How the new government rules on consumer news reporting will affect Theme Park Insider

October 5, 2009, 1:06 PM · If you spend a lot of time in the blogosphere or on Twitter, you might have heard that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission today announced sweeping new rules on what journalists and advertisers must disclose about products and services they report upon or present.

The new rules are here. [Massive PDF file. Link doesn't work in some browsers.]

Essentially, these new rules will not affect Theme Park Insider, as we've had strict rules for submitting content to the site for many years. But I'd like to remind folks of those rules, and ask that you give them a fresh look, if you haven't for a while.

The outrageous thing about all this, though, is that while many of the new rules apply to people who write online, they do not apply to writers who work in print or on TV. A Theme Park Insider correspondent who covers a press event at a theme park must disclose that he got into the park for free, under the new rules. But a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel who covers the same event does not have to note the free admission.

Similarly, a blogger who gets a CD from a music company for review must disclose getting the free advance copy, but a critic for a magazine does not.

In fact, a music blogger would have to disclose getting a free 99-cent iTunes download for review, but a travel magazine writer would not have to disclose getting $5,000 Disney Cruise for free.

Which is why, I guess, online media is about to become much more credible and honest than print or broadcast reporting. If it isn't that way already. ;-)

Replies (6)

October 5, 2009 at 1:33 PM · Very interesting, especially since I am lucky enough to cover some events for TPI in the Chicagoland area.

So, for example, if I go to a media day at SFGA, I have to mention how I got in and what promotional things I got? I ask this question because most of the media days at SFGA are before the actual park is open (usually its the Wednesday before the opening weekend). Just curious on the new rules with that since mine would consist of an eyepatch and a pirate rubber ducky! :)

However, for the Food Network thing I did, I used my season pass to get in. Anyway, I do work for Disney (though the Disney Store), but no inside theme park stuff. I know/find out things just like everybody else on the site.

October 5, 2009 at 1:33 PM · I am glad I live in Canada. This is an asinine ruling. I wonder how they will enforce it.
October 5, 2009 at 1:58 PM · The rules on advertising are even more restrictive. One example I've read is that any car company advertising on its models as the "official vehicle of the New York Giants" will now have to be able prove that all of the New York Giants actually drive it. Good luck with that.

The original intent of the rules was to force bloggers who are getting paid $10 or whatever a post to shill a specific item or service to disclose that. Which I'm all for. I hear from people pitching me to do that cr@p all the time, and anything that drives them out of business more quickly, I'd be all for.

But there's a huge difference between contracting to pay someone $10 in exchange for a positive review on a blog, and simply sending someone a product to review, where the writer has the option of trashing the product.

There's also a big difference between sending someone a CD or book, where the shipping costs to package and return an item can cost as much as producing the item itself, and sending someone a laptop or gaming system.

The new rules make no such distinctions and, as I wrote above, set up a horrible double standard under which online media is held to far stricter rules than apply to print and broadcast writers.

I wouldn't be surprised, therefore, if these rules don't last long in their current form. That said, though, TPI's rules remain, and people who attend media days and events should continue to note that.

As for the silly media kits, I say we have fun with that. Let's start nothing *everything* that we get in media kits. (I'm talking the number of pieces of paper here.) Might as well as fun with the FTC rules, while they last.

October 5, 2009 at 2:00 PM · You've heard of "Girls Gone Wild", this is a case of "Government Gone Wild".

Perhaps they need to disclose something: "NOTICE: We are writing this 81 page document in order to justify our own existence".

Why is online media different? To me this is similar to having separate laws covering a "hate" crime. If I killed someone, doesn't that automatically mean that I hated them? Why would there be a separate statute?

Shouldn't ALL media be accountable in the same way? This just breeds hypocrisy and actually confuses the consumer.

This will be interesting in that I straddle the line with online blogging as a supplement to a print magazine. Well, the editor will have to read all 81 pages and tell me what to do. While I may be portraying this as a “joke”, FTC sanctions would not be a joke.

October 5, 2009 at 2:05 PM · I should "disclose" that I actually work in one of if not the most restrictive markets out there (in my other life) as a contracted speaker and consultant to pharmaceutical companies.

So in reality this should be no big deal for me (insert sideways smiley face here).

October 5, 2009 at 10:24 PM · I think that its stupid that non-commercial sites are subject to this new regulation.

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