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Bloggers Urge That Organizations To Which They Give "Free Publicity" Advertise on Their Sites:

The Plum Line, Greg Sargent's blog on the Washington Post's whorunsgov.com, reports:

Some of the leading liberal bloggers are privately furious with the major progressive groups — and in some cases, the Democratic Party committees — for failing to spend money advertising on their sites, even as these groups constantly ask the bloggers for free assistance in driving their message.

The post then goes on to give more details, including this quote from a blogger: "They come to us, expecting us to give them free publicity, and we do, but it's not a two way street. They won't do anything in return. They're not advertising with us. They're not offering fellowships. They're not doing anything to help financially, and people are growing increasingly resentful."

I haven't thought hard about this subject; and I realize that it's easy for me to be cavalier about advertising revenue, since my academic day job lets me blog without worrying about ad income. But still I wonder whether it's quite right for authors who publish their own opinion and news commentary to demand a "two way street" in which the authors get advertising money from the people they praise.

Now some amount of blogger commentary about people who pay them money is likely inevitable. Many bloggers work at think tanks, and they may report on their employer's work product, thus helping promote the employer. I'm a part-part-part-time Academic Affiliate with the Mayer Brown LLP firm, and I occasionally blog about Mayer's cases. That, I think, can generally be dealt with by notes explaining the possible conflict of interest. (For instance, I always note, when I blog about a case that I know to be one of Mayer's, that I have an affiliation with Mayer.)

But if an ostensibly independent blogger has a general pattern of demanding advertising — even indirectly, rather than in some personal communication — from institutions in exchange for publicizing the institutions' work, that sort of relationship strike me as harder to disclose in any transparent way. And my sense is that historically this sort of deal has been seen as not entirely kosher in the newspaper business, or for that matter in the opinion magazine business. Naturally, readers expect that an opinion magazine would have editorial biases. But I don't think they expect that the opinion magazine would be making advertising dollars from positive coverage (or "free publicity") that it provides to various organizations.

On the other hand, perhaps a different model is needed for small blogs that may need advertising income to stay afloat; or perhaps some reasonable disclosure system would suffice to take care of any possible problems here; or perhaps I'm missing something, and there really aren't likely to be any problems. I just wanted to tentatively express my thoughts on the subject, and hear our readers' thoughts in return.

/:
Or perhaps the bloggers should be writing about what they think is important without expecting financial reciprocity from a political party that is supposed to be a peer, not an employer.
4.9.2009 12:45am
boose:
I have to agree with the poster above, (/) although I always thought the real issue with blogging is with companies like the AP, where the bloggers are giving away free publicity to the company, but they're also giving away the product for free.
4.9.2009 12:55am
Monty:
The idea that bloggers should get some quid pro quo for the publicity they provide is inane. If its really a blog, and not an astro turfing operation, or something similar, those who received publicity owe the blogger nothing. The blogger decided to blog about it eitehr because THEY found it interesting, THEY care about it, or THEY want to promote it. An Ethical blogger shouldn't be taking prompts from anyone (or if from anyone, then from thier readership)
4.9.2009 1:17am
John Moore (www):
Sounds like the leftist bloggers are just asserting their normal entitlement mentality.
4.9.2009 1:19am
TruePath (mail) (www):
I hardly think there is a shortage of people willing to write blogs for free. In fact my experience has always been that the more commercial a blog becomes the worse the content tends to get.

I mean when people start blogging for money they are more likely to post to keep up a regular schedule than because they are genuienly passionate/interested in the idea.
4.9.2009 1:21am
Timber (mail):
So Liberal bloggers have been doing nothing but astroturfing the talking points emailed to them by various groups that they then all coordinate on Journolist?
4.9.2009 1:34am
Gabriel (www):
it's interesting because in the first half of the 19th century most newspapers had an explicit partisan orientation and relied on patronage from the parties (often through things like government printing contracts) or other organized interests (unions, churches, etc). this demand that partisan bloggers be subsidized by the party seems like yet another way that the 20th century notion of a politically centrist and politically independent mass media was not the rule but a historical anomaly.
4.9.2009 1:34am
Grover Gardner (mail):
Say I start a book review blog that becomes powerful and widely-read. It generates sales. Publishers start quoting me in their ads. They pepper me with review copies, press releases, pre-pub announcements and promotional materials. Soon it becomes clear that the publishers are benefiting from the exposure they get on my web site. Would it then be unfair to ask the publishers to support my venture by advertising? Would I be wrong to express frustration if they refused?

I don't think this represents a quid pro quo. It's a pretty typical business arrangement. Every hobby or specialty magazine depends on advertising from the industries they promote--how else would they stay in business? Now, there are ways in which this arrangement can be perverted. But is that happening here?
4.9.2009 1:54am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Say I start a book review blog that becomes powerful and widely-read. It generates sales. Publishers start quoting me in their ads. They pepper me with review copies, press releases, pre-pub announcements and promotional materials. Soon it becomes clear that the publishers are benefiting from the exposure they get on my web site. Would it then be unfair to ask the publishers to support my venture by advertising? Would I be wrong to express frustration if they refused?
I guess it depends whether you're a professional or an amateur. Are you blogging about books to make money, or are you blogging about books because you like blogging about books?
4.9.2009 2:02am
David Welker (www):
I think it is a major conflict of interest to expect to be compensated. Then there is always the concern that the blogger is going to hesitate to bite the hand that feeds him or her.

Also, I personally am not interested in a blogger who is so excessively concerned about getting the money. It is one thing to want to make a little money (or even enough to live on), but to be "privately furious" suggests that they are doing it for the wrong reason.

It seems to me that if your blog gets enough traffic, you should be able to get sufficient advertising revenue without having to pressure anyone in particular to advertise. If you have to pressure someone in particular, this suggests that you are getting above market rates (i.e. your advertising rates aren't financially justified on the merits -- otherwise you wouldn't have to pressure anyone) and you are in essence being paid to provide a positive opinion.

Overall, I think such an arrangement is lacking in integrity, whether or not it is disclosed. I think it is fundamentally different to pressure advertisers versus disclosing a non-blog related activity that you would engage in anyway that could create a conflict. I further presume that if you disagreed with a position advanced by Mayer, you would just keep quiet instead of actively deceiving people about your true views. Obviously, if you are a lawyer, you should advance the best arguments for your client in motions and briefs before the court, whether or not you agree with them. But, I would be disappointing if such advocacy went so far as to lead to insincere arguments on a personal blog.

Overall, I suppose that with full disclosure of the "coerced" advertising relationship (i.e. the receiving of above market rates for ads -- really, a bundling of ads with another product, that is advocacy of a certain point of view) that one might be able to proceed with some level of integrity. But, for me, my trust of a blogger is going to go down as soon as such disclosure occurs.
4.9.2009 2:44am
Grover Gardner (mail):

I guess it depends whether you're a professional or an amateur. Are you blogging about books to make money, or are you blogging about books because you like blogging about books?


