Gini Dietrich

New FTC Guidelines Should Affect All Who Review Products

By: Gini Dietrich | October 12, 2009 | 
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This won’t come as news to most of you: Last week the FTC released its new disclosure guidelines for bloggers. I don’t have a vested interest in this as I don’t make money from blogging. And I do believe there should be disclosure and honesty for anyone who writes a review for a product, including affiliate marketers, paid tweeters, and bloggers. This isn’t news to you, either as I’ve blogged about this before.

But what is of interest is what other non-paid bloggers are saying about the guidelines.

Paul Holmes, last week, wrote that bloggers are now held to a higher standard than traditional journalists. Then Davina Brewer wrote that she agrees disclosure is key and this is a no brainer for bloggers (plus it’s worth the read just to see how she uses “glitter-farting ponies).

Which I agree with.

But, to Paul’s point, why are journalists held to a different standard? As PR pros, we send products to reporters ALL THE TIME for review. They don’t have to disclose whether or not they received the product free-of-charge, nor if they kept it for personal use. Some media outlets do have no soliticitation rules in that they either can’t accept products or that they donate them to charities. But some outlets don’t have those rules.

Think about all of the DJ drops you’ve done in your careers. Think about all of the elaborate media kits you’ve produced. Think about how many green rooms you’ve sat in while you waited to hand off your client’s next best thing. How many times has the reporter said, “This review was made possible by the free-of-charge drop from XYZ client’s PR firm”?

Sure, a few years ago we had to stop doing video news releases without attribution to the client and most advertorials now say PAID ADVERTISING across the top of them. But there are some bloggers who are MUCH MORE influential than some journalists, yet the guidelines are different?

Shouldn’t journalists be held to the same FTC guidelines as bloggers?

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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15 Comments on "New FTC Guidelines Should Affect All Who Review Products"

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Caitlin
6 years 9 months ago

Journalists don’t have final editorial control, unlike bloggers.

Gini Dietrich
6 years 9 months ago

Caitlin – Fair. But would an editor change a review?

Davina K. Brewer
6 years 9 months ago
Gini- Check out this story http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=328112 (via @BethHarte @CubanaLAF) about a paper ASKING for samples rather than PR pitches. The editor’s argument was that publishing a press release was free advertising; if someone wants coverage for their product, they should put their money (product) where their mouth is. Back to the FTC: It is a double standard. Some of it comes from the standards that journalists are held to regarding truth, accuracy, accountability in reporting and what people expect from ethical journalism. The FTC assumes it’s understood that Walter Mossberg is being paid by the paper to use, review and… Read more »
Dave Van de Walle
6 years 9 months ago
My head hurts thinking about all this. I’m for honesty, and disclosure and stuff like that. But I happen to think the FTC went too far. “Blogger” – does that mean micro-blogger? LinkedIn poster? If I post on LinkedIn that I, say, recommend someone, and they recommend me in return, isn’t that payola? WTH, listen to morning radio, when the “paid endorsement” line gets blurred like crazy. Paul Harvey pioneered this approach: where it doesn’t sound like he’s giving a commercial. Miss the “now this” and you miss the fact that he’s now peddling Craftmatics. I need some wine —… Read more »
Edward M. Bury, APR
6 years 9 months ago

Perhaps I’m being too idealistic, but I firmly believe in full and open disclosure in all written and verbal communications. Period.

