Today I was included in a Boston Globe article about bloggers and the FTC’s new guidelines about disclosure in product reviews and endorsements. While I’ve witnessed a lot of panic and anger in the blogosphere about these guidelines (rumors of $11,000 misconduct fines will do that), they’re actually a good thing because ultimately, the goal is to protect the consumer; readers like you who read blogs and (rightfully assume) that what you’re reading is honest and objective editorial.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. I’ve seen a lot of bad practices by fellow bloggers (e.g., cut and pasted press releases passed off as original content, pay for play not disclosed, etc.) and I well remember when I started Boston Mamas in July 2006 and soon learned about advertorials (paid placements that are designed to look like real editorial). Someone wanted to buy an advertorial spot from me and I felt hugely depressed. (And of course I said no.) I wondered about all of the products I had bought in the past based on magazine or other “reviews” – how many of those placements actually were advertisements? I felt deceived and ever since have taken in product content with a super critical eye.
Since Day 1 here at Boston Mamas, I have been committed to transparency and 100% advertorial-free editorial. I can’t help but assume that my strict adherence to, and belief in, true editorial form is related to my former life as a scientist, where I used to describe all practices and cross my t’s and dot my i’s ad nauseam (submitting grants to the NIH will do that). Subsequently, when my contributing writers and I write about products, we write from the heart – about stuff we think is awesome, useful, and/or clever. Product reviews represent only a fraction of the content featured on Boston Mamas and as such I am extremely picky about what I’ll even allow in the door for evaluation (that's one of the reasons I don't include a free for all shipping address on my contact page). I’ve never sat down to figure out the numbers, but it’s probably safe to estimate that I bypass hundreds of product pitches for every one that I decide should move to the evaluation phase. And yes, even despite my rigorous screening, every now and then there are products that don’t work out for whatever reason (e.g., bad smell, breaks immediately) and I do not feature these items just because they were submitted. This is the reason products must be submitted for evaluation. "Evaluating" a hi-res JPEG just isn't going to cut it (you'd be amazed by how frequently products are pitched for editorial consideration based on hi-res JPEGs).
In short, I wanted to emphasize how strongly I feel about transparency and how important it is for me to know that you know that what you see on this site is honest and objective editorial. Your trust is more important to me than ad money (truly, I don’t rely on Boston Mamas to pay my bills…I leave that to my design work and freelance contracts). I have always maintained a steady editorial code – much like a magazine or newspaper – (see my contact and disclosure page for my possibly excessively explicit description of practices) and as such will not end each individual post with a disclosure line as you see on some blogs. The disclosure-per-post practice is recommended by the FTC for personal blogs but given that I operate Boston Mamas more like a magazine and have a clearly detailed editorial code, I'm leaving things as is (easy access button to contact/disclosure policy right in the header).
If you have questions or concerns or thoughts please feel free to comment in below or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And as always, thank you for reading.
UPDATE 12/2/09: There are three points that I feel warrant mention in addendum:
First, as stated on my contact and disclosure page, many products featured on Boston Mamas are ones that we've discovered (i.e., purchased ourselves) on our own and loved. Obviously, in those cases there's no interaction with an agency; just us and the cash register.
Second, I am well overdue in updating my banner (at the time of this writing, it's a spring graphic...how embarrassing!). A redesign is in process and in the new banner I will separate out a disclosure button from the contact button (however, both buttons will link to the same page as I want those who are trying to contact me to also know my policies).
Third, while I understand the perspective that it's better to err on the side of over disclosure, at present I will continue on as I have been for the last three years: with a very detailed disclosure page that is easily accessed from the banner, i.e., not making an individual statement at the bottom of each post, similar to the way that magazines operate by a standard journalistic code and subsequently don't annotate every item in a product round up. However, in the future if I learn of objections from the FTC regarding this practice, I will address it here. From what I have read, and from what I discerned from the Blog With Integrity webinar with FTC Associate Director of Consumer Protection Mary Engle, I believe that the standards I set back in July 2006 comply with the FTC regulations.
Image credit: Dina Rudick/Globe Staff