Take note BzzAgents and Canter droids: The ethical chickens are coming home to roost

For the past couple of months I’ve been telling folks to not take money to blog about products or people because it would ruin their reputations. Blogging has become a force because of the unfiltered, honest nature of the medium. To take money to blog about somethingand disclose it or notworks against the public’s expectation that blogs are, first and foremost, upfront and honest.

For extreme people like Marc Canter, who pushed the idea of bloggers getting paid to blog about products for money, reputation may not a major issue. The same is true for the leaders at BzzAgents and their drones that are pushing products to their friends and neighbors for profit, and doing so covertlyat least according to the New York Times story. BzzAgents seems to care more about profits then reputation. So be it.

However, most people and businesses do care about how they are perceived by the world. Being perceived as “in on the take” is something that sticks with you forever. Just ask Markos at the Daily Kos and commentator Armstrong Williams.

This past week Markos Moulitsas was arrested, tried, and convicted in the court of public opinion for taking money from multiple political campaigns. While Markos says he disclosed it, the critics say not enough (and not for all of them). The truth is it doesn’t really matter because the public has made their decision: most of Markos’ readers didn’t know he was being paid by campaigns and for that he is guilty.

You see the public is unfair in cases of ethics. They are cynical and assume the appearance of impropriety is impropriety.

That’s why I told Mark Canter not to pay bloggers to write about that company no one as ever heard about in Canada. Those bloggers are always going to be associated with being in on the take.

That is why I told Nick that a single-site sponsorship from Audi was not a good idea. Just last week someone told me that I should check out this Audi blog called Jalopnik! Now, Nick did the smart thing and took the Audi integration down, but I’m doubtful that readers will ever take their Audi coverage seriously. There will always be this little voice says “didn’t Audi pay to build this site?” It’s unfair, but it’s true.

You can never be too clear about drawing the line between advertising and editorial, and these latest examples prove that point. You can justify your behavior all you want, and you might even be right, but once you’re in the position of defending yourself you’ve already lost to a certain extent.

Avoid the whole issue and just be upfront and honest, and don’t screw around with the Chinese Wallit’s there for a reason!