Blogging Ethics: More Than Avoiding Conflicts of Interest

Once a blog becomes a money-making venture, the first topic of ethical concern is conflict of interest: do the views, claims, or advice offered by the blogger reflect the blogger’s honest opinion, or are they influenced by sources of advertising revenue, gifts, or comps from companies covered in the blog? It is precisely to address this concern that the US Federal Trade Commission adopted regulations requiring bloggers to disclose fees, comps, or other forms of compensation received in connection with a blogpost.

If conflict of interest is the first topic of ethical concern, is it also the last? The linked post by Gary Leff, author of the popular View From the Wing travel blog, describes the humble origins of View From the Wing, its trajectory as a money-making blog, the ethical questions that arise in the course of running the blog, and how he has sought to address those questions. In his discussion, Leff addresses how ethical concern extends beyond what the author is receiving in return for blogging (or not blogging). >>>

LINK: Ethical Dilemmas Running This Blog (by Gary Leff for View From the Wing)

After more than five years of blogging I was making $250 a month from the site. It wasn’t long after that I was making $750 a month. I’m very fortunate to have done well since then, but it began simply as a labor of love and stayed that way for years. And in doing well I’m better able to remain ‘independent’ in my coverage of airlines and hotels, since I don’t rely on them for access or income.

I make money through several ventures outside of this blog, so I don’t need to do anything I’m not comfortable with to earn a living. . . .

I don’t generally accept free travel or other gifts, either, however there are events I want to attend for content reasons that aren’t open to the general public. I don’t need the information flow from official sources as I’ve cultivated many ‘deep’ sources within various airlines and hotel chains). And when I do decide to attend an event I have a pretty clear approach to those: a charitable donation that offsets anything I’ve received.

I don’t seek better treatment from airlines or hotels because of this blog, however I have occasionally let an airline know I’d like to take photos, because I don’t want to run into problems and get arrested. It’s never led to better service (or if it was better than it would have otherwise been, it’s occasionally still be downright awful). There have been a few times where hotels Googled me.

It’s important to remember that the people you cover aren’t your friends even if you get to know them and even like them as people. I should put that a little bit differently. There are some people I’ve gotten to know that have run loyalty programs, whom I’ve stayed in touch with when they were no longer in that role and I was no longer covering their work. They can be friends but it’s important to draw a line between liking someone and letting that influence your coverage of them.

What do you think?

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