What should the “freebie rule” be for bloggers?

Gift For years, journalists have maintained a "no gift" rule because they never wanted their credibility be put into question.  While I am sure some journalists bend/break that rule…it’s pretty much the industry standard.

But most bloggers are not journalists by trade.  They aren’t employed by a media outlet and they certainly aren’t objective observers.  Most bloggers infuse their opinions into their posts. 

So is it wrong for a blogger to accept freebies?  There’s a pretty broad spectrum of opinions out there.

Lewis Green raises this issue and takes a very clear stand in his post Does taking a freebie mean you can’t trust me?

Tim Almond talks about Microsoft sending out laptops and his opinion of accepting gifts.

Robert Scoble say as long as you disclose you received the product (in this case…the laptop) for free, your ethics are fine.

Joel Spolsky calls it a bribe that is corrupting the medium.

B.L. Ochman makes her take on the question pretty clear in a post from late December where she called PR agency Edelman’s ethics into question.

What do YOU think? 

A laptop or a trip to Seattle to meet Bill Gates (examples in the above links) seems like the extreme that only the most influential bloggers will be tempted by.  But what about a free weekend at a bed and breakfast?  Or an advance copy of a book?  Or a pair of sunglasses?  How about a marketing white report that will later be sold?  Tickets to a show or concert?

Should a blogger ever accept a gift?  When is it okay?  If a blogger does accept a freebie — how should they handle that fact if they post about it?

UPDATE:  Some additional opinions…

Chip Griffin has this to say. 

David Reich adds his always valuable and insightful 2 cents.

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8 comments on “What should the “freebie rule” be for bloggers?

  1. Chip Griffin says:

    I wrote about this on my blog a few months back. I guess the headline sums it up: Bloggers Shouldn’t Fear Freebies.


  2. David Reich says:

    Drew, I’ve written about this a few times. See http://reichcomm.typepad.com/my_weblog/2007/04/bloggers_love_t.html I think it’s totally up to the individual whether they choose to accept a sample, as long as they disclose they’ve recived something. It’s also the blogger’s own call in their conscience as to whether accepting a sample will color if and what they say about the item.

    Accepting a trip or a gift that is not related to what product or service is being pitched is another story. Then it’s an out and out bribe.

    As I’ve said elsewhere, top media outlets won;t allow their reporters to accept anything of any value, no matter how little. I had breakfast with NY Times ad columnist Stuart Elliott, and when I went to pay for his coffee, he said the paper’s policy wouldn;t allow him to take even a cup of coffee.

  3. Erin Blaskie says:

    Great post! I think that it truly has to do with your own ethics and your ability to report a truthful opinion even though it was a free gift.

    I run a local book club that also has an online presence and due to this, I receive a number of free books to review. Mainly, these authors are hoping that I read the book, enjoy it and suggest it as a selection for the club. My members know that I get free books but I don’t always select them. In fact, I have received over 50 free books and have only chosen 1 or 2. I also balance this by allowing my members to borrow the books.

    I think there is a way to handle it in a moral way. If you’re honest and upfront about the situation, I think people will still trust in you and believe your message.


  4. Lord Matt says:

    The question is not should I allow myself to benefit from my public writing but how should I allow myself to benefit. Should I allow myself to become biased due to the income (after all he who pays the piper calls the tune) or should I draw a line somewhere (anywhere) and say this far and no further?

    If I do draw a line and say that everything this side is good but everything that side I will not do how shall i arbitrate the unclear? Furthermore what shall I do when want and desire oppose my dedication to the line I drew?

    Therein lies the rub. For if I carefully reinterpret or revise my line and re-clarify the unclear in my own favour then slowly the effective line moves until it is miles from the one I drew.

    If as an author I make no bones about the fact that I will link like a link whore for any gift at all then I have lied not at all when I do so. In fact have fulfilled my mandate.

    But if I set myself up as an unbiased guide then I could feel better than the link whore and take no gift.

    But wait the second version of myself writes and links and sometimes the motivation for this is links and review right back.

    We don’t disclose that we linked to Google’s Matt because we hope he’ll link to us. We do not disclose that often we comment because what we want is a comment on our blog in return.

    In every case be it linking for links or blogging for gifts we are talking about the placement of a line in the same sand on the same road.

  5. Chip,

    Thanks for the link. Your logic makes perfect sense. Sometimes I wonder if the disagreement about this issue is really a disagreement with what role bloggers should play. Are we citizen journalists? Are we thought leaders? Opinionated consumers? Hacks?

    If I’m just an opinionated consumer -why would it matter that I took a freebie? But if I am a journalist, I get it.

    What do you think?


  6. David,

    As always — much food for thought. As I said to Chip, I suppose it depends on how the blogger views him/herself and how their audiences views them. But how do we really determine that?

    I’ve had the same experience with media folks as you did. I’ve also noticed that they don’t offer to pay for my coffee either! 🙂


  7. Erin,

    So does your answer change if the scale changes?

    For example, if a bookstore chain offered you a $500 gift card — then what?

    I agree with you, there’s a way to handle it. We just need to decide how we want to handle it *before* faced with the choice/situation.


  8. Matt,

    A very interesting point. If you don’t choose one of the extreme positions (either black or white) then you choose gray. But what shade of gray and how do you keep it from morphing?

    Excellent comment — thank you!


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