Smart Way to Raise Revenue or Ethics Breach?

By Casey Bukro

Three California universities paid the Orange County Register in Southern California $275,000 for a year’s worth of weekly sections featuring campus life.

An NPR report asked: Is that a smart way to raise revenue, or a serious breach of journalism ethics?

Not clear is just how transparent the arrangement is, and whether readers fully understand that the coverage — including soft features, photos of students and guest columns written by faculty members — is bought and paid for, and not strictly news coverage. More like infomercials or advertorials. They are paid content.

The University of California, Irvine, California State University, Fullerton and Chapman University think it’s a good deal and a good use of publicity budgets.

A Register official said it’s “a great service for the community” and features advertisers in an advertising section.

The story quotes Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute, saying readers must decide if the practice is acceptable, and whether the newspaper’s credibility is damaged. He goes on to add that as all newspapers struggle to survive, they must be creative about finding new sources of revenue.

The report also points out that sponsored content might be the future of newspapers.

Google has issued warnings on the use of advertorials on websites.

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About cbukro

Casey Bukro was inducted into the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame in 2008 for outstanding contributions to Chicago journalism, after a 45 year career with the Chicago Tribune. Bukro retired from the Tribune in 2007 as overnight editor. He had pioneered in environmental reporting and in 1970 became the first full-time environment specialist at a major metropolitan newspaper in the United States and covered major developments on that beat for 30 years. He won the newspaper’s highest editorial award in 1967 for a series on Great Lakes pollution. The Society of Professional Journalists awarded Bukro its highest honor, the Wells Key, in 1983 for writing that organization’s first code of ethics. He is a past president of SPJ’s national ethics committee and a past president of the Chicago Headline Club. Bukro graduated with bachelor and master degrees from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. In 1998, he received the Northwestern University Alumni Association’s alumni service award for 17 years of volunteer service to the university. He has lectured in environmental journalism and journalism ethics at Northwestern, the University of Chicago, DePaul University, Loyola University Chicago, Columbia College, Columbia University and others. Before joining the Tribune staff, Bukro worked at the former City News Bureau of Chicago and the Janesville Gazette, Janesville, Wis.

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