The Times Union has ruled that it can’t remove political advertisements from its community bloggers’ pages. I provided a slightly different version of the comment below in response to their ruling, which cites me by name, and I post it here for posterity’s sake:
I’m disappointed that the staff at the Times Union is unable to make a distinction between political and commercial advertisements. They are different beasts, legally, in a wide variety of ways, and it did not seem unreasonable to me that they might recognize that difference, and create different placement parameters within their ad-server system.
As I’ve noted before, at bottom line, there’s no law preventing me, as a nonprofit executive, from telling you that I or my organization do business with a particular company and that said company does well by us (unless I am illegally directing my agency’s activities to benefit my own or my family’s interests, of course), but there are laws preventing me from publicly endorsing partisan political candidates.
In the worst case scenario, my organization could lose its tax-exempt status over such public, partisan political endorsements made by me. That’s a big deal.
Yes, sophisticated readers will no doubt understand that a political advertisement next to my name and picture here doesn’t necessarily mean that I endorse the candidate. But . . . the reality of the situation is that my image and my name and my likeness are, in fact, supporting that candidate, indirectly, if the candidate gets some name recognition from my readers. And I don’t consider that an acceptable situation.
If someone came along and put signs for a political candidate in my yard, and I left them there, then I would accept some culpability if someone got confused and thought that I was endorsing a specific candidate over another. Same concept applies here: the Times Union advertising department came and stuck signs on my blog lawn, and since I can’t remove them, I have to move instead.
As a bigger, less personal issue, I also believe that unpaid bloggers, in general, are closer to editorial letter writers than they are to journalists, so even when they don’t have the employment constraints that I do, I consider it wrong to put partisan political advertisements on their pages, just as it would be wrong to put partisan political advertisements on the editorial pages of the print version of the newspaper.
As some have noted, these may be extreme or overly-conservative positions on my part. Perhaps they are, but as head of a nonprofit corporation, I feel that I must always take the most professionally conservative positions on such matters to protect my organization, my constituents, my family and myself.
Which is why I am leaving the Times Union as a blogger, a reader, and a long-time print subscriber. This is no longer a business venture that I wish to support in any way, shape or form.
For what it’s worth, I have formally requested that the Times Union remove all vestiges of my blog from its website, but they’ve decided that it’s more important to feed the advertising beast than it is to honor such requests, and so my work will be held hostage there, against my will, in perpetuity. Well, except for the posts they didn’t like, which vanished immediately.
I take comfort in knowing that karma’s a bitch . . .