I’ve been offered money to write an article exactly 3 times in my 15 years as a fashion journalist. Let me rephrase that. In my years as a journalist, a total of 3 designers/brands have offered to pay me hefty money for writing and publishing an article about them. The compensation has varied from 60K to 1.2 million. As difficult as it was to say no (since I was making peanuts as a freelance journalist) I refused all three times. The ethics of journalism were very clear; accepting money and writing ‘paid content’ was equivalent to taking a bribe; it was professional suicide.
Unfortunately blogging trends in Pakistan have blurred the lines very effectively. It’s become acceptable to get paid for posting content, and both bloggers and brands are responsible for this landslide of ethics. Brands (most of them designers) are more than happy to pay up to 15,000 (the rate is much higher for lawn) for a review (one post), which needless to say is promotional if not necessarily and blatantly favourable. For brands it is easy advertising, as bloggers are prolific, tech savvy and the good ones have hundreds of thousands of followers. But what does that say about the blogs?
As far as I have read and learnt, the ethics of blogging are very similar to the ethics of journalism however, journalists are regulated by editorial boards whereas bloggers have no checks or balances, especially in Pakistan. The problem arises when they don’t have the better sense of judgement.
I’m only discussing fashion and lifestyle blogs here. Imagine the gravity of the situation if medical blogs, for example, started charging for promoting any (credible or shady) pharmaceutical company that was willing to pay. Generating awareness of new and misleading drugs could prove fatal for the blog’s followers because blogs, like published articles, are ideally meant to inform, entertain and educate the reader. Comparing a medical blog to a fashion blog is of course comparing apples to oranges but the principle stays the same.
I understand the importance of blogs and e-magazines in this day and age; most of the educated population is on the Internet all day and reads almost everything online. The kind of eyeballs blogs get, almost instantly, is an information revolution. It’s fantastic, which is why I decided to maintain a blog several years ago. I have neither the massive following nor the discipline that most dedicated bloggers have (as I have a full time job at a newspaper) but I’m very pleased that I have a decent number of subscribers and readers all over the world. Most importantly, with journalist training in my veins, I am proud to say I have never charged for publishing content. Even if I start accepting advertisements on my page tomorrow (which is clearly allowed), there will never be room for paid content.
I would urge both bloggers and brands in Pakistan to reconsider their practices. A blogger instantly loses credibility when paid content is posted, instagrammed and tweeted. Even if the post states ‘Sponsored’ on the blog (it usually doesn’t), there is no clarification on Twitter or Instagram. It misleads the reader into thinking that the post is worthy of his time and effort even if it may not be. Similarly, brands looking for short cuts to promotion should control their whims for instant visibility and do things the right way. Paid content will never make them credible.