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Cash for comment: obscure blogs get solicitations too

A publication known as The Outline recently carried out what it called an investigation into how brands buy their way into well-known publications like Fast Company, Forbes and Huffington Post.

The practice of offering inducements, either monetary or material, to obtain favourable coverage in websites which have large visitor numbers is nothing new: cases come to light every now and then.

But what is surprising is that if happens with the most obscure publications – and here I speak from first-person experience because I was made an offer back in May.

Had it been an offer to write something in iTWire for a bribe, I would have written about it right away. But given that it was for my own inconspicuous blog, I never thought it was worth writing about until I read the yarn in The Outline. Now I think it is worth ventilating.

I have a personal blog which is here; I set it up in 2009 because it was easy to do so and could play host to any writing I did that was not suited to iTWire. It gets negligible traffic because it was set up just for a few friends to be able to read my thoughts and opinions on subjects that we often discuss on the phone or by email.

bribes big

Imagine my surprise then, when I received an email in May from a person who introduced himself as Ethan Andrews from a company known as Media-Top. He wanted to commission an article to be published on my blog!

"The piece should be on topic and true to your website. We will pay you a fixed fee for the work," he wrote.

Was I interested? You bet I was! Here was someone offering me money to write something and host it on my blog - a task that I do a few times a month for nothing but the enjoyment of doing so.

But then when I asked for details, it began to be apparent to me that this was what is known as cash for comment.

Andrews' next email made it plain: "My company represents an online gaming company. I would like to post a new article at your site. The article should fit the site and the readers, as it possibly can. This is why I prefer you will write it," he wrote.

"It should not mention 'advertisement', 'sponsors', 'PR'. It should have the same writing style like all other articles. It should be at least 350-400 words and with unique content (not copied from any other site)."

He asked me for rates and I responded that at $1 a word, it would come to between $350 and $400. And I added: "Also, before I forget, anything that is paid for will have a disclaimer. Else, the answer is no."

That was the end of my correspondence with Andrews. I never heard from him again.

What continues to puzzle me to this day is the fact that he approached someone seeking to get something published on a site that gets as little traffic as mine does. Clearly, his company does not do much homework before it makes these offers.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.