As a journalist/writer, I believe it’s important to be honest, fair and objective in news coverage. Part of that includes being open about potential conflicts of interest, and the things I do to avoid them. In short: I do my best to not allow any kind of relationship to impact what I write in any way. For the longer version, read on.
Quick Journalism Background
I’ve been writing for pretty much my whole life. I was one of those high school newspaper geeks, then a college newspaper geek (at Pepperdine University) and TV/radio journalism student. My first job out of college was working the City Desk at the Los Angeles Daily News in 1990, and then I worked as an on-air television and radio personality (in different cities) for about seven years before switching to web design, SEO and online marketing in late 1997.
I began blogging (on a now-defunct Blogspot blog) in 2004, and launched the Small Business Search Marketing blog in April 2006. In February 2007, I began contributing to Search Engine Land as a columnist, and then became a paid, part-time editor in September 2008. About two years later, in December 2010, I became a full-time employee of Third Door Media, the parent company of Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, Search Marketing Expo conferences and Digital Marketing Depot.
Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and SMX
I work on the editorial side of Third Door Media, owners of Search Engine Land (SEL) and Marketing Land (ML). I have no involvement in the running of the business side of the company, which includes things related to advertising and other sponsorships. The editorial team doesn’t accept payment for coverage, nor do we allow advertising/sponsorships to have any impact on our news coverage decisions.
Similarly, I’m involved in the editorial aspects of the SMX conference events. That involves the creation of agendas and the selection of speakers for our events. Again, I have no involvement in the business side of SMX events and the editorial team doesn’t allow business/advertising to influence our decisions related to the editorial side of SMX events.
This is a full-time job and provides the vast majority of my income. I have no ownership stake in Third Door Media.
I began building websites for pay in late 1997, and taught myself SEO and online marketing a couple years later when my web design clients requested something more than a pretty website. In late 2006, I stopped doing web design/development and shifted exclusively to online marketing consulting.
Beginning in late 2008, when I became a paid contributor at Search Engine Land, I began to reduce the amount of client consulting I was doing. I currently have one client to whom I provide various advice related to online marketing (SEO, social media, etc.).
In addition to providing a small percentage of my annual income, this consulting work helps me stay familiar with the online marketing strategies and tactics that we often cover on Search Engine Land and Marketing Land.
Small Business Search Marketing
The thoughts, ideas and opinions expressed on Small Business Search Marketing (SBSM) are mine and mine alone, and are not representative of Third Door Media.
On SBSM, I accept advertising and occasionally run ads from Google AdSense. In addition to generating small amounts of revenue, these also help me better understand the online publishing/advertising landscape and, in particular, the experiences of bloggers that rely on ad income to support their publishing effort. It also gives me better familiarity with a product (AdSense) that we often cover on SEL and ML.
I am a part-owner in Local University, a company that offers occasional online marketing workshops that are geared primarily toward local and small businesses. These workshops are often sponsored and receive money from Google, Bing and/or other companies in the online marketing space. The sponsorship monies allow Local University to keep registration costs to a minimum, and are used to pay for expenses such as facility rental, event promotion, travel/accommodations and other fees.
When a Local University workshop receives enough paid registrations to make a profit, speakers (including me) may receive a small stipend and have their travel costs reimbursed from those profits.
Sponsoring companies may also appear as speakers at Local University events, but Google and Bing staffers were actually speaking at our events long before they began sponsoring some. Google, Bing and other companies receive visibility and the opportunity to teach small business owners about their services; they do not receive favorable treatment in other aspects of the workshops, and are often criticized for their shortcomings when it comes to products and services for small/local business owners.
@U2 and U2tours.com
Since late 1995, I’ve run an independent (i.e., fan) site about the rock band, U2. The site is called @U2. It’s become a very large news operation now with about three dozen volunteer staffers based in several countries around the world. The site generally doesn’t make any money. We have a Paypal button that readers rarely use, and we have several affiliate links that tend to only generate revenue when U2 has a new album or video coming out. Any money made by the site is used to pay expenses related to site upgrades, programming and staff expenses when we cover U2-related events. Operating the site this way helps me stay somewhat familiar with the affiliate marketing industry.
We launched a sister site, U2tours.com in 2000. It generates revenue primarily through Google AdSense. That money is used to pay for site expenses. Both sites are not-for-profit labors of love.
I own no stock in any company that I cover, aside from potentially having shares through mutual funds in my retirement program. I couldn’t tell you what companies those funds invest in, but it’s possible that they own stock in Google, Microsoft or some other company involved in online marketing. I have no idea if and when the funds buy or sell such shares. In any case, it has no impact on my coverage of any companies in the industry.
I occasionally receive free items at industry events and/or from companies in the online marketing industry. Most of these items are knick-knacks from conference expo halls, like the small Bing throw pillow on my office chair or a Google t-shirt or some other company’s pen, water bottle or some such thing(s).
Google often does giveaways to attendees at its annual I/O conference for developers. I’ve attended the following I/O events as a member of the media and received the following freebies:
- 2013: all attendees (me included) received a Pixel Chromebook laptop computer. This computer is not in regular use in my home, primarily because I’m not a heavy user of Google products like Gmail, Google Drive, etc. I’ve turned the laptop on occasionally for research related to something we’re writing about on SEL and/or ML.
- 2012: all attendees (me included) received a Nexus 7 tablet, Nexus smartphone, Nexus Q and Chromebook desktop computer. None of these devices are in regular use in my home (I haven’t even opened the Chromebook box), with the exception of the Nexus smartphone which I began using more frequently in May 2013 when I received Google Glass (see below). It’s still not my primary phone. I tried out the tablet for about a week to learn about the Android OS, and very occasionally turn it on to test an app or do something else needed to help with coverage on SEL and/or ML.
I also occasionally visit the companies I cover for news briefings and interviews. These visits sometimes include free meals, but have never involved free travel or accommodations at the company’s expense.
In no case does free food, gadgets or other swag influence what I write when covering these companies.
At the Google I/O event in 2012, I pre-ordered Google Glass and joined the initial group of 2,000 (or so) “Glass Explorers” that mainly consists of developers. When I picked up Glass in May, 2013, my employer reimbursed me for the $1500 cost.
I’ve been using Glass as regularly as possible and writing about the experience on both ML and SEL.
I was trained in the traditional ways of journalism, which holds that reporters must be honest, fair and objective about the subjects they cover and avoid all conflicts of interest. That’s the standard I aim to continue today and in the future.
If you have any questions about the above, feel free to contact me.