Amanda Congdon, the fresh-faced videoblogger who rose to web celeb fame as the anchor of the hugely popular Rocketboom, has found herself in the midst of a new media controversy. You see, Congdon is now working with ABC News as their high-profile vlogger, as well as producing a personal video project on the side. She is also working on an HBO series that will be a meld of internet and traditional television entertainment. She's a busy bee, to say the least, and her wings are dipped into several pots of honey. But each of her ventures is a success, so she seems to be balancing the work load well.
Not new media guru Jeff Jarvis, though. In fact, he was the catalyst for the advertising relationship between DuPont and Congdon:
I consulted on the effort. I was brought in because I know the folks at Rishad Tabaccowala’s think-do tank Denou at Publicis. When they started, they wanted to involve bloggers and I insisted that the only was to do that was through advertising on the blogs; it’s a clear relationship and it also gives respect to the medium and its people (I’m happy to see that Bernoff liked this). I introduced them to Amanda (which thrilled them; it was as if I’d snagged Oprah). And I gave some advice on the videos (obvious stuff: put your best stuff first, make them short and fun). And I suggested Bright Cove for the serving and Federated Media as an ad network. And they bought lunch.
So, a more than 200-year-old company decided to feature one of the web's most recongnizable stars in an internet-based ad campaign aimed at hipping up its dust old image. Smart move on their part, but was it a good move for Congdon? Some people think not, and they aren't making any qualms about it, like Radar magazine and The Huffington Post. In fact, HuffPo slapped the headline 'ABC Videocaster Congdon Caught Working For DuPont On The Side' on their piece about the DuPont ads, and Radar writer John Cook says:
The DuPont deal isn't doing anything to endear Congdon to ABC News staffers, who have already complained to Radar about her low traffic, cloying online persona, and snotty posts on her blog about how lame ABC News's website is.
Ironically, Congdon's costar in the ABC News online push is one of the tougher reporters around when it comes to covering DuPont. Investigative reporter Brian Ross, who runs his own Web-based I-team, has aggressively covered allegations that Teflon, a DuPont product, causes cancer and damages organs. Maybe he and Congdon need to chat.
Whoa, now. That's some harsh blowback. And hardly warranted, since no one really "caught" Congdon doing anything. She posted a link herself to the DuPont ad days before the HuffPo and Radar articles. Congdon defends herself at her personal blog with this bit:
ABC and HBO both approved the DuPont spots. And under the “blogger” title, which is what I am, hello? I am not subject to the “rules” traditional journalists have to follow.
Isn’t that what new media is all about? Breaking the rules? Setting our own? I see nothing wrong with doing commercials, which is what they, quite transparently, are. If DuPont had tried to pass them off as authentic, homegrown videos, yeah, then that would’ve been wrong (and, of course, I would never have agreed to the project if that was the plan). As Sarah Silverman would say, “I’d do it again”. In a heartbeat. Bring on the endorsements!
This response from Congdon did little to dissuade the naysayers. The Brooklyn Kitchen blogger spells it out like this:
Her self-defense on her blog seems to be digging her deeper and deeper into an ethically compromised hole, claiming that because she is not an official journalist (she's a blogger thank-you-very-much) she doesn't have to follow the ethical guidelines that hedge in the mainstream media. Instead, she feels can write her own rulebook, redefine her own paradigms, and pretty much get away with anything she wants to do. To me this attitude doesn't represent the vanguard of new media, but the tactic of a selfish opportunist who is justifying actions she already knows are questionable by retroactively changing the context in which she originally made her decisions.
It's clearly a bluff, she probably doesn't believe herself either. Her actions speak too loudly. By associating herself with DuPont, Amanda Congdon is clearly in it for the money.
And the Young Manhattanite pulls no punches when he says, "Amanda Congdon, you are a FUCKIN' WHORE":
[T]his perverted take on power to the people (or, just yourself) is one of the greatest acts of arrogance and lack of responsibility a blogger could embellish. The reasons are obvious - I will not lay the vulcanized rubber logic out here - and may you rot in a slowish, mud-in-a-box hell contemplating your actions if you don't recognize them in our fantastic time on planet Earth, which, thanks to DuPont, is hosing the gap.