Let's assume that, like anyone, I'd like to make a living from what I enjoy doing--especially if it's clear that other people are making money from what I do.
4.9.2009 2:51am
David Welker (www):

Let's assume that, like anyone, I'd like to make a living from what I enjoy doing--especially if it's clear that other people are making money from what I do.


The is absolutely nothing wrong with making money blogging. If you are a liberal blogger, there is absolutely nothing wrong with accepting money from liberal advertisers who you generally have good things to say about.

But if your blog is sufficiently high traffic, I don't see why you need to pressure anyone in particular to advertise there. The merits of advertising on your blog should be perfectly clear without such pressure.

To me, it sounds like an exchange of favorable opinion for money (i.e. above market rates for advertising). And that is problematic. Is this liberal blogger going to feel free to criticize these same advertisers when it is warranted? Or will there be a strange silence?

Of course, that is something of a problem with any conflict of interest. I very much doubt that Eugene Volokh is going to knowingly criticize a legal position taken by Mayer Brown, especially if he is involved in the case in any way. I think realistically the best we can expect is complete silence in those cases.

But, it is not as though the relationship with Mayer Brown arose primarily because Eugene Volokh would say nice things about Mayer Brown cases on this blog. Presumably, that relationship arose because Mayer Brown values Eugene Volokh's unusually high quality legal skills. It is a sort of unavoidable conflict not arising directly from the activity of blogging itself.

I think in contrast getting above market rates from advertisers seems to be a conflict that arises from the blogging itself and perhaps goes directly to the integrity of the blogger or at the very least makes us question whether he or she is a straight shooter.
4.9.2009 3:14am
Grover Gardner (mail):

I think it is a major conflict of interest to expect to be compensated.


Why? Lots of people get paid for writing about politics.


Then there is always the concern that the blogger is going to hesitate to bite the hand that feeds him or her.


Sure, but this is a concern with any sort of media venture, isn't it?


If you have to pressure someone in particular, this suggests that you are getting above market rates (i.e. your advertising rates aren't financially justified on the merits -- otherwise you wouldn't have to pressure anyone) and you are in essence being paid to provide a positive opinion.


If I publish a model train magazine that attracts the attention of model train enthusiasts and generates sales for model train manufacturers, wouldn't it be logical to seek advertising from model train manufacturers? I guess I could run lingerie ads--but why one earth would a lingerie company want to advertise in a magazine geared toward model train enthusiasts? And why would I charge model train manufacturers above-market rates? That doesn't make sense.


Also, I personally am not interested in a blogger who is so excessively concerned about getting the money. It is one thing to want to make a little money (or even enough to live on), but to be "privately furious" suggests that they are doing it for the wrong reason.


What's excessive? What's too little or too much? If I do something well enough that people gravitate to my services, is it ignoble to expect compensation?

And in condemning them for being "privately furious" I think you are overlooking the possibility that they feel taken advantage of by larger and more lucrative concerns.
4.9.2009 3:25am
Grover Gardner (mail):

I very much doubt that Eugene Volokh is going to knowingly criticize a legal position taken by Mayer Brown, especially if he is involved in the case in any way.


Well, not if he values his job, he's not. ;-)

Look, these are ADVOCACY blogs. They already advocate a certain POV or political party. Why shouldn't they expect these political organizations to support them, especially if they are asking the blogs to act as conduits for certain candidates or positions?

Honestly, is it a problem if Democratic Underground is biased toward Democratic candidates or policies? What would you expect?
4.9.2009 3:35am
Grover Gardner (mail):

Is this liberal blogger going to feel free to criticize these same advertisers when it is warranted? Or will there be a strange silence?


Silence? From liberal bloggers? :-)

But seriously, there are plenty of liberal bloggers who are annoyed with Obama about this or that right now. Is MoveOn.org going to pull their ads? Of course not, because they know that, quibbles aside, they are paying to reach the audience they want to reach.
4.9.2009 3:44am
David Welker (www):

Honestly, is it a problem if Democratic Underground is biased toward Democratic candidates or policies? What would you expect?


I guess I would expect someone more like myself. That is, willing to criticize those on the "same side" on particular issues, even if I agree with them on most issues.

Seriously, if you agree with any organization or individual 100% of time, you probably either (1) aren't an independent thinker or (2) corrupted in some way.

I am fine with "bias" in the sense of having a certain ideological orientation to the world. (But, I do hope your ideological orientation, whatever it is, is informed by pragmatism.) But, the sort of "bias" that comes from being paid to state a particular point of view on a blog (whether you truly agree with it or not) is something else entirely. The first sort of bias is inescapable. The second indicates a lack of integrity. Furthermore, the second sort of bias renders the blog and opinions expressed a total waste of time -- there is not going to be the sort of interesting engagement with ideas that one would hope for.

Now, a model train enthusiasts magazine may have advertisers for model trains. But, one hopes that when the issue that reviews and rates model trains comes out, that the publisher has the interests of the reader, not the advertiser, first and foremost in his mind.

How would you feel about Consumer Reports if you knew that their reviews of cars was skewed by advertising revenue? I for one would cease to trust the magazine.
4.9.2009 3:52am
David Welker (www):
How would you feel if you found out that Consumer Reports was "privately furious" with Toyota for not buying more advertising at higher prices after giving the Toyota Camry a really stellar review?

To me, I think any blog worth reading should be like Consumer Reports. I do not expect neutrality or that total like of an ideological orientation. But, I do expect an honest view of the world and a willingness to let the cards fall where they may.
4.9.2009 3:56am
David Welker (www):
like of an ideological orientation = lack of an ideological orientation
4.9.2009 3:57am
Grover Gardner (mail):
Honestly, David, I'm trying to imagine if I would have some concern that, say, Americablog would be afraid of losing ads from Planned Parenthood or the DNC, and so censor themselves if they disagreed with this or that policy or approach. Maybe you're right but it's hard to picture. These blogs attract an audience overall by contending with the opposition. That's their raison d'etre and it doesn't make sense that they could be "silenced" in this way. A news magazine or TV news show is different because they pretend toward neutrality. But perhaps in the future, as web advertising becomes more lucrative and efficacious, I'll be proven wrong. When John Aravosis starts feauring enormous ads for Social Security privatization, then I'll worry. :-)
4.9.2009 3:57am
Anon Y. Mous:
Why does the Democrat party spend money on advertising in mainstream publications, and yet nothing on lefty blogs?

The point of advertising is to win converts. You don't accomplish that by preaching to the choir.
4.9.2009 4:01am
Dan M.:
Companies want to pay for publicity where they need to. Why should they pay for advertising when they have bloggers selling their message for them?

It would be like DailyKos actually expecting Barack Obama to buy "Vote for Obama" ads on their website when the entire site is an Obama advocacy site.

Companies shouldn't buy ads to "reward" you for hyping their product. They should buy ads to sell their product. It is up to the company to determine how much they need the publicity that your site provides them and how important it is for them to subsidize that publicity and for them to determine the exact worth of the advertisements they place on your site.
4.9.2009 4:18am
Grover Gardner (mail):

Seriously, if you agree with any organization or individual 100% of time, you probably either (1) aren't an independent thinker or (2) corrupted in some way.


