Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Next Chapter of Blogging: Regulation?

You know that social media has really arrived for business-to-business use when the talk turns to regulating an influential sector of B-to-B bloggers.

Workforce Management magazine writes that partly due to a review of advertising and blogging guidelines by the Federal Trade Commission, “some HR blogger practices are coming under scrutiny”… about reporting standards and disclosure of conflicts of interest. The article’s authors Ed Frauenheim and Rick Bell cite the example of Joel Cheesman, who writes the popular HR industry blog Cheezhead (incidentally just acquired) – who they said hasn’t disclosed that he is also a consultant to some of the companies he writes about.

However, a deeper read of the piece shows that there may be less here than meets the eye. While Richard Cleland, a Federal Trade Commission assistant director of advertising practices, states that the agency hasn’t taken a look at the HR blogosphere in particular, he does say that knowledge of business relationships between HR industry bloggers and vendors they write about could affect the credibility of their posts.

The real story here may be that “HR bloggers are breaking news, stimulating discussion and challenging the stronghold of traditional media organizations that cover human resources, including Workforce Management,” as the article went on to say.

The fact is that transparency issues are nothing new when it comes to the media. They can and should be brought to light regardless of whether the medium is a blog or one of the nation’s leading newspapers.

Take The New York Times, for example. Clark Hoyt, the Times’s Public Editor, deconstructs the newspaper’s reporting for biases in a Sunday editorial page column. Last week, he took to task the respected consumer technology columnist David Pogue, who is a Times contributor, not a staff reporter. Pogue’s Thursday product review column is coveted real estate for electronics manufacturers. However, not everyone knows that Pogue also writes instructional manuals – sometimes for the products he writes about. .

Even though Pogue’s editor was satisfied that Pogue was doing a good job of separating his interests when he wears his NYT hat, for some reason he didn’t think it was important to disclose the possible conflict in print. Hoyt said that the newspaper is now going to disclose this information.

As bloggers become more important to the news distribution “system,” they will increasingly be confronted with the transparency issue. In that sense, they really have arrived.

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