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FTC regulations mirror The Rapidian's emphasis on disclosure

The Rapidian's disclosure text field can be found below the "video" and "audio" text fields on the "create article" page.

The Rapidian's disclosure text field can be found below the "video" and "audio" text fields on the "create article" page.

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From The Rapidian staff

Each week, a Rapidian staffer will publish a piece related to goings-on at The Rapidian, developments in the world of citizen journalism and tips for making the most of the site. Click here for past editorials.

From Rapidian staff: In a blog entry by Whitney Hoffman, she frames blogging in a media-saturated world as a Mom & Pop operation.

In October 2009, the Federal Trade Commission put a law in place that just went into effect last month: Full disclosure for advertorial content or face fines. Any testimonials or endorsements produced on a benefits-per-entry basis must be clearly marked in the article.

Why is this a big deal for The Rapidian and other new media outlets? Because for the first time, a law aimed at commercial media also included the Mom & Pop blogosphere.

Although The Rapidian is not fashioned as a blog, it is a new media outlet—media born out of Internet technology—and potentially falls under this law as well.

Under new regulations, content creators must disclose their connection to their topic if:

  1. They were paid for their testimonial (this sort of advertorial content is not permitted on The Rapidian anyhow).
  2. The contributor received any sort of benefit (i.e.: free copy of a book for review, free admission to an event, discounts, etc.), even if it were unsolicited.
  3. At the time of review, contributors who benefit for their content cannot review a product that they have not tested. To protect consumers, contributions must be honest opinions, not marketing copy.

In situations where contributors benefit for their content, they also have an obligation to the company. The soliciting company is legally responsible for false and inaccurate claims made by a contributor.

The list above is not comprehensive, but there are many gray areas under the FTC's disclosure regulations.

As part of beta II, The Rapidian has provided a disclosure text field for contributors. The point of the FTC regulations is for authors to be upfront with their audience so they can discern an author's bias. Grand Rapidians generally have their hands in several different projects and volunteer opportunities, and it is in the same spirit that The Rapidian has provided the disclosure text field.

The Rapidian's terms of agreement prohibit submissions in which reporters have been paid for their testimonials. If the UICA pays a reporter in exchange for a positive review, it will not be published on The Rapidian. However, if the UICA offers free admission to reporters who will cover the most recent art opening, that does not fall under prohibited advertorial content on The Rapidian.

Regardless of whether reporters receive any benefit, it is generally good practice to disclose relationships and connections to the subjects you create content about to establish credibility with your audience.

Some prominent bloggers interpret the regulations as recognition of new media's influence. Discussions have been swirling about how the regulations raise and standardize the level of professionalism on the web, but there has also been contention among bloggers about how nitpicky the regulations will be. If a blogger gets a free, albeit ugly, t-shirt for attending an event, does it need to be disclosed even if that blogger wouldn't be caught dead wearing it? The rules have yet to take form in the blogosphere, but in spirit, it's above deck.

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