Quick! Organize a Blogger Ethics Panel!

For those of you who are not aware of all internet traditions, the ‘blogger ethics panel’ dates from internet days of yore, when print journalists routinely shat their pants because some bloggers have a stated point of view. This, apparently, is far worse than being in the tank for, let’s say, the Iraq War while proclaiming complete objectivity. Anyway, let’s look forward, not back…

We read with interest this tidbit about a New York Times blogger (AAAIIIEEEE!!!; boldface mine):

A blogger for The New York Times has been requesting thousands of dollars in “expenses” and travel airfare from a public relations firm trying to get its clients covered in the Times, according to emails obtained by Gawker.

“This is a minimum investment and shows the company has some skin in game,” wrote the blogger, Cliff Oxford, in an email last week to a PR executive representing tech companies. “My daily rate is 10 grand per day so I am putting my time on line.”

Oxford, a former VP at UPS who sold his technology outsourcing company in 2003, once tried to run for senator in Georgia and currently manages an education company called Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. He also writes for “You’re the Boss,” a group blog on the web site of Times‘ business section that dispenses advice on how to grow companies. The Oxford Center’s homepage prominently links to Oxford’s Times posts at the top of the page.

When a PR executive representing tech companies reached out to Oxford in January to try to get his clients covered in “You’re the Boss,” Oxford responded by asking for the tech company to cover his travel costs. As the two continued discussing coverage, Oxford’s demand increased to $1,188 per company for travel expenses, including flight, hotel, food, parking, and car.

Oxford sounds really sketchy. His ‘Center’ sounds like a way for companies to funnel him money for coverage:

When we read Oxford back the line from his own email stating: “I am not representing NYT this time. If I see a worthy story, I will engage in that capacity,” he said that was also related to his full-time business. “I write stories for the Oxford Center all the time. I make it clear that it is not for the New York Times.” However, the Oxford Center’s “Don’t Miss” ticker is only filled with his posts from the Times. There is also a prominent “NY Times Blog” link at the top left of the homepage.

…it seems unlikely that they would be willing to shell out thousands of dollars if the money wasn’t going to a possible piece in the New York Times—and certainly not to become member 451 of an organization few have ever heard of.

Ironically, this is exactly the kind of hidden conflict of interest that Very Serious Journalists were afraid pseudonymous bloggers with no institutional ties would have. Awesome.

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