*I* don't agree with John Aravosis 100% percent of the time. And lately John himself has written a series of posts highly critical of Obama's handling of the banking crisis. But I'm still guessing that his readership is about 99.99% liberal. A liberal advertiser would be a fool to not advertise there, regardless of what John's peeve of the day might be.

It is *possible* that George Soros, or the DNC, would run an ad so lucrative that John would change his position on something? I suppose so, though I think the possibility right now is slim. And since I hardly depend on Americablog for all my opinions, I'm not sure I'd care.


How would you feel if you found out that Consumer Reports was "privately furious" with Toyota for not buying more advertising at higher prices after giving the Toyota Camry a really stellar review?


First of all, where are you getting this idea of higher prices?

Second, CR is not an advocacy magazine. It is *supposed* to be neutral. So if they threatened or pressured an advertiser in any way that would be a mistake.

OTOH, if I published a magazine called "TOYOTA RULES!" that regularly praised Toyotas and reprinted all their latest press releases, but Toyota refused to advertise, yes, I'd be a little annoyed.

Look, in my business there is pretty much one major review publication. They depend on ads from the participants in my industry. It's assumed that, regardless of the occasional bad review, the publishers who advertise in the magazine benefit overall by reaching their target audience.
If it became clear that the reviews were slanted one way or another, the magazine would lose its credibility. It may happen someday but frankly both the magazine and the advertisers have a stake in preserving an appearance of integrity.
4.9.2009 4:25am
Grover Gardner (mail):

It is up to the company to determine how much they need the publicity that your site provides them and how important it is for them to subsidize that publicity and for them to determine the exact worth of the advertisements they place on your site.


But here again, though I've relied on a commercial analogy in some respects, this isn't really a commercial situation. These are advocacy organizations who have benefited from the support of liberal bloggers. The bloggers are asking for some financial support in the form of advertising. Whether they're wise to do so or not, I just don't see that it's that big a deal.
4.9.2009 4:33am
David Welker (www):
Grover Gardner,

Above market prices are my theoretical (not empirical) assumption.

Why would you be "privately furious" that X didn't by your ad for N dollars if you could just sell that ad to Y for N dollars? After all, in that case the benefit to selling your ad to X instead of Y is practically non-existent, at least measured in monetary terms.

Most people would not be "privately furious" in that case. It is only because Y is willing to pay only N - M dollars for the ad that one becomes "privately furious" with X for not buying the ad for N dollars. There is the idea that if this organization that you support would buy your ads, you would have M extra dollars in revenue. The free market value of an ad on your site is only N - M dollars. But you would really like an extra M dollars and the fact you don't get an extra M dollars makes you "privately furious."

It is my contention that the extra M dollars is essentially a payment or bribe for the good things you write on your blog about organization X. Essentially, you are "privately furious" because you are no being bribed to write good things you would not otherwise write. In other words, you are lacking in integrity.

Note, this has nothing to do with being against making money. Consumer Reports makes money. Yet, we would be rightly outraged if Consumer Reports took side payments from Toyota in order to give Toyota Camry's a better review than is actually warranted.
4.9.2009 4:44am
Grover Gardner (mail):

Why should they pay for advertising when they have bloggers selling their message for them?


Yes, but there's more involved than that. Many of the liberal blogs have held fundraising drives for underdog candidates, they promote telephone and letter-writing campaigns on specific issues, petition drives, etc. etc. In the aggregate they have been very successful at motivating concrete activity on issues that the big political organizations cannot achieve without spending enormous amounts of money on television, radio and newspaper ads. It doesn't surprise me that they want some support for what they've done. Asking for a share of advertising from the big political organizations doesn't strike me as out of bounds.
4.9.2009 4:47am
Grover Gardner (mail):

It is my contention that the extra M dollars is essentially a payment or bribe for the good things you write on your blog about organization X. Essentially, you are "privately furious" because you are no being bribed to write good things you would not otherwise write. In other words, you are lacking in integrity.


Sorry, I can't quite follow your argument about higher prices but I'm a little tired and will try again tomorrow. :-)

That said, I think you're a bit fixated on this "privately furious" phrase. That's not a quote, that's the reporter's own spin or interpretation. No one actually said they are "privately furious." Let's at least be clear about that.

At any rate, you could look at it as a bribe, or you could look at it as asking someone to purchase a concrete product to support the work that you do in the advancement of a cause. I buy Girl Scout cookies. Am I being bribed? No, I'm getting something for my money, but I'm also aware that I'm supporting a cause. Maybe that's not the best analogy, but it makes more sense to me than a convoluted assumption about how they could charge above-market rates for their ads. I'm not being snarky, it's just a little beyond me right now.
4.9.2009 5:01am
Grover Gardner (mail):

Consumer Reports makes money. Yet, we would be rightly outraged if Consumer Reports took side payments from Toyota in order to give Toyota Camry's a better review than is actually warranted.


Yes, but political fundraisers make money too. And they're not neutral. Did Obama get better "reviews" than was warranted? I'm sure a lot of people think so! :-)

This is a partisan advocacy situation. You could call it a quid pro quo but I'd call it a "you scratch my back etc." which I think is a little different. It's like passing along business to your fellow Jaycee. You *hope* you're going to be well-served but it's hardly an objective transaction.
4.9.2009 5:09am
Dan M.:
It doesn't matter if they're an advocacy organization. If you are buying ads, you are buying ads to further your cause. If you don't need to buy those ads, you shouldn't.

If I actually need people to join an organization around some left-wing issue, then I'd buy ads on a left-wing site like DailyKos. But if I can support my cause more effectively by just having an associate set up a diary on DailyKos I'd do that instead.

Now, if DailyKos would be on the verge of shutting down, then an advocacy group would have to weigh how important the existence of DailyKos is to them. DailyKos has been losing traffic since the election, so if you'd be just as well off setting up your own free blog, then you might as well do that. DailyKos should first ask for PayPal donations from its members if they need help paying the bills.
4.9.2009 5:20am
Grover Gardner (mail):

The point of advertising is to win converts.


Well, I think the more common goal of advertising is to generate sales. Ads don't do much to convert people. They encourage them to try something new, or buy more of something they usually buy, or imprint the name of something they don't need now but might in the future. I once had to call an exterminator. The rep asked why I called his company. I said, "Well, you know, 'Termites? Whoop whoop! Call Terminix.'" He laughed and said they hadn't run that ad for twenty years but people still remembered it.

But anyway there are different kinds of advertising. Why would Planned Parenthood place an advocacy ad on a pro-life blog? They're not going to convert anyone there. But if there's a vote in Congress at stake they may want to mobilize their base to get involved and call their representatives, and that means advertising on a pro-choice blog. I doubt liberal blogs converted many Republicans during the last campaign. But they probably helped increase voter interest and turnout among liberals.
4.9.2009 5:26am
Grover Gardner (mail):

DailyKos has been losing traffic since the election, so if you'd be just as well off setting up your own free blog, then you might as well do that.


