Tonight the Wall Street Journal has an explosive (free) story on an issue that has been non-stop whispers in some blogging circles for weeks. And that is? The allegation that some high-profile bloggers who simultaneously advise startups and promote them on their blogs have undeclared conflicts of interest.
The WSJ story focuses on FON, the recently-funded Spanish wireless company that got so much blog-o-sphere attention last weekend for its just-closed financing. But as the WSJ story points out, nine (!) members of FON’s U.S. advisory board helped build the buzz by writing positively about FON on their blogs, people like Dan Gillmor, David Weinberger, and Wendy Seltzer. While Gillmor and Weinburger disclosed on their sites that they are advisors to FON and might be paid by the company, the WSJ says that none of the other advisory-board members disclosed that they might one day get cash from FON.
The story continues, citing TechCrunch‘s Mike Arrington as another blogger (albeit with no FON connection) who “occasionally serves as an advisor to companies he writes about”, including sometimes receiving stock. To be fair to Mike, he says in the piece that he generally doesn’t write about companies once he becomes an advisor.
More broadly, this is serious stuff, and it is a reminder to all of us that whether you call yourself a pro or not, with a large online audience comes responsibility. You’re kidding yourself — and playing fast and loose with your readers — if you think otherwise.
And what’s the policy here at my site? I almost never write about companies in which I have a financial interest (to the point that I get grief for my reticence from management!). And when I do write about anything in which I have a conflict, real or perceived, I disclose it every frigging time, as I’m sure most readers of this site are irritatedly aware.