Here’s a pious blog post by Hamilton Nolan at Gawker, who should know better:
One basic characteristic of journalism is this: its content is not bought and paid for and directed by an advertiser. It might be vapid. It might be poorly written. It might be damn near worthless. But it’s not an advertisement.
It’s the job of journalists themselves to protect this standard, because advertisers won’t. Advertisers want to advertise. They don’t particularly care about ethical journalism; it’s not their job. So when an advertiser wants to destroy the fundamental (this is a corny and dramatic word, but accurate) sanctity of honest writing in exchange for money, it’s the writer’s job not to let them do it. Because if we do, the advertiser wins exposure, and the writer wins money, but the reader loses. And we work for the reader.
I agree that journalists work for the reader, but they don’t only work for the reader. They also work for themselves. They work for their editors. They work for their employers. They work for their peers. They work for their sources. They work for their subjects. They work for society and for humanity. They work to get laid and to get drunk and to get high and to get famous and to get swag.
There are many reasons to write.
Journalists have so many conflicting obligations (to themselves, to their readers, to their advertisers, to their editors and bosses and peers and to society) that a code of ethics is almost rendered meaningless.
When the advertiser wins exposure in a blog post, the reader is sometimes a loser and sometimes a winner. When would a reader be a winner? If such blog posts were not written because there would be an inadequate financial return to writing them except for the advertisers money.
Somebody has to pay for good writing. Much of it will not be published without somebody paying. I don’t really care if it is paid for by paid inserts into the article or by regular advertising or by charging to read the piece. No one method is morally superior to the others (as long as there’s full disclosure).