I first read about the 25 or so bloggers going on the all-expenses-paid Holland.com/BlogAds junket in Amanda's post on Pandagon today. Indeed, it's true:
â€¢ The bloggers going to Amsterdam in February '06 (over there on the left) get a free roundtrip flight on KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.
â€¢ They'll be able to stay for five nights at either the Lloyd Hotel or the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky -- both five star hotels near the center of Amsterdam.
â€¢ Last but not least, they get an I amsterdam Card, giving them free transportation around the city, gratis entrance to lots of museums and discounts at restaurants, etc.
â€¢ No blogging about the trip will be required. In exchange for the trip each blogger will [a] be interviewed about the trip (the Dutch Tourism Board may be using this for online/offline promotions), [b] give Holland.com one month of premium adspace, and [c] put the "Bloggers in Amsterdam" logo in their nav bar for one year, linking it to this blog post to disclose the nature of the trip. The mantra here is transparency.
(Lots of links buried in the original post.)
The moral of the story, boys and girls, is that one should have a passport on hand just in case you ever need to leave the country at a momentâ€™s notice.
I'm not sure I agree with that (though I confess my ambivalence because, due to my travel bug, if I had been invited, it would have been tough to say no). I suspect the true moral of the story will wind up being more in the realm of whether one wants to even appear to be open to pay-for-play.
In a hard-hitting critique on Beltway Blogroll, dglover hits them hard:
Bloggers no doubt will justify the trip by highlighting the transparency of the junket. They must link to the Bloggers in Amsterdam disclosure statement for one year, which itself notes the transparency "mantra."
But curiously, the bloggers just started talking about the trip yesterday -- and not all of them are doing so yet. If they really wanted to be transparent, why didn't the bloggers tell their readers about the trip when the invitation was extended?
What's more, transparency is not sufficient justification for media outlets -- and that's what blogs want the U.S. government to call them -- to take money from a government agency with an agenda. Bloggers who rightly maligned columnists Armstrong Williams for taking money from the Bush administration to praise its education law and Doug Bandow for taking money from Abramoff now deserve the same rebukes they heaped on him.
I don't know. I find it hard to disagree. How would I feel about, say, David Brooks if he -- no, scratch that, I don't hold him in high regard anyway, he's such a lightweight -- I don't know how I would feel about, say, Molly Ivins if it came out that she was getting junketed by some business interest. Does the junket mean the writer will pander? Or praise? Or simply avoid criticism?
Too many questions. It will be interesting what these folks say about this generous gift that has been given to them for one reason only: their blogger status.
Of course, all of this is inevitable. As bloggers gain voice and attention in the media realm, money will try to influence what they say. We see it all the time in print media, where, say, technical or trade journals avoid criticizing any product produced by a major advertiser. We see it in television news, where they offer up industry-produced drug promotions as if they were real news, all the while making millions upon millions from the pharmaceutical ads running throughout the day and night.
Why should bloggers be any different? This is an ethics issue that must be addressed, sooner or later. I just hope these bloggers, many of whom I respect immensely, don't find themselves tarred by a pay-for-play brush for being enticed to luxuriate in Amsterdam -- especially since it's Amsterdam in February.