Yes, and I don't have to put up with Amazon's gouging to sell my books. So I'm going to set up my own web site to sell them. How'm I doin'? ;-)


DailyKos should first ask for PayPal donations from its members if they need help paying the bills.


Why should they ask their readers to pay when, thanks in part to Daily Kos, there's plenty of money in the coffers of the people they helped elect and the causes they helped to win?
4.9.2009 5:34am
Dan M.:
But, Grover, you're simply making arguments for why they might advertise on a blog. But if that blog is already constantly telling people to call their representatives over every issue, they might not need to. But if they do need to, just to make sure that the topic stays on the front page, then they would buy ads. It should be up to the organization to decide how much bang they are getting for the buck and to make decisions accordingly.
4.9.2009 5:43am
Grover Gardner (mail):

But if I can support my cause more effectively by just having an associate set up a diary on DailyKos I'd do that instead.


But if Daily Kos shuts down for lack of revenue you've lost your free publicity.

But actually you raise an interesting point. You can openly advocate on the internet, but you can't be a shill. It's a very fine line. And maybe that's an issue with this advertising thing, but I don't see it yet.
4.9.2009 5:45am
Grover Gardner (mail):

But, Grover, you're simply making arguments for why they might advertise on a blog. But if that blog is already constantly telling people to call their representatives over every issue, they might not need to.


Yes, but I think this what the bloggers are saying. We're doing all your work for a fraction of what you'd have to pay otherwise. We want some support for that. We don't want charity, we just want you to spend some money advertising with us so we can generate some revenue and also help reinforce awareness of issues that we have in common.

Again, it's not a free market situation, and I don't think anyone is pretending it is. But precisely because it's not, it's also not worth getting too worked up about.


But if they do need to, just to make sure that the topic stays on the front page, then they would buy ads.


There you are. :-)
4.9.2009 5:55am
Grover Gardner (mail):
Also, let's remember that an ad can have more force and authority than a blogger's opinion piece. You might blog about supporting a certain vote in Congress, but when MoveOn or Planned Parenthood runs a banner about it across the top of your page, it has a stronger impact coming from a major organization than your blog entry. The ad lends authority and credibility to whatever issue is at stake.

Lots or people blog about animal cruelty, but PETA (or whoever) still runs those startling ads all over the web, and they certainly get one's attention.
4.9.2009 6:04am
Dan M.:
Yeah, I don't think we disagree that there are reasons why they at times might want to advertise with them. I'm simply saying that, if they determine it's not necessary to subsidize the blog to advance their interests, then they shouldn't.

My comment about setting up your own blog was based on the premise that Dailykos has to shut down due to lost revenue due to lost traffic. I'm simply saying that you shouldn't try to prop up a site that's losing traffic.
4.9.2009 6:17am
BGates:
We're doing all your work for a fraction of what you'd have to pay otherwise. We want some support for that.

The blogs don't need advertising, the blogs are advertising. They provide information and brand image for progressivism and the Democratic party. Unfortunately for them, they've made it clear they're not in it for the money, which is why it's hard to be too sympathetic when no one offers them any. It may still make sense for the Democrats to spend money on the New York Times, to reach persuadables who get the paper for the sports section. Nobody comes to Daily Kos for sports.

I adore this line: "They come to us, expecting us to give them free publicity, and we do, but it's not a two way street."

But for the word "publicity", I knew girls like that in college.
4.9.2009 6:21am
Dan M.:
Exactly, if these bloggers have a convincing argument for why these groups should advertise on their site, then they should make those arguments to those groups and not whine to the media about it.

Markos whines that they don't post on his site, yet beg him to do it. He should simply make a convincing argument that he's going to blog about what he finds important, and if they want to focus on their issues, the person lobbying them to blog could spend that time blogging at the site himself. But they can't make convincing arguments to these groups, so they whine to journalists about it.
4.9.2009 6:37am
Adam B. (www):
Take the word "advertising" out of it. Should progressive institutions provide financial support for their messaging and activism ground troops? Meanwhile, on RedState.com:
One area where the left has done a much better job than the right online is investing in blogs as a component of left-wing activism.

On the right, Heritage has its blog. Club for Growth has its blog. MRC has its blog. The GOP has its blog. The list goes on and on and on. When the right wants to get online, each organization does its own thing. That's just the way its done.

To be sure, on the left, there's a bit of the same thing going on, but then you've got groups like Media Matters that function more or less to subsidize left-wing bloggers. Oh sure, they say they are more important than that, but they aren't really.

More importantly, though, is the advertising component. What is the online advertising budget for Heritage? What about for AEI? What about for Americans for Tax Reform? Family Research Council? Leadership Institute? NFIB? NTU? National Right to Work? Club for Growth? The list goes on.

In the past few years, SEIU, AFL-CIO, NEA, DCCC, and a host of other left-wing organizations have been buying ads on left of center blogs keeping those blogs going — allowing the bloggers on the left some financial incentive to keep blogging for the left....

Hell, Republicans are supposed to be smart business people, so take a hint: Put up an ad on a right wing blog to promote your business and you get to deduct the costs of advertising1. If you were to make a cash contribution, there would be no taxable benefit to you. If you are a doctor and you put an ad in the yellow pages, you deduct the cost as the cost of doing business. Same with a blog in your state. Same here at RedState.

Every day in Washington, there is some right-wing group somewhere bemoaning the efforts of the right online. Sadly, for them and the rest of the right, their first thought is "let's do it ourselves", instead of "let's invest in the existing talent." Until the second becomes the first, the right will keep meeting in private to bemoan its (in)effectiveness online.
4.9.2009 6:42am
Dan M.:
Apparently Americans United for Change has decided not to advertise on blogs.

So, essentially they made the argument that if these groups don't pay them for good publicity, they'll give them bad publicity. And then they backed it up. And Americans United for Change caved.
4.9.2009 6:50am
cboldt (mail):
-- You can openly advocate on the internet, but you can't be a shill. --
.
Sure one can be a shill. Some do it for free, others turn a lucrative profit, and the really good ones get elected. It's up to each of us to figure out, on our own, how much weight to give to any particular presentation of advocacy.
4.9.2009 9:22am
Crust (mail):
As per Adam B.'s link to RedState, this sentiment isn't confined to left wing blogs. Either way, I agree with Eugene, this strikes me as troubling.
4.9.2009 9:32am
cboldt (mail):
-- On the other hand, perhaps a different model is needed for small blogs that may need advertising income to stay afloat --
.
How about TARP money?
4.9.2009 9:46am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Take the word "advertising" out of it. Should progressive institutions provide financial support for their messaging and activism ground troops? Meanwhile, on RedState.com:
See, I guess that's the issue: when I read a blog, whether it's Volokh or Kos or whatever, I assume I'm reading the work of bloggers, not "messaging and activism ground troops." I don't have any particular objection (though I obviously might disagree with the content) )to reading the official MoveOn blog or Obama campaign blog or NRA blog or whatever -- but when I want to read those blogs, I go to those organizations' websites. Not to secret shills for those organizations. I assume that when I read something positive about the NRA or MoveOn on another website, it's because that website agrees with those organizations, not because those organizations are subsidizing those blogs. But the comments in the linked article imply that in fact the bloggers will stop writing those positive things if they don't get paid.

