Ask the readers: How much money would it take for you to compromise your principles?

by J.D. Roth

An Allegory

There was once a man who became a vegetarian. Because he believed that all living creatures have souls, he swore he would never again consume animal flesh. For three years, he ate only vegetable matter. People offered him money to eat meat, but he steadfastly refused.”Will you try a turkey sandwich for $2?” a woman asked one day. “No,” he said.

“Will you try this hot dog for $20?” a little boy once asked at the county fair. “No,” he said.

“Will you try a piece of steak for $200?” asked his mother-in-law at her 70th birthday party. “No,” he said.

“Will you try a piece of ham for $2,000?” asked his wife on Christmas Day. The man considered it for a moment, but then he shouted, “No. I am a vegetarian. I will not eat meat!”

One day a crafty gentleman appeared to him. “Will you try a piece of bacon?” the gentleman asked. “All you have to do is tell me what you think of it — and then tell your friends. If you do this little thing, I will give you $20,000.”

What did the man do?

Have you ever wondered how much money it would take for you to compromise your principles? I’ve thought about it, but I’ve never really been tested.

Today I was tested.

A major U.S. company offered to purchase advertising on this site. That’s not unusual. What’s unusual was the money involved and the method they wished to employ. They were offering to pay an enormous sum in order for me to provide “advertorials” — to promote their product under the guise of a series of blog posts.

Though Get Rich Slowly generates revenue through traditional advertising and through affiliate sales, I’ve always refused to provide paid posts. Maybe I’m performing mental gymnastics, but for myself, there’s a difference between earning money when I recommend a product of my own accord, and earning money by posting an article for which I’ve been asked to be a shill.

I’ve spent the last two days laboring over this decision. I’ve talked with friends and family. I’ve talked with colleagues. I’ve sought sage advice from every corner. And I’ve considered a variety of creative solutions:

I cannot deny that I’ve been sorely tempted by this proposal.

In the end, however, a problem still remained: by accepting the offer, I would be allowing an advertiser to direct my editorial content. And if I did this once, then what about the next time? Where would I draw the line? Would there even be a line? All of the solutions left me feeling a little bit dirty, and I didn’t like it. The only way I could feel clean was to decline.

Note: I am not condemning bloggers who might choose to accept this offer and others like it. We each have our own personal codes of conduct. Some people are vegetarians, and others aren’t. This isn’t about whether paid posts are always right or wrong. This is about what is right and wrong for me, for my own conscience. It’s about the general relationship between money and personal values.

Instead, I submitted a proposal that says, “Hey. Get Rich Slowly is one of the biggest personal finance blogs on the internet. It’s good to advertise here. Give me the money and I will take down every other ad for a month. You can have all of the ad space.” Again, maybe I’m performing mental gymnastics, but this doesn’t make me feel dirty. I’ve accepted paid advertising on this site since day one. The only thing different about this would be the order of magnitude.

But it’s unlikely that the advertiser will accept my counter-proposal. It’s not what they’re after.

Posting an advertorial isn’t illegal or immoral; it’s just against my personal principles, and conflicts with my vision for this site. But if I had been offered a million dollars, I’m fairly certain we wouldn’t be having this conversation. My principles would have vanished. I would have eaten the bacon — and then I would have told you all how great it tasted.

Have you faced a similar dilemma in your own life? Have your principles ever been challenged by money? What did you do? Were you happy with your decision?

Updated: 09 January 2009

Do what's right. Do your best. Accept the outcome.
Copyright © 1994 - 2022 by J.D. Roth