Saturday, February 27, 2010

Federal Trade Commission Disclosure

Astute followers of Just The Write Touch, I.N.F.O., Academiatrics [added May 2011], and Formed & Fired: Creations in Clay may have caught two new items recently added to the side rail of each blog.

One is a copyright notice, and shame on me for not having posted one before now.

The other is a notice of disclosure regarding product endorsement, posted in response to the FTC’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, approved last October and published December 1, 2009.

Big Brother, in this case the Federal Trade Commission, wants us all to know when endorsements are really paid advertisements.  So they have developed 81 pages of guidelines—including the reasons for the guidelines and examples for their use—for various media to follow when writing about products and services. For those of us who can’t read, they also provide video answers to the most-asked questions, such as “How do bloggers follow the endorsement guides?”

Their main concern, of course, is that consumers be aware of “'material connections' (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers" which might affect the endorsement. 
The debater in me can argue both sides of relationship with Big Brother and of the evolution of caveat emptor.

The journalist in me understands that electronic media has increased the dissemination of information exponentially without a corresponding increase in the controls over the transparency of that information.  "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one," wrote A. J. Liebling, writer for The New Yorker from 1935-1963. Thanks to the Internet, a whole lot of people own their own press. Thanks to the FTC's updated guidelines, the electronic press will be subject to the same kinds of liability and other issues regarding product endorsement and testimonials.

And, while Just The Write Touch is mostly a personal journal for the world to read, I.N.F.O. is less personal and more of a news outlet and Formed & Fired:Creations in Clay -- ostensibly my husband's blog but written in large part by me (and, yes, that disclosure is up front on the blog) -- has definite commercial possibilities. [Added March 11, 2010: I launched my latest blog, Insiders' Guide to the Greater Tampa Bay Area, for two reasons. First, the blog is a way to promote my book by the same name, published by Globe Pequot Press, and released on March 16, 2010. Second, the blog is a way for me to gather information to have on hand when it's time to revise the book in a couple of years. See below for more information about self-promotion.]

While it seems highly unlikely that either of us would ever be paid big or not-so-big bucks to endorse a product, I have learned to never say never.

It should be noted also that not all non-electronic media outlets have the same policies governing endorsements, etc. Most of the larger newspapers pay for tickets to events, pay for meals, and buy products for their reporters to test and review. (Sporting events sometimes have different guidelines.)

However, for a time I wrote community theater reviews for a respected weekly newspaper whose budget wasn't large enough to cover those costs. Their reasoning was that they printed a lot of publicity releases for free for the community theaters, and the community theater groups should allow me free access in order to write a review -- with the understanding that I was free to write whatever kind of a review I chose. As it happened, because of deadlines it often worked best for me to attend the dress rehearsal and base my review on that -- which also avoided the appearance of conflict.

Clear as mud, right? As of today, however, here is our full product endorsement disclosure:

Federal Trade Commission Disclosure: Products and/or services mentioned in Just the Write Touch, I.N.F.O., and/or Formed & Fired: Creations in Clay or linked through it to outside Web pages are not paid product placements, testimonials or endorsements, unless specifically acknowledged in the posting, nor is any guarantee made as to the products and/or services mentioned.
Policies:  As a professional freelance journalist, I do not accept free anything in order to mention a product or service, provide a link to a Web site, or to write a review. Occasionally, I may request a publicity packet from an organization's marketing department in order to obtain the most information about a product. Occasionally, I may receive an unsolicited sample and write about it. I may also use coupons or take advantage of discount offers, but only those available to the general public. Occasionally, I may be the guest of someone not affiliated with the sponsoring organization. Very rarely, I may make an exception to the "no freebies" rule. If I do, I will explain in the posting what exception was made and why. The same policies apply to Lee, the other half of Formed & Fired: Creations in Clay.
Conflicts: I have a life with friends, family, outside interests, and dues-paying memberships in a few professional and community organizations, including (in alphabetical order): AAA Auto Club, Aldersgate United Methodist Church (Seminole, FL), Dunedin Fine Art Center, Florida Press Club, International Reading Association, National League of American Pen Women, Pinellas County Historical Society, and the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I graduated from Tustin High School (1971 -- CA), St. Petersburg College (FL -- A.A. 1992, paid my own way), Eckerd College (FL -- B.F.A. 2006, paid my own way except for FRAG), and the University of Alabama (AL -- M.A. 2008, all tuition, expenses and stipend paid through a Knight Foundation fellowship, in conjunction with The Anniston Star). I support the alumni associations and a few other organizations affiliated with these institutions. I have applied to the University of South Florida's doctoral program in Reading and Literacy and hope to receive a fellowship to pay for it. [Update July 10, 2010: I began classes at USF this summer (summer session paid for by me) and will begin the doctoral program in the fall with all tuition, a stipend, and a scholarship paying for it--in exchange for my putting in 20+ hours a week as a graduate teaching assistant.] I sing with the Clearwater Community Chorus, which rehearses and performs at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. I include links on my blog (and Lee does the same on his blog) to some of these organizations and to some of the publishers to whom I sell work (or where Lee offers his work for sale). But we are not paid to include these links nor to make mention of any of these organizations, products or services, and there is no inordinate "material connection" between them and us. We also are free to write what we please or not to write at all about any of the organizations, products or services noted above with whom we have more than just a supplier-consumer relationship.

[Added March 11, 2010] Self-Promotion: Some of my writing ventures require that I actively promote the works. My latest blog, Insiders' Guide to the Greater Tampa Bay Area, and a Facebook page by the same name fall into this category. While I promote the book through the blog and FB page -- and vice versa -- my policies as a journalist applied/apply to the writing of the book, the blog, and the page; i.e., nobody paid/pays me to list a place or event in the book, the blog, or the page.

I suppose now I have to post the disclosure on my disclosure page.

Questions? Feel free to email me at