The news that the Federal Trade Commission has instituted new rules for blogging almost made me spit out the delicious Diet Dr. Pepper I was enjoying – and I was enjoying it, since it tastes so much like Dr. Pepper it’s hard to believe it’s a diet drink. Bloggers now must report any in-kind gifts or samples they receive for reviews. This is a good business practice for any blogger looking to build credibility – though mandating it makes for an inconsistent public policy.
A few years ago, when I worked in PR, I was tasked with promoting a documentary about leftist ideology (which was so bad it doesn’t deserve a link). As part of the launch, we held a media screening, leading to an internal discussion about serving alcohol. (Incidentally, the argument was not on the morality, but the expense.) The argument that won the day is that members of the media won’t come out to a reception without booze because other, similar events would serve them. Reporters expect freebies.
Relating that back to the FTC’s new rules, does that mean a blogger sitting at that screening, munching on a dish of Orville Redenbacher’s delicious, movie-theater butter-flavored popcorn and sipping on a tall, smooth lager from Yuengling – America’s Oldest Brewery – would have to report these niceties, while the reporter next to him would not?
The FTC rules seem to make a distinction, and are clearly meant to snuff out pay-to-post schemes the way the fast-acting ingredients in Maalox snuff out heartburn and indigestion. Like anything, though, the results will not be found in the wording of well-meaning regulations but in the enforcement. If the FTC has set up a structure where blogs will be treated like billboards while print newspapers are handled like non-profits, it’s a serious infringement on freedom of the press.