Thursday, 17 November 2011

Editorial Integrity: Would you trust a BLOGGER?

Once the provenance of earnest fashion fans on the fringes of the industry, blogs have evolved into legitimate media sources and, more importantly, big moneymakers. Just had a look at yesterdays' post at Fashionista and WWD story highlighting 'Hot fashion bloggers' like Bryan Boy and Susie Bubble. I thought of our own bloggers right here in Africa OneNigerianBoy, LindaIkeji, BellaNaija to mention a few.. The feature goes on to detail how each page views their sites get, and present an important question: "Bloggers sitting front row have become a commonplace- as have partnerships with leading brands and fashion houses that often blur the nature of what they do
'Reportage and Criticism or Marketing and Promotion?"

Whether it's by partnering with brands, styling shoots, receiving payment for writing posts or getting commission on the sale of items they post about, some bloggers are seriously cashing in on their influence. Of course, there's nothing wrong with making money. These bloggers work hard, are dedicated to their readers and add a unique voice to the fashion dialogue.
"Bloggers produce original content; they have a unique talent (Be it photographing, styling, writing) and its obvious" You ask yourself, why would you, for instance, hire any stylist when you can hire just as talented a stylist but one that also has many followers/readers?

But i noticed that blogs have made the transition from personal style diaries to profit-turning businesses, some readers have begun to feel that original and unbiased content, once the keystone of what made blogs so relevant, has taken a hit

At the beginning of the fashion blog uprising I loved the rawness of it all but as times goes on.. I saw a post where an editor advised bloggers not to be 'shady'
Responsible and active readers have always had to keep in mind who owns, sponsor, advertises any print or TV Media. Now, you should keep that in mind with many blogs as well.

Andrea Stark Ratner, a Fashionista commenter agrees, writing "Now, for many of the top bloggers, they are sent clothing, shoes, accessories, etc, flown and sent to events all over the world, with everything paid for, and then there is a blog post about the gift or event and a link to where the reader can purchase the item or get in on what is happening.. this practice takes the 'pureness' out of blogging.. the blogger is no longer doing it for 'pure' love of fashion, but is now a shill for a brand"

Of course the practice of receiving free swag isnt exactly a secret; Most bloggers disclose what products they were gifted in their posts, but not all of them do. Moreover, some bloggers feel pressure to wear or write about a certain product in order to maintain a good relationship with a brand, in hopes that either more free product-or a paid gig- will come their way as a result.
A popular blogger told Fashionista: 'Right now, all brands are doing the same thing: They are sending free product to blogger or to online fashion publications and having them feature the product. It's a sligtly vicious cycle of bribery'

So another question is : when is writing about a product, received for free, a form of paid endorsement-or even an advertisement-and when is it merely a review?

For some bloggers the answer is fuzzy. Some bloggers maintained that they preserves their blog's editorial intergrity because whatever some of them are wearing would have been purchased by them and not a free gift.

Other maintained that they dont work without getting paid. One anonymously said: I feel like asking me to write something or style something without paying me is like asking an accoutant to file your taxes without paying them, but however she still makes sure she only partners with lables that jive with her brand saying i.e she doesnt work with designers if she dont like their brand. 'I tell anyone who is sending me clothing that I may or may not post it. I definately dont want to lose my credibility in that capacity'

I believe editorial intergrity should be rigidly maintained. It should be a strong hold when going into a brand relationship.
Kelie Framel recently walked away from a sizeable offer from a brand because they wanted to dictate what the verbage was and how she presented their product. 'They were assuming that we could have the same relationship as they would have with an advertorial'

While Framel passed on the dealm other, less scrupulous bloggers may not. And, as it turns out, such deals, if left undisclosed, are in direct violation of Federal Trade Commision's guidelines which state: 'A post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement, thus, bloggers who make an endorsemenr must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service'

However, the commission seems fuzzy on the issue, saying 'decisions will be reached on a case-to-case basis, It should be noted that these are just guidelines and not rules and regulations, so there are no monetary penalties, or penalties of any kind, associated with them.

In other words, there is not necessarily any incentive for bloggers to disclose whether they are receiving free product, commision on a sale or even payment for featuring a product. Keep in mind that unlike in the print and traditional media world, many of these bloggers did not study journalism, or have work experience and they dont have any corporate guidelines to follow.

Put penalties and rule-breaking aside, how has the monetization of blogs affected the quality of their editorial content? 'If it's done prpoerly, it wont ever impact editiorial intergrity', said Robinovitz, who rep Framel as well as Sea of Shoes

You cant rush into things, you have to be very careful. I think everyone can tell when something is inauthentic

There was one thing everyone agreed on: Blogs, once hailed as the democractic voice of fashion, have become brands themselves, questions about their authenticity and originalty have rightfully been asked. How these questions will be answered is, for now, up to bloggers. What sort of guidelines do you think they should follow?

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