Here’s more of what I’m thinking about the blogging-for-dollars brouhaha:
If we don’t start from the presupposition that bloggers represent some idyllic zone of innocence — and I recognize that some of us do think of Blogaria as that kind of nexus, but I don’t have the brainpower to argue that case just now, so I’m bracketing that consideration — the pivotal question relative to Marqui seems to me to be, Are the paid-bloggers ethically compromised simply via having accepted money for a Marqui ad on their page, and a weekly mention of the fact that Marqui is sponsoring them? And it’s hard for me to see how Marqui constitutes a different kind of moral challenge than BlogAds, Blogspot ads (where’d they go?), GoogleAds, or even (now that we mention it) Amazon Associates.
Moreover, when Chris Locke landed a gig actively promoting an online service — and God bless them and him — were we worried that HighBeam would corrupt his blogging integrity?
The argument that intrigues me most is the suggestion that the subsidy creates a questionable “temptation to transgress” — that’s a beautiful point, and I’m attracted to it for heavy theological reasons. Still, what kind of commercial relationship doesn’t entail such a temptation? What relationship of trust doesn’t involve a potential temptation? And what online relationship doesn’t entail potentially corruptive elements? Am I working on this topic, perhaps, thinking that I can win some hot links out of the discussion, or out of the hope that Marc Canter will recommend my twenty readers as a sound investment for Marqui’s next round of subsidies?
And that gets back to what looks like the paramount consideration, the Aristotelian “ultimate particular,” to me. If that which the payment endangers is trust, then isn’t there a sense in which “trust” is precisely the variable in play regardless of the payments? If David Weinberger accepted a Marqui ad, would I trust him less? By no means (as the Apostle says)! My trust in David means that I wouldn’t expect him to be swayed by financial interests. Indeed, among the bloggers whom I trust most confidently number both prominent refusers (David, Shelley), Doc (who doesn’t seem to have taken an aye-or-nay stand), three subsidized bloggers (Mitch, Allen, and Jon), and one chief blogging officer (Chris). Of these, I can give fairly thorough and (I hope) persuasive accounts of why I trust some, and more intuitive, thinner accounts of why I trust others. And as for Chris, well, there’s no reasonable explanation, but I trust him anyway. Mostly. On the other hand, I can think of bloggers whose word I wouldn’t trust even if they could show absolutely no connection to Marqui or other source of subsidies; they haven’t shown the kind of reliability that would warrant my trusting them, subsidy or none.
Trust is vital and fragile, and one is foolish to treat it roughly; but I don’t think accepting a financial subsidy constitutes an ipso facto rough treatment. Trust proves itself through reasoned risk, and everything I’ve seen suggests that Mitch and Allen and Jon aren’t just snapping up quick and easy money, but have careful reasons for their willingness to participate in this experiment. They may be wrong, or self-deceived — but this is how we find out.