In fact, even leaving aside the payment issue, the quote from Hamsher is troubling: "they expect us to give them free publicity." But when I read a blogger saying something nice about an organization, I assume the blogger is acting as a blogger, not a press release wire service. I thought the blogger was writing something he found interesting, not giving out publicity for its own sake.

Turn it around to the other side of the aisle and see what you think of it: you read on Reason's Hit &Run blog: "We say all these things about how smoking shouldn't be regulated, but those jerks at Phillip Morris won't advertise on our site and give out fellowships to our bloggers. They expect us to promote their agenda for free, and it's absurd." Would that sound kosher to you?

I think it is a major conflict of interest to expect to be compensated.

Why? Lots of people get paid for writing about politics.
Not by the subjects of the articles. (Remember the scandal when Doug Bandow was found to have taken money from Abramoff?)
Then there is always the concern that the blogger is going to hesitate to bite the hand that feeds him or her.

Sure, but this is a concern with any sort of media venture, isn't it?
Sure, which is why any significant media venture maintains a strict separation between church and state -- er, between advertising and editorial. The people responsible for content have no involvement whatsoever with the people selling ads, and vice versa. Now, at smaller media shops, that's not necessarily possible, as people have to wear multiple hats -- but even so, none of them whine -- publicly! -- that they shill for a particular institution and aren't get paid enough for it.
4.9.2009 10:24am
ShelbyC:

They come to us, expecting us to give them free publicity, and we do, but it's not a two way street. They won't do anything in return.



Uh, does the dude not understand the meaning of the word free?

And imagine if it were a two-way street? Should an advertiser say, "hey, I advertize on his blog, so he shouldn't critize me."
4.9.2009 10:41am
cboldt (mail):
-- none of them whine -- publicly! -- that they shill for a particular institution and aren't get paid enough for it. --
.
That's because, as professional shills, they have mastered the art of evasion. Well, sort of. Ever notice how ALL of the major media have THE SAME headline stories (and underlying themes), day after day after day?
.
Why should a reader care if the blogger/writer is a paid "secret shill" or an earnest freelancer? The message and content has the same value either way.
4.9.2009 10:44am
ArthurKirkland:
I believe it to be worthwhile to discuss these issues, encourage norms and establish rules, because sunlight, reflection and rules cultivate integrity (or, at least, better conduct).

It strikes me as unwise to advocate perfection or severe rigidity in these matters, lest one is to be able to interact effectively with others solely to the extent that one lacks or ignores facts.

Everyone is compromised. Everyone compromises others. Some of the conduct is intentional, some inadvertent (on each end). Some of these distortions are good, some harmless, some bad. Some are recognized, some not. Some are disclosed, some not. The shades of gray are nearly infinite.
4.9.2009 10:53am
Assistant Village Idiot (mail) (www):
I sense an attitude of "we're on the same team, you should share" coming from these bloggers. While that is certainly permissible, doesn't it confirm what has always been the accusation against them, that they are PR rather than news organizations?

PR is an entirely respectable line of work, but it suggests from the outset that discussion on such sites is always going to be a sham.
4.9.2009 11:01am
Xenocles (www):
This kind of reminds me of people who pay to buy clothing that's essentially advertising for companies (Nike T-shirts, band/sports team/TV show apparel, etc.) They pay a premium to shill for the company, and most never turn around and demand compensation.

Another example is the bums who wash your windows (unsolicited) at stoplights then ask for money. Well, I never asked for the service and we certainly never agreed on a compensation for it, so why are they surprised when I drive off with my newly clean windshield?
4.9.2009 11:23am
lucia (mail) (www):
I can't help wondering what Kos has done to monetize? When approached to promote a political position, Kos could offer to run it as an ad and note that in the post. (This practice not only has a precendent, Google has a policy about it. You should add rel="nofollow" to the links). If the politician asking for free refuseses Kos can not run the ad-- that's what the times would do.

Kos could run ads between comments where they are visible to readers. They could add in-line text links. (They look junky, but you can generate some revenue.) They can add popups which everyone hates. They could look into selling links that don't include rel="nofollow". (Google hates this. Arguments about legality of the practice abound, but most are posted by people who are hardly disinterested.))

It's true that Kos may not make much doing these things, but as long as they simply agree to write promotional posts for free, people will continue to approach them and ask for free promotional posts! Politicians have never been shy about asking for donations or money. Why is KOS suprised that politicians will take all the free promotional posts they can get?
4.9.2009 11:51am
Curmudgeon:
I thought payola was immoral, illegal, etc (not sure why, but that's a different topic)
4.9.2009 11:55am
Bob from Ohio (mail):
As an old saying in another context goes:

"When you are getting the milk for free, why pay for the cow."
4.9.2009 12:13pm
mischief (mail):

Should progressive institutions provide financial support for their messaging and activism ground troops?


Troops take orders.
4.9.2009 12:32pm
Grover Gardner (mail):

I thought payola was immoral


Payola is secret payment to promote something while pretending to be neutral. There's no secret here. ;-)

I think we're forgetting that blogs like Daily Kos and Americablog have a built-in correction factor in the form of a large community of self-appointed watchdogs--commenters. (That's another reason I prefer blogs with comments.) If Publius at Obsidian Wings suddenly changed his mind about net neutrality, and I noticed a huge ad for Time-Warner cable on the site, I might get suspicious and call him on it.


I can't help wondering what Kos has done to monetize?


Which then raises the issue--which ads could he permit without being accused of "shilling"?

I don't know, I guess these people have an obligation to their readers to remain "pure" but I've always assumed that what they are promoting is opinion and nothing else. As such, I don't expect purity.
4.9.2009 12:37pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
I understand the disappointment. I don't blog to get rich, but it is disappointing that organizations that clearly benefit from my efforts don't even make a token effort to help. For example, the Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog doesn't generate a lot of advertising revenue, but it's a valuable resource when anyone tries to argue that there's not very many civilian defensive uses of firearms in the U.S.

Of course, this may be a sign of how unimportant my two blogs are!
4.9.2009 12:40pm
Grover Gardner (mail):

Not by the subjects of the articles. (Remember the scandal when Doug Bandow was found to have taken money from Abramoff?)


