My Blogger Ethics 'N Stuff

Over the past month, I started consulting with three clients.  I'm helping Working Assets with their blogging strategy, I'm consulting with the Sunlight Foundation on a project to be announced soon, and I'm working with Free Press on the Save the Internet coalition.  I'm also the President of Blogpac, though I don't draw a salary from that organization (for you intrepid types, you can check the FEC reports, as one reporter did, and find out that I got a $2000 reimbursement from Blogpac which looks like a payment but is not).  

I've thought a lot about the ethics involved, and I guess what I have to say is that I'll try to be upfront about everything I'm doing.  My writing is obviously going to be affected by the work I do, though part of the value of my blogging is that I write from the perspective of someone who's involved in politics.  I also only pick clients who I believe are working on structural problems facing the political system, and whose beliefs are in accord with my own.  I don't make a lot of money from these clients, and when you do donate money to MyDD I consider you a client and work extra hard to deliver valuable insight.  You paid me for Connecticut coverage, and helped to create a space to write what I think was really good stuff.

Also, as a self-employed freelancer, John Edwards' health care plan may raise my taxes and will probably make me pay more in premiums since I don't have an official employer.  So I don't like it.

Feel free to discuss how unethical I am in the comments.

(I'm just kidding about John Edwards, although my bias for a health care plan tends towards 'I don't want choices, just tax me and take care of health care.')

UPDATE: Jeff Feldman asked a good question. SEIU paid for my recent travel to Iowa and New Hampshire, and the North Carolina Democratic Party paid for me to travel to North Carolina. When you give money to cover expenses for a trip, you are paying for travel expenses. So now there's even more of a reason to find me full of conflicts of interest.

Tags: Matt Stoller (all tags)

Comments

28 Comments

health care

"'I don't want choices, just tax me and take care of health care.'"

I agree. This is where the devil is in the details of Edwards's plan. If the public option in the health markets (which I assume would be your choice) only costs say, $50-$100 a month for an individual making $30,000 a year I think that would be pretty close to what we'd expect from a pure single-payer system. If it goes much higher than that, then I would be much less supportive of this plan. I don't want a car insurance plan.

by adamterando 2007-02-05 11:35AM | 0 recs
Re: health care

And by individual, I mean single person with no dependents.

by adamterando 2007-02-05 11:36AM | 0 recs
I totally agree...

the cult of "BUT YOU GET TO CHOOSE YOUR PLAN" drives me batty...

it seems like every year my employer changes health plans and I have to go over reams and reams of dead trees comparing and contrasting the minutest of differences in the medical equivalent of legalese.

ENOUGH!

I just want one system that works well, and I will pay extra for it.

Single payer.
seriously.

-C.

by neutron 2007-02-05 11:36AM | 0 recs
Re: I totally agree...

Right, but this is a little jujitso on Edwards's part because it says "Hey you republicans say we need choice? Well here's choice. Private or Public. Let the people decide." The public option will always be there, but the private option very much could die an ignominous death.

by adamterando 2007-02-05 11:38AM | 0 recs
Re: I totally agree...

Of course the GOP is going to crucify him for the Tax increase... the question is whether most Americans prefer lower taxs or healthcare.

by yitbos96bb 2007-02-05 11:43AM | 0 recs
I get no choice either

whatever my employer says.

but we live with the political reality that insurance companies - the paper pushers - will lose a bundle if we ever move to a plan like this

by TarHeel 2007-02-05 11:42AM | 0 recs
Re: I get no choice either

There won't be as many jobs lost as everybody worries, and health insurance companies will remain. Medicare claims processing is outsourced, and health insurance companies bid on regional blocks of claims processing work.

by joyful alternative 2007-02-05 12:23PM | 0 recs
A few questions

Does MyDD pay travel expenses for front page bloggers?  If so, how does it break down (e.g., does MyDD pay for air, meals, and lodging or just tickets a per diem etc.)?

Does MyDD accept travel expenses from outside sources (e.g., candidates, interest groups, etc.)?  If so, how does this work?  Does the organization pay MyDD and then MyDD pays the blogger, or are you all free-agents who get paid directly.

When we make a donation in response to a call for a donation, does it go to MyDD and then MyDD pays out to the person who needs it or does it go directly to the person who needs it?  Or is it case by case?

