Can ‘paid for’ mentions ever be objective?

Interesting salvo of activity in the last couple of days. I got an email from Mark Hodson who knows a thing or two about travel SEO (there Mark you owe me a link) as well as being a respected travel writer. Along with another of the Sunday Times regular travel writers David Wickers, he set up 101holidays earlier this year.

It's a simple, clean site that aims to offer an easy to navigate list of carefully selected tour operators for people in the 'inspiration phase' of looking for a holiday. It's one of a new breed of websites that's evolving from the chaotic stew of on-line travel content sites that travel writers are creating or contributing to in the hope of somehow earning an income from their trade now that print is more or less dead. I reviewed 101holidays in an earlier post.

And it must be relatively successful as they've now launched companion site 101shortbreaks. (Bets on what will come next? Chaps I sincerely hope you have bought the domain names for... 101cruiseholidays, 101skiholidays etc.) Mark I think(?) would be the first to admit that the site makes money by charging the 101 operators an annual fee to be featured on the site. As I understand it this is the main way that Alastair Sawday makes his money - all the hotels featured in his guidebooks/website pay to be included. (If I'm wrong here, I'd be delighted to be corrected.)

At the same time, Matthew Teller posted on his blog about a way he is experimenting with to try and earn income as a travel writer. He suggested to two editors of online travel sections of newspapers that as they didn't have budget to pay him, he would ask the tourist board of the country he was travelling to if they would pay him instead. Both editors refused the idea, suggesting that it would undermine their credibility. I commented on Matthew's blog that I'd just do the deal with the tourist board and not tell the editor concerned. I fail to see the difference between the tourist board paying for a travel writer to stay in hotels, dine in restaurants (it often comes out of their marketing budget rather than the establishment absorbing the cost) and paying the writer some additional 'expenses' for his time. The editor remains totally free to edit and revise any copy submitted.

Interestingly the Federal Trade Commission in the USA has recently ruled that "bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service." (eg: you get a free night in a hotel, you need to make this clear if you then review it.) This has caused all sorts of debate in the blogosphere - both for and against. Does this suggest a future where every travel feature on-line requires a disclaimer at the end of it?

So - does the fact that content has been paid for by the company
featured mean that the integrity and credibility of that content is
compromised or not? 

And... are we so far down the line... with so much of travel sections these days being written off the back of press trips which are organised specifically to push a particular product from a particular company - that it really makes no difference anyway?

Related Posts