Some people are shamelessly into blogging for the money. Other people could care less if they ever make a buck, but their credibility and reputation mean the world to them. Some people are paid to blog on behalf of their employer and others do it semi-officially on a volunteer basis. Regardless of what flavor blogger you are, I think that for the most people will agree that if a blogger doesn’t have their integrity, they don’t have a stool to stand on. With that in mind, people often want to know where a specific blogger stands. If they recommend a site or product, are they doing so because they are being paid to? Or is it because they genuinely think it’s worth while?
Additionally, if visitors know where you work, people may want to know whether you are writing as a representative of the company, or just on your own. It’s a fine line that is often fraught with ambiguity. For that reason, today’s challenge involves the crafting of a Disclosure Statement. I’ve been thinking that I’ve needed one for almost three years now, but it was never a pressing need so it just kept sliding to the bottom of the todo list. That gets rectified today.
When you boil it all down, the Disclosure Statement is intended to let your readers know where your loyalties lay, who is receiving benefits from your posts, and what outside forces may be influencing your posts. If you have received free hardware, software licenses, or registrations in exchange for your opinions and/or publicity, it should be disclosed. Your employer (in general or specific) should be mentioned, as well as whether you are representing them in any sort of official capacity. If you make money from any parts of your blog, then it should probably be mentioned, as well as any funds you may receive from affiliate programs. Pure and simple, we need to be able to distinguish between when you’re a fan of something, and when you may be sharing about it because you are getting something in return.
You may not think that you need a statement like that. I never did, until my integrity was called into question a few months ago. While I addressed that specific issue at the time, I have thought that I should probably create and post a formal disclosure statement ever since.
I won’t pretend to be an expert in them, but I have found a few different styles for you to consider.
Wesley Fryer keeps it about as simple as you can get. In his sidebar he has the statement “DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed herein are my own and not necessarily those of my employer.” Simple, and to the point. Miguel Guhlin has a pretty similar statement, sharing that “MGuhlin.net–blog, wikis, other writings–Publications (unless specifically labelled with another copyright notice) are licensed under a Creative Commons License and they do not reflect my employer’s views, only my own. Any resemblance to persons living or dead, or to my employer, is purely coincidental.”
There’s nothing actually wrong with the minimalist approach, but depending on what you write about you may want to include a bit more. In particular, if you are making a point of testing and reviewing hardware and software, I think you really need to. UPDATE: Miguel left a comment letting me know that he actually has a much more comprehensive disclosure statement here . Very well written and includes even more than I would expect most people to include. Heh, I don’t think you need to feel obligated to disclose how much you make for any side gigs you do! Regardless, it’s definitely worth checking out.
I browsed around looking for other good examples of more detailed disclosure statements, and the best one that I was able to find happens to be from David Weinberger. His statement does a great job of identifying any potential areas that may call his motives into question. In fact, if anything he errs on the side of caution and discloses far more than I think most would need to. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, he uses very casual language, but there’s no worries about that so long as the message comes through loud and clear. Despite your best intentions, this statement will probably never hold up in court unless you are an attorney. So just do your best to make sure your audience knows where you stand.
A few selections from his disclosure statement that I like:
No one pays me to write this blog or to say particular things in it. That includes all forms of compensation, including offering to shovel my walk or tell me that I look like I’ve lost some weight.
I’m not going to list the companies I’m currently working for because that’s between them and me. There aren’t many of them. I will disclose them (and have disclosed them in the past) if I talk about them on my blog. (None of them has ever asked me to mention them, btw.)
Authors sometimes send me free copies of their books. Often, explicitly or implicitly, they are looking for a mention. If I like the book, I may indeed mention it. If the author is a friend of mine, I’m pretty likely to mention it — because that’s what friends do — and I’m also much more likely to like it than some book that arrives from a PR agent. I’m probably not going to tell you that I got a free copy. Why? Because it doesn’t matter and because it makes me feel like I’m boasting. Also, it reads funny.
All I can promise is that I will be honest with you and never write something I don’t believe in because someone is paying me as part of a relationship you don’t know about. Put differently: All I’ll hide are the irrelevancies.
I like the frankness, the honesty in there. When you finish reading it, you have a great baseline for understanding where his motivations and interests lie.
Last thing I’m going to mention before going off to work on my own, is to point out that you also have some options for where this one should sit. While I’ve seen some people put a link to it in their footer, I think it should get a little better placement than that. More than likely the statement or a link to it belongs in your sidebar, or if not there then as part of your About page. Pure and simple, somebody who’s looking for it should be able to find it pretty easily. If you go for the minimalist method, then you could easily put the entire thing in your sidebar. Perhaps do what Miguel did and lump it in with your Creative Commons statement.
Do you have a Disclosure Statement on your blog already? If so, what does it include? Do you know of any other good examples amongst educators? Or non-educators for that matter! If you are creating one as part of this challenge, share a link to it in the comments below so we can learn from it as well.