I've been curious about this stuff for while, so I thought this would be a good place to ask.

Thanks for the post...

by Jeffrey Feldman 2007-02-05 11:44AM | 0 recs
Re: A few questions

Thanks!

by Jeffrey Feldman 2007-02-05 11:49AM | 0 recs
Re: A few questions

For travel and for contributions it depends on the paypal account that is linked too.

by Jerome Armstrong 2007-02-05 03:20PM | 0 recs
My Blogger Ethics 'N Stuff

Just as long as you can get me the 12 free pints of Ben and Jerry's ice cream that Working Assets owes me, I'm OK.

Seriously, disclosure is always the best policy. Some of the Beltway pundits will no doubt convene a blogger ethics panel, and the freepers will be SHOCKED, but all your friends hope you will make a decent living with full benefits and a 401K.

by Aeolus 2007-02-05 11:45AM | 0 recs
Re: My Blogger Ethics 'N Stuff

Matt,

I didn't think you had time to do much more than ban black people and engage in "online apartheid" these days.  Nice to see you're able to multitask. ;-)

by Vox Populi 2007-02-05 11:48AM | 0 recs
Re: My Blogger Ethics 'N Stuff

I think that there should be a Danny Glover Memorial Award issued annually (or maybe monthly...) for the best example of blogger ethics asininity or obsessive-compulsive disorder.  The award could look like the Golden Globes, only holding a bottle of Ex-Lax or a plunger instead of a globe.

by Bruce Godfrey 2007-02-05 12:05PM | 0 recs
Re: My Blogger Ethics 'N Stuff

hahaha, the Danny Boy Plunger of the month.

by Jerome Armstrong 2007-02-05 03:10PM | 0 recs
Re: My Blogger Ethics 'N Stuff

matt - keep it open with full disclosure, including who pays expenses (like travel, as jeff asked)... try to be aware and open about your biases... and all will be well.

btw, congrats on getting the consulting gigs - you deserve it and i'm glad to see you getting paid for your expertise.

by selise 2007-02-05 12:24PM | 0 recs
Re: My Blogger Ethics 'N Stuff

If you have anything wrong with you at all under the current system you don't get to choose anything. You either get told you can have this or that nonsense plan or you can't get insurance at all.

by orin76 2007-02-05 12:25PM | 0 recs
Re: My Blogger Ethics 'N Stuff

Welcome to the freelance world. There are 10 or 20 million of us, and all the proposed employer-based health insurance fixes over the years would have been worse for us than no change.

If they're going to patch the system, let us deduct health insurance premiums as an expense from gross profits, the way corporations can, rather than making us calculate a chunk of credit here and a chunk there.

As a freelancer, consider carefully where you live. In some states, individual health insurance is impossible to buy (or costs more than your gross income) if you have any minor preexisting condition or a suspicious family history.

In short, universal single-payer health insurance or forget about it.

by joyful alternative 2007-02-05 12:35PM | 0 recs
Re: My Blogger Ethics 'N Stuff

Already asked Chris Bowers, but I will ask you too- I will be emailing you Matt to request an opportunity to to ask you a series of questions that I am doing regarding my research on a law journal article about bloggers and politics. This seems like as good a place as any to mention that to you.

by bruh21 2007-02-05 01:48PM | 0 recs
Re: My Blogger Ethics 'N Stuff

Feel free to discuss how unethical I am in the comments.

Thanks, I will tuck that away for a rainy day (not one of these hell freezes like today).

by Jerome Armstrong 2007-02-05 03:05PM | 0 recs
Re: My Blogger Ethics 'N Stuff

In general, we're have to keep the shades down to pay the bills to keep the joint open... and you just keep on enjoying the freebies.

by Jerome Armstrong 2007-02-05 03:08PM | 0 recs
Re: My Blogger Ethics 'N Stuff

ah, I just forgot to disclose that since I didn't see the travel as valuable, I saw it as fun but also quite irritating.

by Matt Stoller 2007-02-05 03:40PM | 0 recs
Re: My Blogger Ethics 'N Stuff
I don't see too much damage from one slipping out the door in the early days of MYDD (that would be right now), but from here on out you better tighten it up. Makes me think that if the netroots get too much attention too fast we'll wind up losing alot of good people to avoidable mistakes.
It's time to write up the policies you need to protect yourselves and everything associated with you from the kind of shit that is being hurled at Marcotte right now.
Then you might want to vet it with a (dare I suggest) political consultant with experience keeping political people out of trouble. Then cross-check your policies with the ethical guidelines for professional journalists. Some J-school training might do you guys some good.
Remember, full disclosure is always a good first line of defense (sunshine policies as they're called in the journalism world because they let the light in).
by johnalive 2007-02-05 03:53PM | 0 recs
Re: My Blogger Ethics 'N Stuff

I don't see too much damage from one slipping out the door in the early days of MYDD (that would be right now), but from here on out you better tighten it up.