He took the money in secret, not in the form of clearly labeled advertising. Rush Limbaugh gets paid, and paid well, to opine and encourage certain POV's. That money comes from advertising. It's not a secret.
4.9.2009 12:44pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
He took the money in secret, not in the form of clearly labeled advertising. Rush Limbaugh gets paid, and paid well, to opine and encourage certain POV's. That money comes from advertising. It's not a secret.
1. That would be more convincing as a defense if the complaints from the liberal bloggers were limited to advertising, but they're not: "They won't do anything in return. They're not advertising with us. They're not offering fellowships. They're not doing anything to help financially,"

2. In fact, I think people would be very upset if they found out that Limbaugh was being "paid [by advertisers] to opine and encourage certain POVs." That is not disclosed at all. Legit advertising is not about doing a favor for the media figure nor is it about paying for a POV; it's about paying for eyeballs.
4.9.2009 1:23pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
What makes me laugh is that lefty bloggers are no different than most of the people who vote for Democrats. They are looking for the politicians to pay the rent and give them handouts. Hilarious.

If I had the inclination, I would try to buy an ad for something far right wing for their sites. I love to see if they accept it.
4.9.2009 1:24pm
MartyA:
I understand the position of the liberal bloggers perfectly.
All the friends and relatives of the folks they supported are getting pay backs, VIP mortgages, jobs for friends and relatives, lobbying money, ACORN stimulus, earmark money and the loyal and obedient bloggers get nothing (unless they are the friends or relatives of the politicians and then they can't talk about what they got).
4.9.2009 1:52pm
Dan M.:
I don't see an ethical problem for an advocacy blog to accept ads from advocacy organizations. I think they're complaining is ridiculous, but I think that the groups who lobby on issues that Dailykos advocates should consider advertising on their site if that helps them pay for lawyers and lobbyists.

If it's a single blogger then I can see more of an issue with conflicts of interest, but dailykos and redstate, among others, have several bloggers on their sites, and they allow comments, so I don't see how having Planned Parenthood advertisements on your site hurts the objectivity of individual diarists. Planned Parenthood and the ACLU each have their own diaries on dailykos. I don't see why the NRA couldn't advertise on Redstate and have Cam Edwards or the lovely Ginny Simone blog on the site. Of course, Media Matters would be monitoring closely to check up on what they said in reference to pointed questions about guns in schools or machine guns (things that Wayne Lapierre has acquiesced on for political expediency).

Certainly the parties needs to organize and cultivate activists one way or another, and engaging popular blogs is a good way to do it.
4.9.2009 1:53pm
MGB (mail):
What's interesting to me is that these guys seem to acknowledge openly that they collude with the Democratic Party. "These groups constantly ask the bloggers for free assistance in driving their message."

Is that how you read these complaints? What about ethics on the part of the politicians whose "work" they promote?

Tit for tat? Quid pro quo? Are these efforts being reported as in-kind campaign donations?

Didn't some of these same people allege that the Bush White House sent "talking points" to radio hosts, cable TV commentators, and friendly newspapers? (No proof, of course. Nothing like the people actually ADMITTING it and then complaining about not getting adequately compensated for the help.)

By the way, isn't this what they wanted? Change? Or didn't they believe Obama's promise to "redistribute the wealth?" That included the "wealth" of small businesses that make more than $250,000. These bloggers consider themselves to be small businesspersons. You're getting what you asked for. Don't whine about it now.
4.9.2009 2:21pm
tim maguire (mail):
I kind of agree with the bloggers, at least to the extent that I don't see an ethical delimma and I might be pissed too in their shoes.

First, they are clearly partisan and openly embrace certain political groups. Second, according to the complaint, those political groups come to them asking for help. That seems like a perfectly reasonable "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" situation. And on the net, if anybody thinks the quality of opining has suffered for the arrangement, there are plenty of other bloggers only a click away.
4.9.2009 2:46pm
Angry Guinea Pig (mail):
Do all Democrats have their hand out, looking for some scratch?
4.9.2009 2:51pm
Kim du Toit (mail) (www):
"It seems to me that if your blog gets enough traffic, you should be able to get sufficient advertising revenue without having to pressure anyone in particular to advertise."


Clearly, you've never had a successful blog. After fifteen million visits over seven years, my website cost far more to run than it ever earned in ad revenue (maybe a 3x multiple, even).

And, I think, justifiably. In terms of "bang for the buck", I think blogs are a losing proposition for the advertiser. Blogs MAY be a little better for targeted advertising — companies who sold gun-related stuff got a reasonable return at my website, but once the novelty of the items wore off, the click-throughs disappeared. And I never got as much as a sniff from any gun manufacturer, despite over 400 gun reviews, which says something.

In that regard, I suppose, I was in a similar situation to the Kos Kiddies: I was giving CZ, S&W and Ruger etc. great publicity, for free, and clearly they saw no need to send any ad revenue my way. (The difference is that I never complained about that, at least in public.)

Unless you have a decent day job, like EV, blogs are mostly vanity affairs, and are not going to get much ROI. Maybe the true big dogs like InstaPundit can justify themselves to the typical media buyer, but there are only about a half-dozen websites like Glenn's which are worth it.

Finally: if you want to see what happens to content when the articles are supported by in-kind advertising, you only have to look at the gun magazines, who never saw a gun they didn't like (even when said offerings were total stinkers), because the mags are kept in business by gun-manufacturer advertising.

'Twas ever thus.

Kim du Toit
4.9.2009 3:13pm
The Sanity Inspector (mail) (www):
You mean someone's found a way to make money from blogging?
4.9.2009 3:18pm
Mikey NTH (mail):
If they want to be a press agent for a political party or a lobbying group, then they should search the want ads for those positions.
4.9.2009 3:27pm
Joe T Guest:
I think the liberal bloggers are simply unfamiliar with the free milk / cow paradigm.
4.9.2009 3:27pm
Grover Gardner (mail):

Do all Democrats have their hand out, looking for some scratch?


Like Pajamas Media? Oh, wait... ;-)


Didn't some of these same people allege that the Bush White House sent "talking points" to radio hosts, cable TV commentators, and friendly newspapers?


In. Secret. To people who pretend to neutrality.


That would be more convincing as a defense if the complaints from the liberal bloggers were limited to advertising, but they're not: "They won't do anything in return. They're not advertising with us. They're not offering fellowships. They're not doing anything to help financially,"


Not. Secret. They're not asking for covert support. They want open support from like-minded organizations whose causes they agree with and promote.


Legit advertising is not about doing a favor for the media figure nor is it about paying for a POV; it's about paying for eyeballs.


Isn't that in large part what the liberal bloggers are saying? They cultivated the eyeballs, how about throwing some advertising their way?

Rush doesn't go begging for ads because Rush doesn't need to. But then again his web site has an ad for the Heritage Foundation. Is there anything suspicious about that?
4.9.2009 3:34pm
The Masked Marvel:
This is hilarious. All these agitators who were convinced they were doing God's Gaia's work in getting out their world-savingly important message now want to get paid for it.

So, this begs two questions:

1. If the Dems don't want to cough up cash to these weasels, will they stop being political bloggers? (Or do they just want to be paid political spokespeople, without any personal integrity?)

