Freelancedom and Moral Ambiguity


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It can be tough to make money when you have a conscience.

Over the weekend, I asked tweeters whether they thought their feelings toward a manuscript’s subject matter subconsciously affected the way in which they edited it. I was slogging my way through a particularly arduous manuscript, and the contents weren’t helping matters. “You’re getting a paycheck,” my husband told me when I complained.

True enough. But have you ever found yourself turning down a project because of personal biases? Or turning down advertising dollars or freebies because you couldn’t bring yourself to endorse a profuct or service?

After the jump, various sources of freelance-y moral crossroads:


Back in September, Bitch magazine sent out a cry for help, telling readers that they were low on cash and that, without donations, they could very well fold. Jezebel then did up an interesting post on Bitch’s continual financial problems, citing, among other things, their love/hate relationship with advertisers:

“…the mag only sells ads to “smaller, independent advertisers whose products and services are aligned with [their] mission of formulating replies to the sexist and narrow-minded media,” so its income is, um, limited…its ad policy…is perhaps an indication of why such stringent idealism isn’t exactly realistic.”

Anyone else out there being over-cautious with their advertising usage and placement? (Ooh! Me! Me!) Has anyone been able to find a happy medium between using advertising that doesn’t alienate readers and actually making money?

Questionable Content:

As mentioned above the fold, I’ve been making my painstaking way through a very rough manuscript, practically rewriting content that — some of the time — I’ve been somewhat taken aback by. If I had to do it over again, would I have turned down the project despite my desperate need for increased income?

As a sex writer, I suppose I have a higher tolerance for certain types of content, but I can still be picky about the work I take on. (This is where the “starving” in “starving artist” comes from.) Would you turn down a project due to different moral values if you were struggling to make ends meet?


As a products blogger who sometimes does product-related reviews (and a sex writer who sometimes reviews toys, books, etc.), I receive a good amount of freebies. So I read Jennifer’s post on Bloggers as Moochers with much interest. In it, she expresses the opinion that accepting freebies for review on a blog is unethical, and can  harm your credibility, and alienate readers. I commented on the post, expressing a less black-and-white opinion. Part of my comment:

“I receive unsolicited press releases for both [blogs that I write for]. I accept samples only for those products that I feel would make for a good test drive post, or for which a review would prove helpful to readers. Sometimes, I also request samples, if the products fall under what I’ve described in the preceding sentence. Some samples must be returned. Some I end up keeping around. Some I raffle off on the blog after review. Whatever happens, though, I’m as likely to give a bad review as I am a good review.”

The Blog Herald also has an interesting post on this topic.

What do you think?

And in what other areas of freelancing have you been forced question yourself on an ethical level?


  1. Just want to clarify – my post wasn’t actually about whether or not receiving freebies as a blogger is wrong. It was specifically about whether or not bloggers should join a network solely for that purpose of actively saying “give me free stuff,” and what that says to readers about a blogger’s overall motivations. 😉 There’s a huge difference in my book between those bloggers who feel entitled and who cover things for freebies while never investing in review material on their own if they think it will be of value to readers, and those who have simply done a good enough job to attract PR folks with review copies on the merits of their blogs.

    Like I said in my original post – “If you want people to respect you and your opinion on your blog, build it up. Promote it. Build an engaged community of readers. Frankly, as a blogger, that’s your “job.” When you do your job, and do it well, you’ll see the perks.”

  2. Hey there Jenn! 🙂 Sorry to oversimplify your thesis. I thought your topic — and the discussion it generated — were fascinating, and brought up some excellent points about credibility and the creation of content that benefits your readers. Sometimes, it feels like a fine line to walk.

  3. It’s definitely an interesting discussion. It’s a hot topic at the moment in the PR industry as well – how much disclosure is enough, whether or not sponsored posts are okay, and what constitutes sponsorship (only cash payments, or do freebies have the same effect). All in all, I don’t have a problem with sponsorships. For me it comes down to the ethics of the individual bloggers I read, and I think we’re all capable of making choices as to whether or not to trust someone’s reviews. My bigger issue is with companies to hand out freebies under the guise of blogger relations rather than calling it the content marketing / sponsorship that it is.

    I have a post on that topic at which stemmed from Chris Brogan’s recent piece on sponsored posts:

    It’s an interesting topic for sure, and one that seems to drive people to one side of that line or the other. I haven’t quite lost my balance yet. 😉

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