I’ve been wondering when Gabe Rivera would finally get around to “monetizing” his wildly popular (in tech circles) TechMeme. Gabe clearly put a lot of thought into his sponsorship model, which allows sponsors to display items from their RSS content feed on the front page of TechMeme. It’s very original, and like all great ideas, totally obvious once you see it.

As TechMeme-pleasingly New Media as TechMeme sponsorships seem to be, the question of their effectiveness can be addressed with very Old Media terms: “earned” vs. “paid” placement. As Erick Schonfeld points out:

Of course, the counter-argument to all of this is that if these corporate bloggers really had something interesting to say, their posts would show up on Techmeme naturally. To be fair, this already does happen with the posts of at least one of the initial sponsors, Ross Mayfield of Socialtext.

If the best corporate bloggers like Ross Mayfield can earn their way onto TechMeme, why pay? A few reasons come to mind. First, earned media has to be earned (duh) — there’s no guarantee that any corporate blogger can get a post up on TechMeme on any given day. Second, a sponsor who is skilled at earning editorial spots on TechMeme can take advantage of the paid placement by writing about topics that are likely to “earn” the attention of TechMeme readers.

Paid placement is not a free pass — the attention still has to be earned.

If only the rest of advertising could figure that out.