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SDNN doesn’t disclose relationship between PR blogger and client

February 17, 2010 - 12:16 pm

In her Feb. 11 blog post on SDNN, a for-profit news website, “Gaslamp Gal” Lauren Clifford tells us how excited she is about FLUXX, a new nightclub opening up where Aubergine used to be. You’ll be “bumpin'” to the 50,000 watts of sound, and the “26 moving light heads on the ceiling” and “the three liquid nitrogen sprayers” are gonna be “sick,” she tells us.

What Clifford, a regular columnist, doesn’t tell us in her post is that she gets paid to do PR for FLUXX.

At the end of her posts, she does tell us that she is in the PR business and provides a link to the company she works for, JPR. But nowhere that I could find on the JPR website are FLUXX or parent company RMD Group mentioned as clients. However, Clifford confirmed in an e-mail that she does, indeed, do PR for FLUXX.

Just so we’re clear, my issue is not with Clifford. Hell, she’s doing heck of a job for her client, singing its praises in a blog on what some might consider a reputable news source.

No, my issue is with SDNN for publishing a blog post that’s nothing more than professional public relations—without disclosing for the reader the relationship between the writer and the business about which she’s writing. Some readers might trust that Clifford is covering Downtown nightlife in an honest, genuine, no-strings-attached manner and that she’s recommending only those places that she really likes.

Media that operate with integrity would always disclose such a conflict of interest. It tells the reader that everything else in the paper or on the website or in the broadcast can be trusted as independent and honest. By publishing this kind of thing without disclosure, SDNN is not only lying to its readers, it’s also telling them to view all of its content with suspicion.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. uccellini permalink
    February 18, 2010 - 1:25 pm 1:25 pm

    More than a decade ago, I mentioned to a newspaper editor that I was considering doing some PR work on the side. “Think twice,” he told me, “because that could seriously damage your career as a journalist.” At that same newspaper, we weren’t allowed to accept any freebies or gifts worth more than $25. A little thing called “ethics.” Those rules were bent now and again, but most people toed the line.

    It’s a lot trickier outside of that old-school newsroom, however, especially if you’re an underpaid freelancer. Free lunch and spa treatment? Yes, please. Free weekend at a posh resort? OK! Without the occasional free feast, I’d be surviving on Top Ramen. Do the freebies sway my opinion of a place/product? I’d like to think not, and I know I’ve never written a deliberately biased review. But I have felt the occasional ethical twinge over the years.

    Bloggers, perhaps more than anyone, take full advantage of these abundant perks, which is why the FTC recently revised its rules about endorsements and disclosure. (Though I wonder if print writers should also note when they’ve received freebies — it’s the same thing, no?)

    Even knowing all this, I was pretty shocked when I read that a full-time PR gal is blogging for a “news” site and about her own client, no less. WHA HUH?!? I agree with Dave that it’s not the blogger’s fault — she is, in fact, great at her job — but shame on SDNN. That’s blurring the lines a little too much for my comfort.

  2. pistoleropete permalink
    February 18, 2010 - 4:15 pm 4:15 pm

    This is par for the Torrey Pines course in this city…

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