Review Disclosure: Separate Treatment for Bloggers and Traditional Media

The FTC recently produced new rules governing disclosure for bloggers and other "word-of-mouth-advertisers." Basically, the take-away is that a blog, Tweet, Facebook, Amazon review, etc. is now viewed as a paid endorsement if you receive the product from the manufacturer for free. Okay, fair enough. But the FTC “does not consider reviews published in traditional media…to be sponsored advertising messages.” The Commission believes that “knowing whether the [traditional] media entity that published the review paid for the item in question would not affect the weight the consumers give to the reviewer’s statements.”

As a guy who makes maybe a grand a year reviewing stuff for traditional media, this strikes me as wrong (and unfair). There is an enormous disparity in the review policies of traditional media. At one extreme you have Consumer Reports, with a famously rigorous policy of avoiding vendor influence, at the other you have, say, dive travel magazines where you can find "reviews" written by advertising representatives! Such policies are not obvious to readers and are relevant to their judgment. On the matter of fairness, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander: drawing lines between "old" and "new" media is a sucker's game.

It doesn't make sense to me that in a review published in this blog, I am legally obligated to add a line that reads, say, "I received a free copy of this book" but that very same line doesn't have to appear if I write the review for my column in SD Times. It's not the obligation to "clearly and conspicuously" disclose in the blog that I object to, it's that traditional media are exempt from disclosing the exact same "material relationship" between the manufacturer and the reviewer.

I plan on writing a little "standard disclosure" page that reveals the (I hope not surprising) fact that I receive a lot of books, software, and conference registrations for free. I'll link to that when I write reviews in my blog. I don't see why a similar disclosure of review policies is a burden for traditional media.

But you tell me: when you read or view a review in traditional media, does the knowledge of whether the product was paid for affect the weight you give the review?