Sep 24, 2007

Anti-union ad prompts discussion of advertising polices for bloggers

Some small cracks have been revealed in Michigan’s strong progressive/liberal blogging community when the leading liberal blog, Michigan Liberal, ran an anti-union blog ad.

The ad takes you to an anti-union blog called “Labor Pains,” which is part of the larger anti-union group called “Union Facts.” The ad copy says, “It's no longer Unions vs. Management. Now it's Unions vs. Employees: Union "leaders" embezzle and waste dues dollars. Union "leaders" use members' money on their own political agenda. Union "leaders" are trying to suppress an employee's right to secret ballot elections. Read more...”

Aside from the operators of the Michigan Liberal getting some angry emails from readers and posters, Michael Huerta, a member of the United Auto Workers (UAW) from Perry who operates the blog FARLEFTFIELD, took the symbolic step of taking the link to Michigan Liberal off of his blogroll. He said with the attack on labor unions in Michigan with so-called right to work laws pending in the state Legislature and the UAW strike against General Motors running the ad is bad timing, at best.

“Obviously, reasonable minds can differ,” he said. “It just seems like you work so hard for something good, and you get stuff like that.”

Huerta said he has had contact with Eric Baerren at Michigan Liberal, who is acting as the blog’s quasi-managing editor, and although Huerta disagrees with the e reasoning for running the ad, he remains cordial and supportive of Michigan Liberal.

“I don’t want to get in a flap over this, and it’s hard to say anything bad about the site,” Huerta said. “Michigan Liberal is one of the best sources for organizing and finding out about events in the state.”

Baerren says he has gotten a few angry emails, but once he explained the ad policy people understood his position.

“Michigan Liberal is pro-labor; it has been pro-labor in the past, and it will be pro-labor in the future,” he said. “If the right to work proposal gets off the ground we will be fighting against it.”

Mainstream media outlets have dealt with the problem of running questionable ads and conflicts of interest by adopting a consistent policy and keeping the sales and editorial departments segregated and independent as possible. But with the new medium of blogs there come new problems, and accepting ads from political opponents is one of them. Most blogs are just platforms for people’s opinions, but because some of the more popular blogs have such high traffic counts, advertisers are turning to blogs to reach a younger, targeted audience. The problem can be especially acute when the blog is operated by just one person, or in the case of Michigan Liberal by a quasi-board of four people, as well as many contributing writers and diarists.

“It’s kind of a big tent when you are talking about progressives,” Baerren said. “Obviously, you are going to get a lot of differing opinions.”

Baerren said he has adopted the same basic policy for advertising used by Daily Kos and The Nation Magazine. The policy gives him the discretion to reject ads that are plainly false, obscene or libelous, or ads that come with an overt attempt to influence editorial content. The policy also says running an ad does not imply endorsement of the product or cause, but if an ad is rejected for content then it leads to the danger that an advertisement that does run has an implied endorsement.

“You don’t endorse advertising, but you can’t condemn advertising either,” Baerren said. “When you start vetting ads for content you can have problems.
“I think it’s a bad idea when you start to vet for content,” he said.

The ad comes from a type of syndicate called Blogads that bloggers with at least an average of 1,000 hits a day can subscribe to. An advertiser contracts with the company, and he can choose a blog based on the number of hits, the content of the blog and their target audience. Blogads sends the ad to the blog, and the operator can accept the ad, reject it or do nothing and in three days it runs automatically, all for a small fee. Baerren said there was plenty of internal debate before deciding to do nothing and allowing it to run. That gave him time to post an explanation on the reason for running the ad.

“I wanted the blog post to run before the ad ran,” he said. “Most of the comments we got from the post were that they understood once they understood why we did it.”

Michigan Liberal was started in March of 2005 by Matt Ferguson, a former radio reporter, a former Democratic candidate for the U.S. House from the 8th Congressional District and a political consultant. It quickly became the leading liberal blog, but Ferguson stepped away from daily operations and posting on the blog when he took a job with The State of Michigan following the November elections.

In addition to Baerren, the blog is now operated by co-owners Laura Packard and Jon Koller and outreach coordinator Julielyn Gibbons. Both Packard and Gibbons have worked very hard to establish a cohesive liberal “blogosphere” by organizing various meet-and-greets with bloggers and elected Democratic officials, introducing other bloggers to each other, encouraging bloggers to carry each other’s links, organizing a blogger picnic this past summer, organizing a bloggers caucus at the Michigan Democratic Party convention last winter and they put together a guide to blogging they make available to new liberal and progressive bloggers.

(For full disclosure, Kevin Shopshire is a former diarist on Michigan Liberal under the screen name kjbas58.)

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