Personal Blogs and Interest Conflicts

    February 1, 2006

What limits, if any, should be placed on journalist who blogs on their own personal sites?

That’s the question The Washington Times is pondering this morning.

According to Edward Wasserman, professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., journalists who blog on their own personal blogs are “asking for trouble not to anticipate the future they’re going to run into.” He’s concerned that employees’ personal blogs could create conflicts of interest that come back to bite them later. The example he cites is a reporter who covers real estate writes in a blog about his personal feelings on the Iraq war. There’s no conflict here, right? Ok so what if one of the reporter’s sources reads the blog, is offended, and so no longer comments for real estate stories because of the blog entries? Then there’s an issue.

The same could be said for the 300 plus PR professionals who blog. I have both praised and criticized companies here in the past. I think it’s part of what makes my blog compelling. I call it as I see it. That may be well and good but what if one day these same companies comes calling on my employer for PR support and they discover these criticisms? The questions posed by the Washington Times story not only relate to journalists but to anyone who maintains a weblog. The answers are murky. Maintaining an interesting blog and tip-toeing future potential conflicts of interest may lie at opposite sides of the spectrum.

Steve Rubel is a PR strategist with nearly 16 years of public relations, marketing, journalism and communications experience. He currently serves as a Senior Vice President with Edelman, the largest independent global PR firm.

He authors the Micro Persuasion weblog, which tracks how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the public relations practice.