Regarding the FTC’s new mandate that “bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service,” we consider it worth repeating Bike Intelligencer‘s review policy.
The reason we head our reviews with the tag “by someone who paid for one” is that the phrase sums up our approach to vendors and manufacturers. We pay as we go. We do not accept freebies or test products or anything else as a quid pro quo, unstated or otherwise.
Admittedly, this cuts us out of a lot of cool stuff. But at least our readers know we have no hidden agenda. We only tell the truth.
That said, we don’t point fingers at bloggers who do accept freebies (as long as they disclose it all, of course). Case in point: BikeHugger‘s and Cyclelicio.us‘s recent (nearly) all-expenses-paid trip to Taiwan. I think both could have more prominently stated from the outset the terms of their arrangement, but the fact remains that few if any bloggers can finance a trip to Taiwan out of their own pocket. So you pretty much assumed someone was picking up the tab.
Was their reporting on the trip unbiased? Hardly. But readers can factor the PR element into the blogs’ coverage, and filter it accordingly. Nearly all travel writing is paid for by someone other than the author; that doesn’t mean it’s worthless, only that it isn’t going to win any Pulitzers for investigative reporting.
Bloggers vary on their aggressiveness in reviews, but as an example of someone who accepts products but still does a fine job of evaluating, consider Robb Sutton at Mountain Biking by 198. Discloses the arrangement, knows his stuff, writes thoroughly and accurately. And he gets to review a whole lot more products than we ever will.
Although he knows it could jeopardize his getting free stuff, Robb sticks his neck out more than most reviewers in offering criticisms and critiques. And he’s definitely more candid than most magazine reviews (they also get stuff free to review, and tend to review products that also splash their advertising pages).
Another good source of generally trustworthy reviews is mtbr.com. Reviews are written by real mountain bikers, with the grammar and spelling to prove it. A good number are boosterish and superficial (“it has a good beat and you can dance to it”), but most queues contain thoughtful reviews by folks who obviously know their stuff. The one problem with mtbr.com is anonymity, which we will repeat is the cancer of the Web.
One other point: You’ll notice here at Bike Intelligencer we do not run ads. Our approach is aimed at emphasizing our content rather than cluttering up our landscape. Ads also tend to muddy the waters when it comes to cred: If we took ads from Thule, would we have warned of the T2’s failures and suggested a recall? We also think ads make Google disproportionately more money than they make bloggers.
That said, our ad policy is “under constant review,” which translated means that if we can figure out a way to make real money from ads, and keep our message open, trustworthy and meaningful, we’ll revise it in an instant! Not that we’re greedy, it’s just that we take our job, and the calling of journalism, seriously and it’d be nice to see material reward at some point. Someone is going to crack this nut — wearing another hat, I once put forth some ideas under “a penny a click.” Here’s the latest stab, with more on the way.