I’ve decided that it’s time to make a confession. This is something that I haven’t been wanting to talk about… but I knew it would come up sooner or later.
So here it is… my deep dark secret…
I live a double life.
Well, not really. But I do work in both journalism and public relations.
So what’s the problem? Traditionally, journalists and PR (or marketing) people are supposed to play on opposite teams. One group searches for the horrible truth, while the other does their best to keep up a good front. It’s an archaic way of looking at both industries, but the stereotypes still exist. I’ve got friends who fight for both sides, and I hear about the struggle between the professions all the time.
I studied both journalism and public relations back in university, because I was in a Media Studies program. So I know how both sides work. I opted to specialize in journalism, because I wasn’t allowed to specialize in both, but I’ve always been interested in public relations and marketing too.
So here I am, several years after graduating, working in both fields. Which is super awkward. Why? Here’s an example: I wrote about a company (let’s call it Company A) on my blog earlier this year, highlighting something new that they were doing. Something that I thought was cool. Then I got a job with a media company, and the first assignment they gave me was to write a story about something that Company A was doing wrong. Needless to say, Company A wasn’t super thrilled with me after that.
As a blogger, it’s my job to share what’s cool, fun, useful, interesting etc. Usually, I write about positive things because I like my blog to be a happy space. Sometimes I include things I dislike too, but for the most part it’s pretty chill around here. I think most bloggers really fall into the PR/Marketing category more than journalism, because we’re seen as influencers who share our opinions.
As a journalist, my job is to not put my opinion in my writing, unless I’m specifically told to do so. I have to do my best to research whatever I’m writing about, and find people to interview who can show both sides of an issue. It’s hard work, but I know how to do it.
It’s tricky to keep switching gears in my head though. It’s like I’m doing the tango without a partner, and I’m trying to lead and follow at the same time.
Yet, there are a few things that cross over between blogging/PR/Marketing and journalism.
That’s something that’s super important to me, and I do my absolute best to write with integrity and be completely honest in both my journalism and PR work.
Which is why I get really upset when someone tries to say that I’m being dishonest, or trying to fool my readers. Actually, upset is not a strong enough word…
Here’s what gets my blood boiling. I am always open about where my content comes from, and where the stuff I talk about comes from. If I get a free product to try out from a company, I say so. If I’ve been paid to write about a certain product, I say so. If I’ve eaten a meal that I didn’t have to pay for, I say so.
So when someone tries to call me out for misrepresenting something, that really pisses me off. Because I actually pay close attention to disclosure and attribution.
Let me clear up something real quick. If a company gives me money, or a gift basket, or a bunch of gift cards to write about their product, that is called a sponsored post. They are paying me to talk about their product (and they usually expect that I’m going to say something nice). So I only accept money from companies or brands or PR people who I really trust, and I only write about brands that I actually use and enjoy.
You have no idea how many posts I turn down because I don’t know or use the product. And it’s not like I couldn’t use the money… pardon my b*tching for a minute, but you know those bloggers who make thousands of dollars off their blogs? Yeah, I’m not one of them. I have to work my butt off to get what I can get.
So what about companies that send me free stuff to review? Usually, I’m able to screen what I receive because most people don’t have my mailing address, but every once in a while I get something that I don’t want. Or I’ll never use. So let’s talk about the freebies for a moment. When a company sends me something, they are usually looking for a product review or feature, or something similar. Of course they are! Why would they bother sending me product if they weren’t looking for something in return?
Now the government says that I have to claim the free stuff as income (which I do), even though I can’t pay my taxes with crackers or a blender. But that doesn’t mean that the product that I have received is payment for the review that I MIGHT write. I don’t do paid reviews – no exceptions. There are many people who tell me that I’m stupid, because paid reviews are a great way to get stuff AND make money. But I don’t think it’s right to accept money for a review, so I don’t do it. If you know someone who does, good for them. It’s just not me.
So if I write about those crackers or that blender, does that mean that I’m suddenly being sponsored by the company who makes those products? No, and here’s why. Companies send free stuff (also known as press samples) to editors of magazines, newspapers, online media companies, blogs and just about every other media outlet you can think of. This is a standard practice that has been going on for years.
I’m pretty sure that beauty “closets” were mentioned both in The Devil Wears Prada book and The Hills (the TV show). They get so many free samples that they can fill a room with them, until an editor has time to try the product out.
So if a popular women’s magazine reviews a Lancôme lipstick, does that mean that the magazine is now sponsored by Lancôme? Of course not. But somehow people don’t think that the same rules apply to blogs.
I mean, please, any blogger who has ever been to a conference has probably received free swag from companies that hope that they would feature on their websites. One conference even gave a brand-new (expensive!) faucet to every blogger who attended! When those bloggers talked about the faucets on their blogs, or showed photos of how it looked installed in their kitchen, did that mean that they were suddenly sponsored by that faucet company? I don’t think I have to answer that.
I know that some of you are going to disagree with me on this, and that’s fine. You’re entitled to your opinion, and if you’re a fellow blogger you can do whatever you like on your on blog. I won’t come over to your space to complain about how you do things. But I’d appreciate the same courtesy.
So yes, I will keep saying that my reviews are not sponsored, even on the reviews of press samples, because they are not. A sponsored review is one that is paid for, and press samples are not payment.
Look, if your morals and judgement makes you think that I’m being swayed, because I’m not paying for the product, then I really can’t do anything about it. My morals and judgement lead me to be completely honest regardless of how I attained the product (or service) in question. At the end of the day, all you have is my word. If that’s not good enough, well, I really can’t do anything about that either.
To read further about what a sponsored review is, from someone who is not me, please refer to the links at the end of this blog post.
Look, I’m not perfect. I’ve made mistakes. I am human, and prone to error like anyone else. But, perhaps surprisingly, I do know what I’m doing most of the time. Blogging can be a super lonely and thankless job (or hobby), and it’s only made worse with confrontation.
These photos are from Death to the Stock Photo, and I have used these photos because I am signed up for their service.
This is not a sponsored post.
I haven’t been paid to write this article.