I've been blogging since before “blog” was even a word. (I wrote my first blog post twenty-one years ago last Thursday!) I've had a financial blog for a dozen years now. In that time, things have changed in a variety of ways. For instance:
- Blogging has become more business-like and less personal. A decade ago, most blogs — even money blogs — were rooted in the author's individual experience. Nowadays, most big financial blogs have a minimal editorial voice. They're much like money magazines used to be.
- Audience interaction is limited. In the mid-2000s, it wasn't unusual for blog articles to get dozens (or hundreds) of comments. This site has old articles with over 1000 comments. Nowadays, many blogs have removed reader comments…because they receive so few reader comments. And when blogs do allow comments (as here at GRS), they're scarcer than they used to be.
- Today, most bloggers want to make money. In fact, that's their primary goal. When I started blogging in 1997, there was no way to make money from it. When I launched this site in 2006, my primary goal was to get out of debt. My secondary goal was to help others get out of debt. Yes, I wanted to make money — but that was only my third aim. It was almost an after-thought. (This was, in part, because it was more difficult to make money blogging in 2006.)
Most of the changes in the world of blogging are neutral. They're neither good nor bad. They just are. But I think the move to a more money-centric approach often does a disservice to readers — to people like you.
How I Became a Blogging Cynic
Twelve years ago, if I read something on a financial blog, I generally accepted it at face value. If somebody recommended a book, I trusted their sincerity. If they wrote about the best bank accounts, I believed they were telling me about the best bank accounts. If they raved about a company or service they liked, I had no reason to doubt them.
Today, I'm much more skeptical. Why? Because most of my friends are bloggers, and I know what they think and say in private.
Now, these folks are not bad people — I love them! — but, like most of us, they'll sometimes put profit ahead of, well, truth. Honesty. Objectivity.
- Today, for instance, I saw an article from a colleague I respect. He was raving about a financial service. The problem? I'm damn sure he's never used the service himself and the only reason he's recommending it is he gets a commission on it. With his huge audience, he can make big bucks by promoting this company.
- Or there was the time I overheard another colleague talking with her partner about an advertiser who had just cancelled their affiliate program. (An affiliate program is, essentially, a commission program. You provide a sale or a lead to a company, and you get a kickback.) “If they're not going to offer an affiliate program,” my colleague told her partner, “we're not going to promote them. We need to go back and change articles to feature a company that does offer an affiliate program.”
I wanted to call out my colleague on that last one but I didn't. I bit my tongue. I think her actions were shady, but I realize that not everyone shares the same values. What isn't right for me and my business might be perfectly fine for her. What's perfectly fine for me and my business might seem shady to somebody else.
I'm not willing to criticize other financial bloggers for what they do. I'm not in their shoes. Their business is not my business. They're free to make choices that adhere to their personal ethics. (My hope is that they're at least considering ethics when they make these choices.)
But I have to say: The stuff I hear and see behind the scenes has made me cynical. I've become skeptical of the stuff I read on other money blogs. (Not on all money blogs — I'll recommend some I trust later — but on many of them.) [Read more…]