For several years now the hardtracking staff has noted the growing use of blogola in violation of Federal Trade Commission guidelines, from Lord & Taylor’s paying 50 bloggers under the table to wear a dress from its Design Lab clothing collection and post it on Instagram to Honda’s paying bloggers to (spark)plug its cars.

But now, as The Outline’s Jon Christian reports, blogola has wormed its way into a stunning array of major media publications.


An Outline investigation found that contributors to prominent publications have taken payments in exchange for positive coverage.

In late October, TechCrunch editor-at-large John Biggs noticed a Facebook Messenger request from someone he didn’t know, a man named Varun Satyam. When Biggs accepted the request, Satyam introduced himself as a marketer for technology startups. He was looking for coverage of some clients, he said, and he was willing to pay Biggs to write about them.

It was a bold opening move, and an unethical proposition for any journalist who wants to retain their credibility. But Biggs wasn’t surprised. He estimates that he receives two or three similar offers each month, and he doesn’t take them seriously.

“They’re stupid,” said Biggs. “Organic press is far more effective and anyone with a brain can see through them.”


By them Biggs means the plugs that an increasing number of brands seek to insert into editorial content on major media websites.

Drive-purists-nuts graf:

People involved with the payoffs are extremely reluctant to discuss them, but four contributing writers to prominent publications including Mashable, Inc, Business Insider, and Entrepreneur told me they have personally accepted payments in exchange for weaving promotional references to brands into their work on those sites. Two of the writers acknowledged they have taken part in the scheme for years, on behalf of many brands.


Business Insider spokesman Mario Ruiz told Christian, “Business Insider has a strict policy that prohibits any of our writers, whether full-time staffers or contributors, from accepting payment of any kind in exchange for coverage.”


Jason Feifer, editor in chief of Entrepreneur, e-mailed Christian that the best way to get a piece in his magazine is to “rat out” someone who’s selling coverage on a reputable site.

Predictably enough, there were also references to “zero tolerance” and “violation of our editorial policy.”

But one blogolanaut says editors themselves are often to blame because they’re “hungry for cheap or unpaid blog content,” especially at high-volume sites such as Forbes and HuffPost.

According to Christian, payment can range anywhere from $50 to $1100. Brands doing the paying range from “a popular ride-hailing app, to a publicly-traded site for booking flights and hotels, to a large American cell phone service provider.” And the “brand mentions” can pop up in who knows how many publications.

It’s just the latest example of State of the Cuisinart Marketing, not to mention a breach of journalism’s most fundamental tenet.

Jon Christian has done a superb job of opening up this family-sized can of worms. And he’s looking to learn more about blogola in journalism. Send tips to: jonchristian at protonmail dot com.

And tell him we said thanks.


John R. Carroll is media analyst for NPR's Here & Now and senior news analyst for WBUR in Boston. He also writes at Campaign Outsider and It's Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town.
John R. Carroll has 305 post(s) on Sneak Adtack