Is Ghost Blogging Ethical?: 4 Perspectives On 4 Communication Issues

ghost bloggerBefore addressing the topic at hand, a little bit of background.

During the final installment of my interview with Steve Farnsworth on corporate blogging, Paul Roberts weighed in with some good questions.

This triggered the clever idea on Steve’s part to engage others as well as himself in answering these questions, one per week over the next four weeks.

As a result, I’m joining Steve, Todd Defren, and Paul Roberts in this exercise.

As they say at Cirque du Soleil, “Que le spectacle commence!”

Do I believe ghost blogging is ethical?

It ultimately comes down to who’s providing the “thinking” behind the content.

Let’s say there’s a blog called “Luigi’s Fish and Slips.”

If a writer interviews Luigi about the halibut that got away and crafts the first draft of a post which then goes to Luigi who tweaks and finalizes the copy, no problem.

We’ve essentially followed this process in writing posts for clients with the philosophy that our role is to help the blogger transfer his/her thinking to the written page; albeit in digital form.

I’m sure there are some born-again social media-ites who feel we should be branded with a “U” on our chests for unauthentic.

To those my response would be, do you think President Obama is unauthentic because a team of writers create his speeches?

Of course not.

Whether or not you agree with his politics, you assume that the content of the speech indeed reflects his thinking, not the thinking of the speech writers.

It’s the brainpower that counts, whether we’re talking about President Obama’s speech or a blog post from Luigi the fish monger.scarlet letter u

I’ll grant you one exception to the rule.

If the blog somehow touches on the craft of writing, then that’s a different story (couldn’t resist the pun).

You can’t have someone ghostwriting posts for The New York Times’ “On Language” writer Ben Zimmer. That would be unethical because part of the brainpower comes from the actual writing.

I also believe if there is a single name on the blog like the Ben Zimmer property at The New York Times and he does get a helping hand from others, it’s a good idea to disclose this tidbit.

Which begs the question, at what point does a “helping hand” call for disclosure?

Patricia Sellers at Fortune pens the blog called “Postcards“. She has a “helper” in Jessica Shambora who periodically enjoys a byline on the Postcard property. It seems safe to assume that Shambora handles some legwork and perhaps even some writing on the posts that carry the Sellers byline.

If this is the case, Sellers probably should share this information in the “About the Author” section. Still, it doesn’t trouble me because I assume the posts that carry the Sellers byline deliver Sellers’ thinking.

Needless to say, plenty of gray matter surrounds this topic of ghost blogging.

I encourage you to read the posts from my three compadres which can be found by clicking on their names, Steve Farnsworth, Todd Defren and Paul Roberts.

I’m sure you’ll find diversity in viewpoints and perhaps even another vying for that scarlet “U.”

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11 comments

11 Comments so far

  1. [...] Lou Hoffman, and Paul Roberts. Do we agree? Maybe, maybe not. You can read Todd’s Here, Lou’s Here, and Paul’s Here. For additional perspectives on this topic I encourage you to visit Hans de [...]

  2. Douglas Karr September 8th, 2010 8:28 am

    It’s interesting that we don’t talk about our Presidents’ Ghostspeechwriter or the Black Eyed Peas Ghostsongwriter or George Clooney’s Ghostdirectorandscriptwriters isn’t it? When the words are written, we somehow have a different perspective on it.

    The key, in my opinion, is intent. If your intent is to mislead… then shame on you and I hope your ghostblogging campaign crumbles into shambles. However, if the intent is to convey the words and stories of the company with honesty, transparency, and sincerity… then why is it a bad thing?

  3. Lou Hoffman September 8th, 2010 8:34 am

    Well put.

    You’re right.

    It does largely come down to intent.

    And if the intent is to mislead – regardless of the forum or situation – the person is on the wrong side of this debate.

  4. Steve Farnsworth (@Steveology) September 8th, 2010 12:12 pm

    Both you and Todd make a great point. Material that is written, and that under a reader’s reasonable understanding that it was written by the named author, should be exclusively by that writer, unless otherwise noted. I didn’t address that, but wholeheartedly agree. I was thrice assumed that you, Paul, and I all used POTUS as a reference, too.

  5. Lou Hoffman September 8th, 2010 12:20 pm

    Thanks for dropping by the neighborhood.

    Yes it’s a bit weird that independently, we not only arrived at similar conclusions but highlighted similar examples.

    Thankfully, no one else used the Luigi the fishmonger as exhibit A.

  6. [...] we agree? Maybe, maybe not. You can read Steve’s Here, Todd’s Here, Lou’s Here, and Paul’s Here. [...]

  7. Paul Roberts September 8th, 2010 6:01 pm

    Hi Lou, good post – as expected. It is kind of funny that we all took slightly different angles in looking at the same question yet three of us all used the office of the president as an example.

    I think if there is a common theme between the posts it is simply that ghost blogging is a reality and that disclosure is a good idea. See together we solved that problem.

    -Paul

  8. Lou Hoffman September 8th, 2010 6:25 pm

    Thanks Paul.

    I thought you had the best presidente example going with the Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan, as well as giving a shout out to one of his speech writers.

    At the macro level, it was darn (believe my filter flags the less tame version) interesting to read all the posts coming from various perspectives.

    I caused me to wonder about the possibility of aggregating all the posts and comments in one place but then my humble visitor numbers would take a hit.

  9. Hans de Groot September 9th, 2010 12:03 am

    Hi Lou,
    What I miss in your post (and in the posts by some of the others on this topic) is the social (media) aspect of blogging.
    Part of blogging (and you can argue whether that is a small or a big part) is trying to start a conversation with your readers. Like what is happening here. You write, I comment, you react etc.
    You are blogging not only from a publishing (broadcasting) point of view, because you can use your website for that. You want to interact with your readers/customers.
    It is there where I think ghost blogging fails. What happens if people want to communicate with Luigi. Are you going to provide the answers? Will you be the one to communicate with his customers?
    What is your opinion about what has to be done after the post has been written?
    Rgds Hans

  10. Lou Hoffman September 9th, 2010 7:04 am

    Hans,

    I’m with you on this one.

    Totally agree.

    When people comment on “Fish and Slips,” Luigi needs to be the one interacting.

    I’m o.k. with ghost blogging.

    I’m not o.k. with ghost commenting.

    I think it’s also worth mentioning that commenting doesn’t put the same premium on writing expertise nor does it consume a major chunk of time; hence, two of the major reasons for ghost blogging go away.

  11. Paul Roberts September 9th, 2010 4:31 pm

    Thanks for the reply Lou. Your comment about aggregating all the posts is really funny because I was thinking of posting a bunch of the comments on my blog to get the conversation all in one place, but I didn’t want people to think I was trying to steal the traffic.

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