Raymond Alvarez
6 years 9 months ago
Many years ago when I was a managing editor of a small daily newspaper, the local restaurants would send over a pizza or a dessert to me. These went to the newsroom staff. Scouts honor. I would discover in this role the public’s perception of the power editors have is distorted. If the restaurant’s owner had steered his car into a pedestrian the next day or had poisoned someone with one of his pizzas, I would have been duty bound to print the story, and I would have. If I had buried the story or held it, I would have… Read more »
Jeremy Probert
6 years 9 months ago
I think the FTC will find this extremely difficult to implement – they are, after all, attempting to regulate the internet, and, while it definitely needs some sort of regulation, I cannot see how they will be able to monitor, track and punish breaches of their code. What constitutes a breach anyway? A blogger receives a product for free, finds it to be a good product, writes a good review. Doesn’t say where they got that product. Is this a problem? Surely it’s only the misleading reviews of products that should be met with punitive action – and how will… Read more »
Andy Donovan
6 years 9 months ago
Great points here Gini – especially the one about bloggers being held to a higher standard than traditional reporters – my question is this – why are they – if traditional journalists are not to be? Initially weren’t all traditional journalists clammering that “bloggers” or “citizen journalists” and their credibility – when it comes to all of the issues outlined in this post shouldn’t traditional journalists be holding themselves to this new “benchmark”? I don’t think you’ll ever get consensus on this topic but the one thing I would add is (especially to Davina’s comment) regardless of who you are… Read more »
Rusty Speidel
6 years 9 months ago
Good points, Jeremy et al. It really does come down to credibility. Traditional journalism has taken public steps to separate its advertising from its journalism in an effort to remain credible, and has been VERY successful at it. If bloggers don’t do the same thing, their value as information sources will rapidly and inexorably diminish. Fool me once, etc. etc. I really could care less if a blogger said up front he or she was reviewing something for a fee. But if I found out later, then I would never believe another review that blogger wrote. What would be the… Read more »
Paul Holmes
Paul Holmes
6 years 9 months ago

So, if I might paraphrase and abbreviate Raymond Alvarez’ post, we should have one law for people he doesn’t trust and another law for people he does.There may be some legal system or some ethical or philosophical principle that espouses this approach, but where I come from we are supposed to treat people equally under the law.

Especially since I am not nearly as sanguine about (mainstream) journalistic ethics as he is.

Rusty Speidel
6 years 9 months ago

I am not even that sure it should all be codified in any way except in the marketplace, are you all? Trust gets broken, people bail. Trust gets codified, it’s not really that legit either. Can we count on folks to do the right thing because it’s in their best interests in this case, or am I being massively naive and idealistic?

Caitlin
6 years 9 months ago
@Gini, If an editor thought the reviewer was influenced by freebies, they would pull or change a review and there would be serious repercussions for the reviewer’s career. Also, my point is also that it is the publication that sets the rules on disclosure. For example, I’ve worked for a publication that allowed journalists to accept press trips from technology vendors but the editor had to approve it first. The stories always disclosed that ‘Joe Bloggs travelled to San Francisco with assistance from Widget Vendor” at the end. But it was the publication’s choice whether or not to accept the… Read more »
Lon
6 years 9 months ago
Raymond made many good points, to which I would add the following based on nearly 20 years of newspaper, radio and PR experience. This whole issue is one of my pet peeves and I could write far more than I will submit here. In most journalism programs a lot of time is spent on ethics discussions, i.e. what’s right and what’s wrong. Journalists are taught to value their independence and at least try to be objective. With the advent of web communication, anyone with a computer, web access, and a desire to blog can do so. No training, no knowledge… Read more »
Gentry Lassiter
6 years 9 months ago
I agree with Jeremy that the FTC will find great difficulty in implementing this regulation. Tuesday’s F.I.R. podcast touched on the issue from an international perspective that I believe has been neglected during the analysis of the FTC’s new regulation. I know enough about the new regulation only to be dangerous, but from what Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson were saying, I got the impression that in order for the law to be effective on a global scale, all countries would have to implement similar rules. How will this law effect bloggers in countries outside of the U.S.? Perhaps a… Read more »
Gini Dietrich
6 years 9 months ago
Does anyone else think Ray saying “Scout’s honor” make you think he sometimes ate the pizza all by himself?!? I’m far behind on getting back to people on comments, so I apologize. I love the debate that is going on here. I’m not sure I disagree with anything being said. I think the bottom line is that EVERYONE (not just bloggere and reporters) need to be honest in all dealings. If you receive a product free-of-charge to review, say so. If your dad is on a company’s board and you mention the company, disclose the information. Disclosure is key here.… Read more »
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