Getting Paid for Writing Crap (and disclosing it)


I’ve always wanted to write about this but for one reason or another postponed it for a more pressing issue and then another and another.

Fragile
Photo by DanielJames

A recent article about FTC issuing rules for bloggers regarding endorsements shared on Facebook and Twitter by Cocoy is a matter of significance for all bloggers right now. While it hasn’t reached our shores yet, I can bet that considering how vibrant blogging is in this country, it’s only a matter of time before we begin treading on egg shells. Still, if you ask me what prompted me to write this now, please blame Paul. He started it. :)

Now, this blog is obviously confusing to many. A Day In The Life Of RJ sounds like some person’s online journal of everyday adventures. Why should that involve FTC?

According to the wonderful world of Wikipedia, as of 2007, Technorati was tracking around 112 million blogs, most of those categorized as personal blogs. Folks, that was two years ago. Imagine that. And these days, “online journalers” (personal bloggers) don’t just write about their crushes or their impossible dreams. They don’t just share what a terrible day they had in school or at work.

Personal blogs have become a mixed bag of rants (product or service dissatisfaction), raves (product or service endorsements), frustrations against the system, society, the government (political opinions) and tips on anything and everything from how they got this and that working on their gadgets to how they got to this unexplored destination (how to’s, instructional content).

There is power in numbers. To underestimate the blogosphere is a mistake that is sure to cost the “doubting Thomas” an arm and a leg (figuratively, of course).

In this new FTC ruling, by December of this year, it will be compulsory to disclose whether you get anything in exchange for “reviews” on your blog — a disclosure policy. Whether it’s a free ticket to a concert or the item itself you are reviewing (gadgets, books, etc.), you would now be required by the law (at least in the US, for now) to disclose “payments” in whatever form.

But how about political bloggers? Now that is a big question. I do not see anything there that states explicitly how it approaches political blogging.

JF Quackenbush’s comment in Edward Champion’s interview with FTC’s Richard Cleland leaves a lot of food for thought:

what’s the FTC’s statutory authority for instituting this regulation? This looks like a free press issue to me and i worry about a slippery slope about other issues beyond “product endorsements” by bloggers. Would a political activist have to disclose if they received campaign materials from a campaign they were endorsing like t-shirts or bumperstickers that could be considered compensation? Will individual bloggers have to start applying an “equal time” rule like the networks used to have for political campaigns? What are the rules for professionals who are salaried employees of an organization who in their private time endorse, promote and defend the activities of that organization on a website? What about anonymous political speech about issues affecting commerce?

This whole thing strikes me as something that somebody didn’t think through before it got out of the building.

That mentioned and considered, let us pretend for a while that I have the right to discuss political blogging ethos. Nah, forget it. Let me just say what I want to say.

A Day In The Life Of RJ is first and foremost a personal blog. It has become a political blog, not by choice but by accident when a frustrated search for lack of information about the then hotly-debated Bangsamoro Juridical Entity prompted me to do a thorough research and add my thoughts about it. I ended up writing a series — 20 or so posts all about BJE, and the rest as they say, is history.

*****

On this blog being political

Regarding this blog being political, it is something I am neither proud nor ashamed of. It is just what it is. It has no intention of soliciting attention, or disgust or fame or whatever it is people think they get from blogging.

I have been in denial for the longest time yet the prominence of political tags and the mere fact that the political articles here have long outnumbered the personal, I have come to accept the fact that this blog has indeed steered itself to an unexpected direction and have taken a life of its own. Although it is not surprising to me, considering how highly opinionated I am of many things, politics taking the top spot, it never occurred to me that I would end up blogging politics — hence the tag line “The accidental political blog of RJ Marmol. Try-hard punditry for non-pundits.”

And for a while there, I thought writing opinions about social and political issues isn’t such a big deal. After all, I can just pretend that this is still a personal blog that just happens to have a lot of political rants — personal bloggers write politics too, albeit occasionally, so what the heck, I thought to myself.

Apparently, political blogging is a lot more ruthless than readers know and see. You get branded all sorts of stuff, you get called lots of things, simply because you dare dip your finger in a supposedly intellectually dishonest and corrupted territory — not intended for mere mortals.

*****

I wonder why it seems natural for people to accuse political bloggers of being sell outs. After all, in politics, there’s money to be had, more than enough to go around for everybody, right? They think it is utterly impossible for ploggers (political bloggers — derived from from the word “plog” — a contraction of the term “political blog”) to be objective in “plogging”.

When you get invited to coffee with politicians, everyone assumes that you get paid for it and are therefore bound to make a “positive” article — and endorsement, if you will, about that politician. It is annoying to be accused of this, because I for one, know that I don’t get paid to attend such meetings — much less, to write compelling or adulating articles just because of a free meal or coffee.

