Merwin: Free Gear Doesn't Mean Good Reviews

Bloggers who write product reviews are now being required to disclose any advertising connections, including whether or not a blogger has gotten free product samples. This is a new Federal Trade Commission rule set to become effective December 1, as reported this week by the New York Times. You can read the article here.

This presumably includes the outdoor media, of course, and bloggers such as myself. All in all, I think it's a good thing. There are a lot of online hacks out there who would push their mother--and their own ethics-- under a bus for the sake of a free fishing rod or reel. So the new FTC rule should help readers separate wheat from chaff when it comes to content.

Not a few readers are very cynical about this sort of thing. I occasionally hear from someone who accuses me of writing a favorable product review solely to support an advertiser. First of all, most of the companies whose products I review aren't advertisers in the first place, so the question is moot. But even advertisers' products get straight-up reviews--good, bad, or indifferent--here and elsewhere in Field &S tream.

That's called credibility. Both advertisers and the general reading public respect credibility. As a professional journalist, credibility is what I strive for every working day. Reporting fairly, without fear or favor, has been the essence of a long career.

That's why I'm not on the so-called pro staff of any tackle companies. It's why I don't do public relations work on the side. And it's why I've never worked as a paid consultant to a tackle or lure company while writing at the same time.

Yes, I sometimes get free tackle samples, and sometimes I review them. I could not possibly afford to buy all the stuff I write about. But whatever obligations I have aren't delivered by United Parcel Service. They come of a journalist's sense of ethics, of a long habit of saying exactly what I think about anything, and they bring--among other things--a restful sleep each and every night.