Maybe you haven’t heard, but HBO’s new show, Tilda, concerns one “Tilda Watski [who] is the most feared woman in Hollywood because her website, The Daily Circus (header: “Founder and Editor Tilda Watski”), takes aim at the town’s most powerful moguls.” Which, among other details, sounds like Deadline Hollywood blogger Nikki Finke! And if you’re Finke, and someone’s making a TV show about your life, you’re gonna wanna get paid for it. Which, according to THR, Esq., she’s tried to.
So if Finke is, in fact, now being paid by HBO as a consultant on Tilda, do Deadline Hollywood’s news exclusives on the show require a disclosure?
At face value, of course they do! Not that FInke’s required to abide by any traditional journalism ethical standard – and let the record show her disregard for that as it stands – but yes, if the subject of a news item is also writing checks with your name on them, you’d be hard-pressed to find one ethicist (with journalism expertise, or otherwise) who wouldn’t argue for a disclosure beneath each news item like this one: an “exclusive” posted this morning on the latest casting decision of Tilda. Because that little “scoop” could read more like a press release when you know that the person who Tilda is based on is also the founder of the website you’re reading said “scoop” on! Even more so if there’s money involved.
As for whether or not Finke’s violating the FTC’s blogger laws? The guidelines state that:
….”Material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers – connections that consumers would not expect – must be disclosed. These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other “word-of-mouth” marketers. The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.
Now, Finke’s site isn’t reviewing a product – she has yet to tell everyone how “fucking great” Tilda‘s going to be – so much as it is delivering news on the product that Finke may or may not be getting paid by. The material connection between Finke, the (possible) Tilda adviser (and Finke, the Tilda-news exclusive-breaker) might be worth looking into, if only because Finke’s access to Tilda exclusives could be perceived as an sideways endorsement of some stripe (Why work for Exclusive A over Exclusive B?) that’s worth noting to readers, but it’d be a stretch to find Finke in violation of any cut-and-dry law here. That said, decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis. And we’re not the only ones to raise an eyebrow to this kind of thing, either: