At times, the internet feels like the Wild West of journalism, so it’s not a surprise that unscrupulous “journalists” will accept bribes in exchange for a links. While most people would agree that offering a reporter at the New York Times and CNN is morally and ethically wrong, that doesn’t stop companies from doing it.
The Outline reports that writers for Fast Company, Forbes, and other reputable news sites have been caught regularly accepting bribes for links and mentions in articles. Obviously, any journalism outlet that strictly adheres to journalism principles has policies against accepting payment in exchange for coverage. However, there are marketing and public relations companies making promises that they can get a product mentioned on popular and trusted websites.
Whatever you do, don’t pay journalists for links and mentions. Not only will customers turn against you once they find out, Google will penalize your site because paying for links manipulates search results- something clearly against Google’s policies.
Frequent internet users know that journalism, PR, and marketing are not always easy to distinguish online. This is because Forbes, the Huffington Post, and several other sites employ a large number of unpaid writers who hold side jobs as publicists. It’s a bad idea for companies to try to find one of these publicists or attempt to get an employee into the dubious business of reporting for a news site on behalf of their employer because it will eventually be found out.
Keep in mind, that offering a journalist cash for links isn’t the same thing as providing a beauty blogger on Instagram with free makeup. A journalist is held to much higher standards than a beauty blogger, who has more freedom in what they are willing to accept. Even so, we are getting to a point were bloggers may be required to disclose when they received something for free or are getting paid to mention a product. The internet as a whole is trying to move toward more transparency.
With that said, if you suspect that a “journalist” is accepting bribes or has a conflict of interest, don’t adopt a “If you can’t beat them, join them” attitude. Instead, contact that journalist’s editor and make them aware of your concerns.