Um, how exactly did one slip out the door?

by Matt Stoller 2007-02-05 04:08PM | 0 recs
Re: My Blogger Ethics 'N Stuff

No one gets out alive.

by Jerome Armstrong 2007-02-06 06:56AM | 0 recs
Re: My Blogger Ethics 'N Stuff
thanks for being honest.  If we know you are working for someone we feel more apt to trust you.  It's when we are not told and find out later that someone is blogging for someone or a candidate that we feel we've been unfairly influenced.
Being honest let's us decide and we know ahead of time.
thanks
by vwcat 2007-02-05 04:31PM | 0 recs
Re: My Blogger Ethics 'N Stuff
Publishing interviews with Stern while SEIU was paying your travel expenses without disclosure.
 It's the old "appearance of impropriety" thing--meaning that ordinary people, without knowledge of the facts, might conclude that something improper or unethical had gone on.
by johnalive 2007-02-05 05:07PM | 0 recs
Re: My Blogger Ethics 'N Stuff
Here's a policy from the NYTimes handbook on ethical journalism that applies to the situation we're talking about here:
29. Staff members may not accept free or discounted transportation and lodging except where special circumstances give us little or no choice. Among them are certain military or scientific expeditions and other trips for which alternative arrangements would be impractical -- for example, a flight aboard a corporate jet during which an executive is interviewed.

In your situation with SEIU, there was no practical alternative to do the reporting and interviews that you did because of lack of money, primarily. You could also argue that by travelling extensively with Stern you were functioning analogous to what embedded reporters do with the military. Your readers got more and better information because of what you did, and therefore it demonstrated good judgement on your part (can you tell I'm on your side here).
And besides, that kind of thing would never happen again because MYDD has clear policies now that govern such situations that didn't exist before.
by johnalive 2007-02-05 05:35PM | 0 recs
Re: My Blogger Ethics 'N Stuff

I met with some people recently and Matt Stoller came up as an issue in regards to disclosing who he works for. There was some concern that he may not be fully disclosing his ties to candidates and may be acting as a ghost writer for some people in particular. The big question was how he supports himself and there were some strong opinions regarding ethics. It felt like people were taking potshots at him and I didn't want a part of it.

I don't know if there is or should be such a thing as blogger ethics, especially contraposed to the idea of media ethics (which is a sham). I understand the potential harms of someone influencing the opinions of others based on positions they are paid to advocate without disclosing those ties.

But when did it become okay to trust the Internet?     To put your faith behind what someone says just because they put together a list of the people who paid them money is as silly as having bloggers register as lobbists. There are public relations firms today who have full time bloggers on staff participating in discussions solely to control public opinion of their clients. They don't have to tell you who pays for their lattes. There are elected officials who have staff update their wikipedia entries all the time. They don't have to tell you they are staff. There are government propoganda newsreels in the evening news all the time talking about how great the war is going. The local news does not have to tell you where they got their filler. No one really knows where their news / comment / polemic is coming from and there is no justifiable reason to single out prominent bloggers.

People need to question what they read, hear and see. They need to be less willing to accept something as truth no matter who is saying it. A list does not make someone's opinon correct, unbiased or trustworthy, these are characteristics that mostly come from the reader. I have heard it said that there is so much news to digest no one can pay attention to it all. Maybe we need to just back off for a minute and think instead of digesting.

All power to Matt Stoller for being transparent about where his money comes from and glad to see the Heritage Foundation isn't on the list. But this doesn't really solve anything and the idea of disclosure could actually be creating new problems in terms of credibility. People need less reasons to automatically accept what someone else is saying and more avenues to question what was said.

M

by techsoldaten 2007-02-06 11:27AM | 0 recs

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