Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Paid Content

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Nov 13, 2006

I wrote, on Ian Delaney's blog: "Thanks for being honest. I'll be honest too. One more paid post and I'm unsubscribing."

He wrote back, "Thanks for being candid. Can I ask why, though? My take on it is that I get paid for writing articles elsewhere. So... What's the difference?"

I wrote the following in response:

It is one thing to be paid for writing articles. News journalists are paid for writing articles, and I am happy to read them. It is quite another to be paid (either directly or indirectly) by the subject of such writing. If a politician paid the newspaper to review his party's policies, I would not be interested in reading that. Because no matter what protestations of neutrality may exist, such writing is not

You may say you write very neutrally. But what you don't control is the selection of which writers to fund in this way, and which to not fund. Consider, for example, a writer who is by any definition a good writer but who is very anti-corporate, very anti-globalization, and very anti-media. Such a writer is not going to be selected in the first place for such funding. So the people who get funding (and the improved distribution) are those who support a certain point of view.

You may say that newspapers also select in this way. That's quite true. Our local newspaper is owned by a multinational corporation and therefore quite deliberately does not publish anti-corporate arguments in its pages. It is for this reason that I have been very critical of the commercial press. And why the opinions expressed in the commercial press play a very small role in my thinking.

I have always believed that online publication offers an alternative. Because it allows people to write, and more importantly, to distribute, their thoughts without regard for who is or is not paying for them. It allows me to hear all voices as equal, rather than only those voices that have been willing to pay for preferred placement. This removes the bias, and helps me, in the presentation of my own work and my own writing, to reflect an accurate view of the world, and not one that has
been bought and paid for.

You may say that you have a right to accept money for writing articles about certain subjects. That is quite true, and nothing in what I am saying suggests that you should not be allowed to do what you do. But again, what I value is the writing that is not paid for, because it does not contain the bias inherent in paid writing. And
because it is the internet, there is no shortage of alternatives. Thus, it is a very simply matter for me to express my preferences for non-biased content by unsubscribing for content that has been paid for in this way.

Update: Iam Delaney writes back:

Hi there Stephen,
Really good answer. Some responses for you: I can't post these on your blog since I don't have a blogger account. Feel free to add them if you think it adds interestingly to the conversation.
ReviewMe's selection is, as far as I know, based on technorati + google + alexa rankings rather than the politics of individual writers. I think that the whole point of companies using ReviewMe rather than approaching individual bloggers is to save time having to find and read them and just go on their traffic ratings. Certainly, it would be cheaper for companies to approach bloggers directly - they pay double the fee by using ReviewMe.
Most products in this space that I might consider reviewing are not produced by large corporations but by very small startup businesses. Also, FWIW I am a lefty.
Online publications offering an alternative to an almost inevitably tainted mainstream media? You're certainly on to something there. Though I note that the most successful online publications - including a lot of blogs - are just as much commercial operations as many print publications. Many more so. But, as you say, there are plenty of free alternatives to commercialised blogs and sites nonetheless.
Beyond ReviewMe and other paid content schemes, there is a larger topic around this of how, whether and why bloggers (and other content providers such as YouTube directors and digg searchers) should be rewarded or incentivised. I certainly believe that they should be, that this means that the best contributors will continue to try their best to produce the best content. AdSense is not doing the job for most of the Long Tail, though. So what are the alternatives?
Paid Content is very clearly an ethical minefield, mind you. ReviewMe, though, with their disclosure requirement and avoidance of any requirement for bias seems better than a lot of the other alternatives out there.
The ReviewMe experiment on my site is just that, an experiment. The amount of money they're offering is hardly going to change my lifestyle or allow me to give up the day job - In the UK, my fee amounts to a six-pack and a packet of cigarettes. In part, I did it to stir up exactly this sort of debate. And also, yes, I do want to get paid and am keen to explore various alternatives that I can live with. That won't include, I assure you, puff pieces for anyone.
Another little note. One thing that these schemes are doing that you'll perhaps like is that they are internationalising media production. In many parts of the world, that fee is a decent days' wage. The same thing is happening in Second Life, where a lot of the most dedicated "craftspeople" are from developing nations. Hopefully, things like the $100 laptop scheme will increase the ability of such people to earn money independently on their own terms.
Take care,

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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