I found a rather interesting discussion on Climate Progress, where lead blogger Joseph Romm asked his readers what they thought about placing ads on the site, including one from the (GASP!) Nuclear Energy Institute. Romm gave some fairly straightforward and honest reasons for including ads:
These are tough economic times all around, including for foundations and other donors who have most of their money in the stock market. My father was editor-in-chief of a medium-sized newspaper for 30 years, so I grew up understanding that ads are part of doing business for the media.Bloggers - especially the more popular ones - are monetizing their blogs more aggressively. Companies like mine can't and shouldn't rely on a purely "earned media" online strategy anymore. Ads are one way to state your case on a blog where you're being criticized - they have the benefit of transparency and "guaranteed placement." Other bloggers and social media mavens are developing their own innovative solutions as well, and I've worked with a few of them. These paid-media approaches will also bring about the development of better communications metrics.
So I was fascinated to read the responses to Romm's invitation to comment. Someone named "Karl" offered the most succinct response that I thought captured the consensus:
If Big Nuke and Big Coal want to pay you to discredit them then I say let them go right ahead!I suspect Romm may have asked the question of his readers because he was sensitive to the appearance of "selling out" and hoped his readers would understand his thinking (and maybe give him a little "political cover").
But Karl's answer makes a slightly different point to those who would give Romm the resources he needs to keep the blog running in a challenging economy: We're not listening to what you have to say.
To be candid, I figure my positions on energy and environment policy are probably closer to Romm and his readers than to NEI or the coal industry. I did work on energy issues for a liberal Democratic senator. But I've worked on more than a few projects now where I try to connect companies with critics. Social media channels are the best opportunity we have right now to spark candid and constructive discussions that lead to consensus AND change.
Furthermore, climate change is one of those issues where the sides seem fairly intractible. But it's one of only a handful of issues where a meeting of the minds is absolutely critical to the preservation of the planet.
I know that for years environmentalists complained that no one in power would listen to them, and they were essentially right about that. Now the green movement has righfully gained some power as they've demonstrated the data on climate change are unquestionably on their side. Still, companies and advocates have to work together to solve pressing, common problems. This requires conversations and the most efficient and effective way to do that on a global scale is online. Are activists really going to tell companies to talk to the hand?
I'm not suggesting that industry is without responsibility here either. It's very easy, perhaps too easy, to make the short-term decision that a 5K or 10K ad buy on Climate Progress won't move the needle. What NEI (and others) must do is convince Romm and his readers that they're actually listening. They have to be ready to build relationships.
I'm not convinced we're there yet.