Blogging, Transparency, and Skamania Lodge

You boot up your friendly, neighborhood beer blog to read a review of the newest Widmer product. The blogger raves about it. Question: would you trust the blogger's opinion if you knew Widmer had given the blogger the beer?

The Federal Trade Commission believes you would not, and therefore is preparing to make bloggers confess if they've received free swag:
Beginning Dec. 1, bloggers, Twitterers and many others who write online product reviews must disclose the receipt of free merchandise or payment for the items they write about.

The guidelines, an update of the F.T.C.’s 1980 guide concerning the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising, will affect many in the beauty and fashion blogging community, where freebies ($40 eye-shadow palates, $250 clutch purses and, yes, $69 jeans) are rampant. The rules reflect the commission’s concern about how advertisers are using bloggers and social networking sites to pitch their products.
I am of two minds about this. On the one hand, I think transparency is a good thing, and I don't really see any harm in this regulation. On the other hand, it ghettoizes blogs--who must make this disclosure--but leaves the mainstream press alone. So, if the brothers offer me a bottle of their new cherry doppel and I blog about it, I have to disclose the freebie. If Willamette Week publishes the same article, I don't have to. That seems a bit ... off.

To complicate matters, not all products are created equally. While I might feel more beholden to a company if they gave me a $26 bottle of beer, it hardly seems worth it to sell my credibility for a lousy $1.50 bottle.

And that brings me to a subject where I think absolute transparency is required--junkets. A few months back, the Astoria Chamber of Commerce paid for a bunch of beer writers to go to their fair city and sample beer and stay in a hotel for free. If I didn't disclose that fact, I would expect you never to trust me again. The reader has some responsibility to make judgments--but that depends on having all the facts.

All of this is a good segue into a junket I'll be attending this weekend--to Skamania Lodge for their "Celebration of Beer" weekend. The Lodge is putting me up for free, and even letting me bring Sally. They're feeding me and giving me free beer. I don't actually have a huge amount of information about the event, but I suspect they are looking for a little press, particularly during this dismal economy. When I write about it--and I will write about it, lots!--you need to understand that my opinions of the place is colored by the fact that I'm enjoying it for free. (My opinion on the beer will be less suspect: after all, there's no quid pro quo there; it's Skamania Lodge who's footing the bill.)

I think it's a great opportunity to explore the whole question further--and as I write about this, I would love your feedback. All bloggers have is their credibility, so freebies are an issue with which to contend. The FTC aside, I will try to be transparent when I receive freebies, and you all should feel invited to charge me with corruption if see evidence that I'm too easily bought off. Seem fair?