Category Archives: Checkbook Journalism

New Words for Old Ideas

By Casey Bukro

Every so often, some new terminology creeps into journalism lingo. Sometimes it’s a new concept, and sometimes it’s an old concept cloaked in different words.

That could apply to the term “sponsored views.”

In an interview with iMediaEthics, Patrick Pexton, former Washington Post ombudsman, said “sponsored views” are new words for “advertorials, messages provided by advertisers in a way that looks like journalism, or slightly cloaked journalism.”

But, he added emphatically, “it ain’t journalism.” Instead, it’s brand journalism.

This became an issue, as iMediaEthics reported, when the Washington Post launched a Sponsored Media program on June 12, allowing special interest groups to buy advertisements that are presented as comments below op-ed pieces on the Washington Post website.

The move came three months after the Post abandoned its ombudsman position and replaced it with a reader represenatative. Pexton was the newspaper’s last ombudsman, serving from 2011 to 2012.

The move was motivated by finance, said Pexton. ” The Post needs more revenue,” he said.

Since then, Jeffrey Bezos, founder and CEO of, bought the Post for $250 million.

One writer wonders if brand journalism and ethics can co-exist?

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.

Paying For The News in South Africa

By Casey Bukro

Journalism in one form another is going on all across the world.

Sometimes it’s not quite recognizable as we in the United States know it. Makes you think.

In South Africa, the grieving parents of slain model Reeva Steenkamp hired a British agency to manage media organizations that will pay the Steenkamps a fee for their story.

That’s called checkbook journalism, and considered unethical. The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics urges journalists to “avoid bidding for news.”

Barry and June Steenkamp said they resorted to the fee-for-information approach because they were “overwhelmed” by the number of media organizations across the world that wanted interviews.

The Cape Argus reported that while many look askance at the practice, “there is sympathy for those caught in the middle of of a so-called media circus and who succumb to the pressures of interacting with journalists seeking an exclusive interview.”

Olympic athlete and boyfriend Oscar Pistorius was charged in Steenkamp’s death.

Paying for news was at the root of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. phone hacking and bribery scandals.

In that case, a culture of checkbook journalism led to bribery charges against four former News Corp. journalists.  News Corp. also closed its News of the World in the wake of a phone hacking scandal.

The Columbia Journalism Review calls checkbook journalism a “slippery slope.”