And it's not just angry New York bloggers who are fit to be tied. Countless commenters, people claiming to be long time fans, express their disappointment to Congdon in her post about the matter. Jeff Jarvis is also taking it on the chin at his place. Even Congdon's friend and partner on various projects, Chuck Olsen, has some criticism for the blonde blogger:
Amanda, however, has an ABC News logo next to her videoblog. She's paid by a news organization and represents it to some extent. But she also represents their experimental foray into new media. Her show is a tour of what Amanda finds interesting. It weaves between entertainment and journalism, raising interesting questions along the way. In other words, we're firmly in gray area territory.
hat confuses people is that ABC News logo screaming "official journalism!" It really comes down to trust. Do I still trust Amanda even though she's in paid advertisements for DuPont and Dove? Of course. I don't mind Amanda getting paid for her acting and producing talents in other contexts. But both Amanda and ABC News should tread carefully in the future, because many people won't be so forgiving.
The arguments from folks I've read seem to be three-fold: 1) a blogger working for a news outlet should not lend their persona to corporate advertisements as it adversely affects their credibility and is a conflict of interests 2) the quest for credibility in the blogger community is now threatened 3) Congdon adopts the title of blogger and the title of journalist when it best suits her.
As a blogger who is employed by a news outlet I find this entire debacle incredibly fascinating. And as a blogger who is employed by a news outlet I think that I can offer a unique perspective on the issue, and so I'll address each argument point by point.
1) a blogger working for a news outlet should not lend their persona to corporate advertisements as it adversely affects their credibility and is a conflict of interests
I don't know that I agree with this statement outright. I think it depends entirely on the type of blog that the blogger produces, and in the case of Amanda Congdon that is a video blog about various newsy items. It does not have an esoteric theme, nor does it break news. It is, basically, a personality-driven vlog. The reason people come back to watch is not to learn about the hottest web trends, but to see Amanda's spin on them. (Not to mention her patented chair spin.)
A couple of months ago Congdon did an ad for Dove, the beauty product company whose latest ad campaign is about "real beauty." In the short video Congdon, who seems to be in a mirror, goes from a full face of makeup to squeaky clean (with the help of some super sharp editing). The idea was to show this semi-famous face stripped of makeup to emphasize the theme of "real beauty." It was cute and clever and innocuous, and no one said crap about it. No headlines screaming that she'd been caught, no charges of ethical violations and selling out. It sat on her Starring site, waiting to be watched, but virtually uncommented upon. Fast forward to some weeks later, and now the girl has sold her very soul.
What's the difference between the Dove ad and the DuPont spots? Well, it's the man behind the curtain. A commenter at Chuck Olsen's blog explains:
i think what really rubs me the wrong way is that it's DuPont.
Amanda Across America was sponsored by an Environmental Activist group, not that that makes Amanda an environmental activist...but still seems like a huge contradiction. DuPont is so EVIL! it really kills me to see them trying to break into the new media world to appeal to, um, us.
So, part of the problem is people's opinion of DuPont. Lots of folks have sent Congdon links to articles about the ills of the DuPont corporation. If they want to argue that her move is hypocritical after being somewhat of an environmental activist, have at it. That's not something I want to argue. But to attack the woman solely for doing ads now after she's been doing ads for a while is silly.
2) the quest for credibility in the blogger community is now threatened
I refuse to submit to the idea that what a single blogger does can have an impact on blogging at large. Blogging is a revolution. Blogging is a self-publishing tool. There is no single blogger community, and so any advertising that Congdon does has no bearing on it. "It" does not exist. Sure, there are thousands of individual blogging communities that overlap at a billion points in between, but blogging is not a movement that can be pushed off track by the decision of a single individual.
3) Congdon adopts the title of blogger and the title of journalist when it best suits her
This, to me, is the most fascinating of arguments, because it is one I am faced with all the time. In my opinion I am a hybrid of blogger and journalist. Do I purposefully adopt one title when the situation best suits it? Is that even wrong? Or is it that my critics like to assign the title that least fits me when the time best suits them? I imagine it's somewhere in between. This is the argument I'd like to get the most feedback on from your, dear readers.
Overall, I don't find anything wrong with the DuPont spots. I can understand the argument that the ads look like many of her newsy video blogs, and that the two should be more distinctly different. Obviously, the DuPont spots should be clearly marked as advertising where they are displayed. But has Congdon crippled her credibility as a new media maven? Hardly. It isn't as though news credibility is her strong suit. Anyone who goes to Amanda Congdon for the definitive word on anything factual has got to have a screw loose. She is a beauty, a personality, a brand. That's what she's selling, and I think her audience is smart enough to separate her work on ads from her work on more organic projects.
But, that's just me.
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