Ethics puzzler; you decide: Three California universities paid the Orange County Register $275.000 for a year’s worth of weekly sections featuring campus life. A smart way to raise revenue, or a serious breach of journalism ethics? From the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists archives.
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 Amazon.com, bought the Post for $250 million.
One writer wonders if brand journalism and ethics can co-exist?
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.