Meet the new media, same as the old media

Rob Bennett Contributor
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In his song “Brownsville Girl,” Bob Dylan observes that “even the swap meets around here are getting pretty corrupt.” That line came to mind for me when I saw the Daily Caller article entitled “True stories of bloggers who secretly feed on partisan cash.” How discouraging!

A lot of us have grown pretty darn weary of the bias and corruption in the old media and had been hoping that the new media would offer something better. What we are learning is that corruption eats away at human integrity just as easily in the digital world as it does in the world of paper and ink. Our favorite bloggers are not saying what they truly believe but what they are paid to believe. Oh, that’s just great!

My experience is with personal finance blogs. I’m here to tell you that petty and not-so-petty forms of corruption are rampant in this byway of Planet Internet.

* Established money bloggers blacklist up-and-coming bloggers who pose a threat to their dominance. Those who have nothing special to say are welcomed with open arms. It’s the ones who connect best with readers while questioning the line put forward by the “in-crowd” who get the cold shoulder (no links).

* Bloggers who brag of their love for free speech ban posters who ask hard questions about their saving or investing strategies, without even letting their readers know that they have done so. By permitting ugly and abusive posts they create the impression in people’s minds that they are opposed to censorship. But when it comes to matters of substance (the thing that matters most to readers), it’s a “blogger-knows-best” philosophy that often rules.

* Some big shots go so far as to form groups of Praetorian guards who see it as their task to harass those who ask hard questions at other blogs about strategies advocated by the big shots. There’s one website that was formed for the sole purpose of checking out what is being posted at money blogs about buy-and-hold investing and harassing posters who veer from the company line of the biggest-name bloggers.

* Money bloggers almost never post about the conflicts of interest of the bloggers at the blogs to which they regularly link. This happens because bloggers are afraid that if they ask the tough but important questions, they will get removed from, or never placed on, important blogrolls.

Lots of personal finance bloggers are fine people who do wonderful work. Please don’t think that I’m saying otherwise. My point is that integrity matters and that integrity does not preserve itself. We all need to be willing to question our fellow bloggers, even those who are our friends, and to welcome their questioning of us. Our true friends are the ones who push us to do our best work.

Phony transparency is worse than no transparency at all. Bloggers who pretend to permit questioning of their views in the comments section of their blogs while following a practice of deleting comments to which they cannot offer a strong response are engaging in dishonest behavior. We all need to watch for this sort of thing and speak up about it when we see it. If we don’t, the new media will never achieve its potential.

Rob Bennett is a personal finance blogger. He often writes about safe investing strategies.