2. What happens if a Republican wants to advertise with them, and asks for a little favorable coverage? (Or is that only a one-way street?)
4.9.2009 3:37pm
lucia (mail) (www):
You mean someone's found a way to make money from blogging?

Sure. But if someone's goal is to make money, they need to think about making money at the outset. Blogging about hobbies or fashion makes more money than blogging about politics.

It's still unlikely to be a lot of money, but basically, if you were to blog about celibrity kids fashions, and did it well, then advertisers who sell kids clothes might be willing to advertise at your site. Equally importantly, advertisers might be willing to pay many cents per click for ads that appear on web pages oriented toward kids fashions. So, services like google will deliver ads for kids clothes, and the fashion victim parents will click.

But Google is going to have a difficult time delivering tempting ads to many political sites. Are online stores likely to tell Google they are willing to pay lots per click on web pages that include the key word "obama"?

If your main goal when blogging is to make money directly from your blog, setting up a blog to promote your individual political ideas will be an uphill battle. If Kos wants to make money on their blog, they need to think about which services the can provide that people will pay for. The easiest things for them would be to sell links through a service like Text Link Ads and/or offer to run sponsored posts in the post area from time to time. (The first would make Google unhappy; the second can turn readers off and lead to accusations of shilling.)
4.9.2009 3:57pm
Curious Passerby (mail):
I've always thought that the basic Democratic Party policy was not philosophical, but rather, what can we give to whom to get their vote?"

So everybody in the party expects to get something for what they do. Like Blagojevich said, "This is a f------ valuable thing. I'm not going to f------ give it away."
4.9.2009 4:05pm
L (mail):
"Bloggers Urge That Organizations To Which They Give "Free Publicity" Advertise on Their Sites"

That's called "Payola". It's illegal in radio and television.
4.9.2009 4:22pm
GatoRat:
Any person or organization that regularly accepts money from any source compromises their message to some extent in deference to that source. Anyone who claims otherwise is a liar.

(One very important thing to understand is that compromise is usually in the form of what you don't say, or in the case of media, what they don't cover.)
4.9.2009 4:23pm
BJD (mail):
From each according to their ability; to each according to their need.

The administration has determined these bloggers don't need anything.
4.9.2009 4:35pm
MFW (mail):
What's next Apple not going to MacWorld?
4.9.2009 4:52pm
Dmitry:
This somehow remind me an old joke:

A girl comes to a bank to deposit a 100 dollars bill.
- This one is a fake, says teller.
- Oh sh*t, I was raped, cryes the girl.
4.9.2009 4:58pm
Shoey (mail):
the reason i love blogs is that they are free, the blogsters can post anything they want, they are (currently) for the most part unbeholden to anything but their own conscious and what their readers want to read, it's a situtation that breeds accountablity to the readers by bloggers, once a blogger takes money for promoting a paticular viewpoint that blogger is less dependent on their readers and thus less accountable to them.

i love blogs because they are some of the last "free" markets in the country, with the ever-tightening grip of global socialism closing in around us, i need somewhere to go where i can be free, or bad things will follow. (i'm not saying what you think, i'm only saying that less freedom is bad)
4.9.2009 4:58pm
jdkchem (mail):

Every hobby or specialty magazine depends on advertising from the industries they promote--how else would they stay in business?


The advertisers are competing against each other in those same hobby and specialty magazines. Vastly different from what liberal bloggers want.
4.9.2009 5:18pm
plutosdad (mail):
I am still trying to get over the fact that the guy thinks "free publicity" should not be free. In the same sentence even! "I gave you this for free and you didn't pay, wtf dude" or "Hey I promised to give free publicity, and they took me at my word! this sucks man, I didn't really mean FREE, I meant, you know (uses quote hands) 'free' you know?"

Secondly the really funny bit is Kos and some others are always the ones claiming that the "right wing blogs" are bought and paid for by the Republican party, and that that makes them less meaningful. But here some of the exact same people are holding their hands out.

But I seem to remember even Kos himself admitting he took money from Dean way back in the very beginning when he first started his blog.

They also accuse many "right wing blogs" of getting talking pionts frome the Republican party, but here they are actually admitting this is exactly what they are doing themselves. Does no one notice the irony?

Of course this calls into question what any of them really believe, at least the ones mentioned in the article. Since if they're getting the subjects handed to them, and want payment for writing in support of those subjects, do any of those bloggers actually believe anything they write? Or are they paid mouthpieces then?
4.9.2009 5:33pm
Grover Gardner (mail):

That's called "Payola". It's illegal in radio and television.


I'm sorry, but I think that's really incorrect.

Payola is when a record company *secretly* pays a disc jockey to give their records more exposure than those of another company. The disc jockey lies to his listeners and claims that he's receiving "requests" for the records.

These liberal bloggers are saying is that as long as the organizations they support are paying for advertising, they'd like to get some of that advertising for their web sites in consideration for all the work they've done to promote liberal causes. Maybe they deserve it and maybe they don't--that's between them and the advertisers. But there is *nothing* illegal here.


If the Dems don't want to cough up cash to these weasels, will they stop being political bloggers?


Did they say they would?


What happens if a Republican wants to advertise with them, and asks for a little favorable coverage?


Surely they are free to choose. If a pro-life advocacy site refused an ad from Planned Parenthood, would you have a problem with that?
4.9.2009 6:03pm
Grover Gardner (mail):

They also accuse many "right wing blogs" of getting talking pionts frome the Republican party, but here they are actually admitting this is exactly what they are doing themselves. Does no one notice the irony?


Is there an irony here? I don't read Kos enough to know. Do bloggers there say, "According to the DNC..." thus acknowledging their source, or do they pretend that their blogging agendas are solely their own while secretly working off DNC scripts?
4.9.2009 6:06pm
Judy Milam (mail):
Why they're acting like capitalists!
4.9.2009 6:06pm
Vail Beach:
If a small-town editor made a similar demand -- "I write about business in this crummy little burg and I'm not getting anything back for it in advertising spends" -- it would be considered unethical, in the realm of blackmail. The only difference in these bloggers is the fact that they are unlikely to shade their coverage as a result of the advertising. As they've complained, they already shade their coverage, for free. The more likely outcome would be for the bloggers to just stop blogging. But in the meantime, they come off as craven, with a little stench of corruption in the mix. They also come off as ignorant about the point of advertising. Why would you spend your ad dollars preaching to the converted?
4.9.2009 6:30pm
Grover Gardner (mail):

If a small-town editor made a similar demand -- "I write about business in this crummy little burg and I'm not getting anything back for it in advertising spends" -- it would be considered unethical, in the realm of blackmail.


Boy, you folks sure have some funny ideas about ethics. What's unethical about a small town editor complaining that the people he steers business to won't advertise with him? Now if, as a solution, he threatened to write lies about them in the paper, that would be unethical. OTOH, maybe he goes to a Jaycees meeting and says, "Hey come on, guys, I'm doing you a favor writing about your businesses and your wives' church activities. How about sending some advertising my way?" Maybe the business people would be embarrassed and spend some money, or maybe they'd ignore him. Where's the ethics problem?
4.9.2009 6:54pm
JTHC75 (mail):
So let me get this straight: they sell themselves out as cheap (or free) whores and now they're complaining that they don't get paid enough?

