “free” trip given to us – as we disclosed at the time – by Technorati, the search engine folks who had a business arrangement with ONE, the African debt relief charity, and America OnLine, which co-sponsored the trip. We got the ticket the old fashioned way: A friend at Technorati asked me to recommend someone who wouldn’t write the usual “Bush sucks” posts from Live8 and I immediately suggested Josh. There were two reasons for my suggestion: One, he’s actually been to Africa and has written about it and two, he hates celebrity culture.
But the free ticket isn’t our real conflict as a publishing concern. We have bigger issues. I’m pretty sure I have never discussed with Josh how we got the ticket or the reasons we received it. For all he knows, I reimbursed Technorati for his airfare. My job as founder is to keep him as a writer ignorant of these sorts of transactions; it’s the classic edit/business split and I’m doing my best to maintain it. But you, as readers, have plenty of reason to think hard about my decision and how they affect what we write here, particularly when it comes to politics and tech businesses. I’ve said as much here; let me offer more detail.

As a Silicon Valley start-up we have a whole series of relationships with Technorati and other companies. I am, as the editor and founder of this site, in constant conversations about products they should develop for us, things we can do for them, things we can both do to get clear and understandable information to you on a regular basis. The tools for professional-level publishing simply aren’t here yet. We need them, badly, and few tech folks know what we need. We help them build their business, they help us build ours. Technorati advises us, we happily do the same for them and for a whole range of other companies that are all part of what my morning paper is calling “Web 2.0.” This is our business. It is what lets us publish and, we hope, thrive as a corporation.
These conflicts are inescapable. That’s why I am making a point of telling you about them. And it’s why I am looking hard for someone to write about the tech business’ politics; that should no longer be my main job.
There is something really troubling going on with this Amsterdam trip that Josh only touches on. It has to do with the way that BlogAds, the company that pioneered selling ads on small sites like ours, conducts itself as it makes those ad sales.
BlogAds CEO Henry Copeland seems to believe that selling editorial is a legitimate way of generating revenue for the sites he has as clients. This recent trip isn’t the first time this has happened; Copeland has offered to connect clients with advertisers (specifically NBC) so they can get media exposure and this fall he offered free movie tickets to bloggers who took certain ads.
This is no coincidence. I withdrew Spot-on from one of BlogAds networks for this reason. Liza Sabater, the network organizer, who is also headed to Amsterdam, sent around a memo telling us what Spot-on had to do to continue to be in the “Feminist Bloggers Network.” Two things leapt out at me: One, we were told to include her and other network members in our list of sites we regularly read – our “blogroll” – and two, we were told that we needed to post on a specific topic on a regular basis.
Well, I’m not telling anyone on this site what to list as their favorite or preferred sites to read and I’ll be damned if anyone does that to me. And we make no promises in advance about what we’re going to write about in exchange for advertising. I think you should advertise on this site for lots of reasons – our juicy demographics among them – not because we promise to write about someone or something. I was informed that my thinking on this issue was unusual; all the “big” sites did theses sorts of things all the time.
Yes, well. I can see the Big Boys now, all holding hands and jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. All of us on-line political commentators may use variations on the same publishing software (Blogger, Moveable Type, TypePad, Drupal, Scoop) to get our words to you but not all of us working on-line are ignorant – deliberately or otherwise – about the effect of what we’re doing. For many folks, blogging is and will remain a hobby; a harmless sideline to their “day” job that brings in a few perks. Here at Spot-on, publishing is our business. There’s a difference and we think knowing that difference is important for us as writers and for you, as readers.

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