I mean, come on, an article for a cup of coffee? Are you kidding me? They don’t even pay for my fare from Calamba City to the urban jungle that is Metro Manila. I brave the overcrowded MRT station, the rain, the heat, the derision of non-believer family and friends just so I can write and scrutinize a politician personally. Heck, I don’t even have adsense on my blog! Your visit don’t translate to bucks for me. Some people don’t even realize that I even pay good money just to put my thoughts out there — I pay webhosting fees, domain fees, etc.

So to the very few who think I get paid to write politics, please. Do you even have the slightest hint who I am and what my credentials are (if any)? Who would pay me to write propaganda? I am no Conrado de Quiroz ( not that I insinuate that he gets paid to write for politicos, just stressing a point that I am a nobody).

I am no “influencer” or “oppositionist writer”, heck, I don’t even have a job. I am no different from any other person you might bump into at a grocery aisle, except maybe for the fact that I write and I write a lot — and that I write a lot of rants about the government. But that doesn’t instantly make me an “oppositionist writer”. That accusation is a flattery at best and a lie at worst.

Besides, who in his or her right mind would choose to write politics over movie and food reviews or gadgets and whatnots if not for the fact that it is his or her passion?

Argument #1: Politics is crap.
I guess we can all agree on that. The thing stinks miles away. Anyone who dare pass by where it is, is doomed to catch its stench one way or another.And boy oh boy, that stays with you long after you’ve gone to the shower countless times. Are we on the same boat here? Great. Now that we got that out of the way. Let’s go to…

Argument #2: Nothing is filthier than getting money for writing about politics.

Yes, I am talking about real money here darling — the kind of money that you and I know (as if there is any other). If you think politics stinks, wait until you see paid articles written about it. But these days, can you really tell?

It’s frustrating, or maybe I’m just too ideal for this writing thing. After all, my entire life, I thought writers were “hungry idealists”. Maybe my concept is outdated. Please pinch poke me (there you go Facebook, look what you’ve done to me).

But must we go to great lengths, to the point of jailing or “fining” someone who “gets paid for writing crap”? — which brings me to..

Argument #3: Who cares if someone gets paid for writing crap?

When this or that person writes something “crappy” — in the truest sense of the word, does that take away anything from the value or your own writings? Does that, even for a minute, rob you of your creativity and “brilliance”? Go ahead, you can pause from reading this and ponder for a few seconds, I’ll wait… Done? Great. So, what do you think? Can I get a “hell, no!”?

I told you. It doesn’t, my dear. People can write all the crap they can think of, get paid and buy themselves vacations to Malibu and a one way ticket to the universe’s black hole  for all we care. So instead of wasting time trying to figure out who gets paid or not, what he or she gets or how much exactly, why don’t we do ourselves a favor by just improving on ourselves and how we write? Brilliant idea, you say? Oh well, what can you expect, you are on a non-brilliant blog currently  engaged in two monologues — mine and yours. Unfortunately though, two monologues don’t make a dialogue.

Argument #4: If you can’t really do anything about it, live with it.

This one goes out for the ones who get paid for writing political propagandas, for the idealist and purist bloggers who stick to the unwritten ethos of blogging, for those who accuse all bloggers of being sell outs, for the apathetic many and the undecided few.

But hey, that’s a good idea!

On second thought, wouldn’t it be great if political writers and bloggers do disclose what they get in exchange for an article (if any), specially if it’s an article that’s suddenly so “out of character”? That would separate the greats from the rest. If you think about it, that FTC ruling would be the purist blogger’s dream come true.

Hmmm, it would be grand if I get paid for blogging politics. But sorry to disappoint you, I don’t. But don’t you all worry — the moment I do get paid for writing crappy new media political propagandas, I will let you know — with or without enforced rules. Until then, I’m just your regular purist blogger that won’t even pass up for a “hungry writer”.

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One thought on “Getting Paid for Writing Crap (and disclosing it)”

  1. This is a queasy question: where to discern this borderland which distinguishes a mere idea-promoter, loyal to his ideas, from a person, speaking out not his thoughts but what he is expected to say and waiting for his award. Actually blogging is a powerful tool for promotion, ads, propaganda and etc.
    In Paul's article I've found the following utterance «For example, someone who gets a free bag of dog food as part of a promotion from a pet shop wouldn't violate FTC guidelines if he writes about the product on his blog». Switching on my imagination I develop the situation: «Having received this free bag of dog food I say: «Oh, thanks, a nice idea, for your generosity I'll write a praising article in my blog for many people would know about your promotion…»will it be considered as violation of the FTC guidelines?…I agree, there so many nuances and dodges that it is rather difficult to cover them all with just one simple regulation…

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