Blawgconomics' Citizens United Moment?

I have long advocated for (and often shamelessly solicited) guest posts for the site. Guest posters do a few things; bring new voices to ongoing debates, lend expertise on specialty topics that I can't claim to have, and, of course, take some of the burden off of me to produce content. I have had varying levels of success with posting guest content (there are sometimes minor technical issues), but overall, publishing them has been a great pleasure. Indeed, some guest posts are among our most highly viewed, and several made the 'Best of' list which wrapped up 2011 on the site.

However, most of those posts were written by friends of the site who had no agenda save information sharing and perhaps persuasion. That said, I have recently accepted a few guest posts which have had another agenda at their core. These are from writers affiliated with websites and firms which basically trade content for subtle advertising as part of any number of marketing/branding/revenue strategies. Whether it is a link to their firm's page or a mention of a website they use to generate advertising revenue, there is something commercial about what they (and I suppose I) are doing.

This of course isn't inherently wrong. Indeed, I am a big proponent of e-commerce (especially those delightful Nigerian prince banking emails) in almost all of its forms. However, my approach with the site has typically been to separate my rhetoric regarding e-commerce from the reality of the site itself in the name of independence. For example, I think websites gaining advertising revenue, or businesses gaining prospective customers, both from the web, are positive developments for the way our society does business. And I have written as much. However, I have personally avoided  such advertising or accepting payments of any kind to ensure personal comfort with the idea that I am free of influence or bias (at least in terms of profits; as far as the issues, I am as biased as anyone else I suppose, though at least I am consistent...). Oh, that our other news sources might be so independent...

Now, I don't have to avoid profit opportunities. I could fill the page of this blog with more logos than a NASCAR driver's jacket if I wanted to. However, while I am not a political body, I do feel (or at least intend) that one of the roles of this site and others like it is to broaden the political, economic and legal discourse of the nation and beyond. I have taken this independence and this role as a personal source of pride since the very beginning of the blog. With that in mind, I feel at least some responsibility to retain this independence.

Those who follow such things will note that this position is at least a few steps more conservative (please note the small 'c') than any political candidate, political action committee, or party has to be (this is where the reference to CU in the title of the post comes from). Not that I am against business funding political activity. I think there is a place for that. I am just not sure that it is on this blog, as I am personally aware that I might pull punches, if, for example, a funder would be offended. At some level there is a bit of human nature involved; I am smart enough to know that I wouldn't be able to handle such conflicts with a very clear conscience.

While I am on the one hand flattered that people view getting content on the site as worthy enough an endeavor to spend time and/or money on, I have also wondered what this might do to my sense of independence and my perceived responsibility discussed above. While I am not receiving monetary payment for the content, it is nonetheless a quid pro quo arrangement. I suppose the content is the currency in the transaction. Nonetheless I have become comfortable with the idea of hosting such content. I typically do a brief check of the website to ensure it isn't just a front for selling black market ED medications or the like, and retain editorial discretion. I keep the comments section open, and I ensure that readers know the post was not written by me.

In short, I can assure readers that I haven't become a corporate shill and they will always know where the content they are reading is coming from. I am doing everything I can to bring the most content possible to readers without having lost any sense of independence. And it has brought new voices, whose owners are hopefully getting wildly wealthy from being posted here, to the site as well. A win-win all around I should think...

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