Sure, they can complain about it, but realistically they've already demonstrated that they're willing to do the service without getting paid, so what's the incentive for orgs to pay?
4.9.2009 9:46pm
Grover Gardner (mail):

they sell themselves out as cheap (or free) whores


Of course it's not possible that they promoted something they actually believed in!

(Warning! Warning! Sarcasm alert!!)

Unlike their conservative counterparts, who always operate from the purest motives!

Come on, now. ;-)
4.9.2009 10:22pm
snelson (mail):
So we can start complaining to the FEC that Kos' yearly budget represents an in-kind campaign contribution to the Democratic Party?
4.10.2009 8:28am
Zach:
What's unethical about a small town editor complaining that the people he steers business to won't advertise with him?

Everything?

Here's a scenario that actually happened with my mother, who runs a small monthly newspaper. A particular restaurant she was trying to sell an ad to suggested that they might be willing to advertise if she started a restaurant review column and had someone review their restaurant. A restaurant review column isn't a terrible idea for a small town newspaper, and a nearby restaurant would be a natural choice for such a column. But doing the review in order to sell the ad is cheating the readers, who have a right to expect you to do the best job you can.

Selling ads is a two party transaction between the publisher and the advertiser. Selling coverage is cheating the reader of your best effort.
4.10.2009 12:08pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Of course it's not possible that they promoted something they actually believed in!
Of course it's possible -- but then why are they complaining? If they're doing it because they believe it, then there's no quid pro quo.
4.10.2009 4:27pm
Grover Gardner (mail):

Here's a scenario that actually happened with my mother, who runs a small monthly newspaper.


But these thing aren't at all the same. I'm saying that the newspaper editor is doing his job, running his paper, covering local events, etc. He just puts out a plea to local businesses to support him. Now if, as in your scenario, the DNC said to bloggers, "Write free stuff about us, then we'll see about advertising," the bloggers would have every right to complain. But here the advocacy is already a fait accompli. The big guys are flooding them with requests to publish their information for free. They're just asking the big guys to send some advertising their way. There are not threats involved, as far as the article says.

Now suppose your mom ran a restaurant review column every month, and the local restaurants all begged her to come and review them, but none of them would purchase ads from her. Wouldn't she find that frustrating?
4.10.2009 11:17pm
Zach:
I'm saying there are two norms being violated here
a) running content as a favor to a third party
b) asking for a quid pro quo in return for the content.

The situation is uncomfortable because the restaurant owner is asking for a favor. That's the problem, whether the newspaper has a restaurant review column or not. If you open yourself to that kind of stuff, it'll manifest itself in a million ways.

I ran across another story in this vein a few days ago
in Joe Posnanski's blog

I remember being 21 years old, green as Kermit, and going to something called the "SAC-8 Rouser" as a "reporter" for The Charlotte Observer. The SAC-8 was the "South Atlantic Conference," and it included small colleges like Catawba, Lenoir-Rhyne, Elon, Mars Hill and so on. And the rouser was a media gathering designed to give the conference a bit of publicity. I remember all the coaches were there, and I got to interview them, and then, at the end, rather unexpectedly, there was a raffle. I remember that early on in the raffle, I won a rather nice cooler. I thought that was pretty cool to be honest: I NEVER win raffles. So, I had my cooler, and I felt good, and then all of a sudden they were auctioning off the big prize (which I recall was something like a free three-day golf vacation or something like that) and, lo and behold, I won again.

I was quite shocked. I remember going back to my editor at The Charlotte Observer and saying to him that I had won TWO prizes from a raffle I had not even entered, and that one of those prizes was a nice golf package. He smiled and told me I couldn't take those prizes.

Me: Why not?
Him: Why do you think you won?
Me: Um, because I'm lucky?
Him: Or maybe it's because you work for The Charlotte Observer, which is the biggest newspaper in the Carolinas, and they want more coverage?
Me: Or maybe because I'm lucky?

The cooler went to charity. The golf vacation was returned. The lesson was learned.
4.11.2009 12:20am
Grover Gardner (mail):
Zach, the Charlotte Observer is a newspaper. Newspapers traditionally lay claim to neutrality.

These are advocacy blogs. There's already an established mutual arrangement which is no secret to anyone. There's no quid pro quo in question here. There's no "blackmail" being threatened. Americablog is not going to turn Republican because the DNC or whoever won't advertise. They're simply saying that throwing some advertising their way to cover their costs would be a nice gesture. Is it a "handout"? Perhaps, in some respects, but they're not asking for something for nothing. There's some value in advertising. As I said before, it's like buying Girl Scout cookies. Sure it's mostly a donation, but I get something in return, which makes donating attractive. It may be a little foolish, but it's not unethical.
4.11.2009 12:42am
Grover Gardner (mail):
Look, if they said, "We're going to stop blogging about these issues if these guys don't advertise"--yes, that would be demanding a quid pro quo. But is that even implied anywhere in the article?
4.11.2009 12:45am
Zach:
Grover, I think we understand each others' positions at this point, so I won't belabor my argument. I'm saying that when you're making arguments in your own voice, some of the same issues of integrity and duty to the reader come into play. I can't see any benefit from blurring the lines between advocating your own positions and astroturfing in hopes of a future gain.
4.11.2009 4:07am
The Masked Marvel:
Grover Gardner:

ME: If the Dems don't want to cough up cash to these weasels, will they stop being political bloggers?

YOU: Did they say they would?


Yes. Hello? Why do you think Jane Hamsher is talking about a growing "resentment?" Why do you think they're making noise about it, whining about their need for sustainability? The clear implication is that they might not be able to do it anymore otherwise. It's a threat, and not a veiled one.

ME: What happens if a Republican wants to advertise with them, and asks for a little favorable coverage?

YOU: Surely they are free to choose. If a pro-life advocacy site refused an ad from Planned Parenthood, would you have a problem with that?


No. But they're not openly stating that their advocacy requires compensation, are they?
4.11.2009 10:20am

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Comment Policy: We reserve the right to edit or delete comments, and in extreme cases to ban commenters, at our discretion. Comments must be relevant and civil (and, especially, free of name-calling). We think of comment threads like dinner parties at our homes. If you make the party unpleasant for us or for others, we'd rather you went elsewhere. We're happy to see a wide range of viewpoints, but we want all of them to be expressed as politely as possible.

We realize that such a comment policy can never be evenly enforced, because we can't possibly monitor every comment equally well. Hundreds of comments are posted every day here, and we don't read them all. Those we read, we read with different degrees of attention, and in different moods. We try to be fair, but we make no promises.

And remember, it's a big Internet. If you think we were mistaken in removing your post (or, in extreme cases, in removing you) -- or if you prefer a more free-for-all approach -- there are surely plenty of ways you can still get your views out.