What Gawker just did (with its millions of readers) is even more impactful - they may have put a company out of business or at least cost someone his job.
We've probably all seen the websites that have links on random words in the text - those links generally go to sites you wouldn't necessarily expect the writer to direct a reader. But there are usually ads already on the site you're reading, and often there's no disclosure that this is a sponsored link, so it's easy to assume the link is simply something the author suggests is worth your time.
Many bloggers have also gotten pitches from companies who offer you money to insert these links. Typically there's nothing in the pitch that says you have to disclose payment. I've gotten my share of these pitches. Maybe they just assume you're above board and disclosure is your responsibility. But that's not what "Bryan Clark" did. Read the post I linked to above (I wasn't paid to link). Clark is proposing that Hamilton Nolan (the Gawker writer) insert sponsored links without disclosure to his editor or anyone else and pocket the cash. And Clark lists several companies and popular websites by name as his current clients. Nolan sums it up:
There's the plan: get paid under the table to insert links to advertisers in editorial content; if you're caught, just remove the links without a word; if not, continue to get "paid handsomely." According to Mr. Clark, this is already happening at some of the most popular media sites on the internet—with or without the boss's knowledge.Two things come to mind. First, and this is obvious: most bloggers are not journalists, but Nolan certainly is and the websites Clark mentions certainly consider themselves homes of journalism. You simply can't hide a financial relationship if you're claiming to be a journalist.
Second: Clark and people in his business are taking advantage of a culture where contributors to big websites like Huffington Post aren't paid. (yes, I know HuffPo pays a handful of people, but the overwhelming majority of contributors don't see dime one for their content.) People generally deserve to be compensated for their time and effort, and the "exposure" you get for writing on these big sites isn't worth what some say it is. Business models that rely - indeed, insist - on free labor are not sustainable. We should expect more people like Bryan and more random links popping up where we'd least expect them as long as the market price for good writing is zero.