New Media Journalism Ethics And The Marqui Blog Paid Assignment
I have chosen and applied to this paid assignment opportunity because I am specifically interested in cost-effective solutions that can help medium to large-sized international organizations
a) migrate from legacy content management systems to new agile platforms that
b) empower individual authors,
c) eliminate IT from the publishing workflow, and
d) provide the ability to cross-purpose content to multiple media: from CD-ROM to print, Web, intranet.
With this in mind, as a paid Marqui blogger my goal will be one of dutifully exploring and reporting on Marqui effective abilities, feature set, performance and ease of use. To verify on Marqui's claims and statements, and to check its ability to respond and innovate in response to effective user needs.
My role will be, as always, enthusiastic, curious and open-minded. Just like a natural tester should be. Of course I won't leave out any of my demanding, picky and perfectionist reviewer character that provides so much extra value to both the potential buyers as to the company developing the tool in question.
I am here also to explore what may be an innovative approach facilitating the transition from hypefull and contentless press releases to more genuine conversations.
I have advocated this opportunity before it existed and now it is only right that I embrace and ride it first.
It may be that the overall formula needs refinement and improvement, and this is one of the areas that I am interested in exploring further.
I, for example, am not for being paid for leads. I do think that, in my case, receiving commissions for leads that I provide, would really taint my credibility and moral coherency, though I don't think that everyone should follow my view.
Since the discussion online about the pros and cons of being an officially paid reporter seems to create lots of itching to some, I have been wondering whether to cover in this column the actual product from Marqui or the ongoing conversation about the highly innovative "public awareness" program it has pulled off with this initiative.
I must say that both sides of this story are interesting. The issues and the open discussion taking place now, is a healthy one. Some people are getting a bit too heated up for what I see, but in truth, this helps everyone understand better things and question more the choices proposed, which is extremely good.
I do agree that this is a highly controversial issue.
According to our present mental models it is not OK to receive money to cover a product or issue when you market yourself as independent reporter or blogger.
I have myself firmly refused to receive ever any commission for products and tools that I review or talk about, and though companies have sometime a hard-time understanding this will of mine, as you say, it all comes down to keeping your credibility intact.
Paying me a commission for leads or actual customers that have derived from my writing is something I still want to stay away from.
So why I am accepting Marqui's paid assignment?
My task is one to explore, to go ahead of others and report what I find. I do this with communication tools, new media technologies, marketing approaches, real-time collaboration systems.
I have a radical vision where publishers will choose their sponsors rather the other way around. I know, it may appear crazy, but that is what I am seeing now.
I also see a near-coming future where I will be able to personally select the companies/products/services I want to endorse because they fully represent my spirit both in terms of products value as well as in terms of company vision, strategy and attitude.
I see me choosing these companies/products because I strongly believe in them and I want to serve my readers with what I think is good. I do also want to reward such companies with feedback, constructive criticism and continuous feedback. And not simply on the premise of who is going to pay me more. (I know this may be not your case, but this is in fact where I would like to stop generalizing about blogs, ethics, goals and what is best to do.)
In summary: the issue of credibility is an important one. I convene to this and I have myself long worked at building one.
Nonetheless the above, I am an explorer and I need to challenge the ideas and assumptions we too easily make. Therefore I am taking on this paid assignment with total awareness of the risks I am running and the responsibilities I am taking.
If you take away some of that ham covering your eyes you will see that you are surrounded by apparently many highly reputable online publishers, who without loosing any of their credibility have gone to great lengths at perfecting non-visible monetary exchanges with their advertisers in order to provide them with premium exposure, coverage and advertising space.
So why isn't anyone challenging the credibility of Chris Pirillo or Rafat Ali? Don't tell me because they clearly separate promotion from content. They don't. (They may do so for their visible display ads, but not - and they have the full right to do so - when it comes to the final choices of what tools to cover, who to interview, or from whom to accept and use some new software and services. No matter how elegantly you want put it, many publishers - and again far from me the idea of criticizing them - give attention and coverage to tools and companies that have directly or indirectly influenced their attention.)
So who is more credible and upfront?
Who says: "Hey, I am getting paid to cover this tool", or who receives, unknown to her readers, free complimentary access to software or services, invitations to product announcement lunches, insider information worth hundreds or thousands of dollars and then writes casually about it?
Frankly, I am a bit surprised nobody has said these things before.
Nonetheless this, I much respect many of these somehow less "transparent" publishers, because no matter what they do, that may not appear totally transparent, they systematically bring to me unique news, point of views and honest, direct reporting information that I could not find anywhere else.
And that's what counts for me.
I don't think they are shills and I don't blame them for what they do.
I myself, for whatever great ethics I may hold, have certainly been influenced by many of the product vendors out there and I frankly don't regret it. It's near to impossible not be casting a vote or a preference everytime you write about something, and being so much exposed and open to invitations and try-outs it is easy to go explore things you would have not even considered.
But more than anything it is fine to be influenced when the opportunity created is one for extracting more information, challenging the claims and opening a constructive conversation.
You can't be not influenced.
As you may see, the issue is not really as clear cut as it may initially appear.
Let's all be humble enough to take the time to explore and seriously evaluate what we will find and learn on this new trail, without making statements and accusations that reflect only little tolerance and a myopic attitude toward exploring, with due risks, new ways of doing things.
If Cluetrain says that the market is a conversation, how are your existing models facilitating this exchange?
Are banner ads a conversation?
When a company gives a publisher a consistent amount of money for an advertising campaign, how is it likely, from your experience and opinion that the publisher will actually report about this tool, and sharing with honesty its faults, bugs and limitations?
(As you well know, the publisher will steer very clear of any such coverage for fear of making his advertisers unhappy and keeping their as spending budget with them.)
So what's really the difference between those that pay you through ads but about whom you hardly say a word, and those that pay you openly to talk about them?
The first ones are paying to get their pre-conceived message out. Top-down. Old style.
These last ones are paying for a real conversation to take place. Bottom-up. New media style.
This is the difference.
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