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Transparency in Blogging

The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has announced new policies requiring full disclosure of sponsorships related to blog articles and reviews. Beginning in December, bloggers who are paid to mention, review or otherwise promote a product must make that completely clear to readers. Failure to do so can lead to fines of up to $11,000. (See this Washington Post article for more information on the new FTC rules.)

 

I believe that this is an excellent step in the right direction and a bit overdue. Bloggers and informational websites in general can offer a great service and important perspective to consumers. There are simply too many products, services and venues for traditional media to cover. That is true now more than ever before. However, this value quickly evaporates and consumers can be negatively impacted if the information they read is biased due to hidden financial considerations.

Typical consumers don’t have the ability, or time, to try to validate every source they consult. Nor should they have to. Trust and credibility are great, but they must be earned. And the credibility of many can be undermined by the bad behavior of a few.

No regulation is perfect and not everyone complies with every law. Despite similar regulations for traditional media, bias and inappropriate compensation remain common in print media, on television and the radio, and in other forums as well. Nonetheless, I celebrate these new rules with regard to blogging.

Given their recent announcement, it is a good time to reiterate the practices and policies of NorCal Wine and our website, www.NorCalWine.com, on sponsorships, other compensation, and disclosure. Fortunately, I can start off by saying that we have always been transparent in this regard. We will not need to change our policies at all in order to comply with the new FTC regulations.

At the moment, NorCal Wine does not accept direct paid advertisement from any entity. That will change in the future. However, we will never accept direct ads from wineries. (I specify direct here, because there are some Google Ads placed on our site. Google administers this and we have little or no control over what ads appear. Frankly, we don’t pay any attention to which ads appear either.)

When it comes to wine and product reviews, the majority of our commentary comes from normal tasting events and tasting room experiences or from things that we have purchased. If we are given a product, free of charge, to review, we state that within the review. We never accept payment in exchange for a “review.”

That said, we can be considered “industry insiders” in that our tasting room and event entrance fees are sometimes waived as they are for other members of the press, wine shops and wineries. We also attend media-only events, an occasional lunch or dinner with winemakers, and have sometimes slept in the back bedroom of a winemaker during tasting trips that take us into motel-less areas.

However, we also pay for a lot of event and dinner admissions, buy lunches and dinners for winery folk with our own money, sometimes accommodate a stranded winemaker in our home, etc. In this respect, our outflow is actually exponentially greater than our income. We don’t keep track of which tasting rooms “comp” and which do not. I think that’s the easiest way to avoid bias. Simply forget who does what.

The NorCal Wine cellar contains well over 6,000 bottles, all of which we purchased personally, and we continue to buy wine. We could review a wine from the cellar every day for 15 years and not run out of bottles. That being the case, getting a free bottle to review may give us the opportunity to taste something that we wouldn’t ordinarily buy or sample. However, we really don’t need more wine in the cellar, don’t aggressively seek samples and make no guarantees that we’ll write anything at all about wine we receive.

When we do receive samples, whether they be wine, gadgets or books, we make our best effort to try them. If we feel positively about the experience, we may write about them, noting that the sample was provided free.

If we don’t like something, we tend to not write about it, whether or not the sample was free. It is our belief that most of our readers want to know what they should buy, not a list of what not to buy. If we do write negatively, it is because the particular product is indicative of a larger trend or problem of which we think people should be aware.

In sum, as we state on our website, we write what we think. Should you ever have any questions about our policies, reviews or anything else, do not hesitate to send an email to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2009 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

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