Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Lindsay Shirk


Product Placement has become a very controversial issue these days. When I first thought of product placement, I thought "that only happens in movies." But it isn't just in movies. Product Placement happens in blogging, tweeting, news publications and more. Honestly, I don't think there should be room for product placement in the news world. As journalists we are supposed to be objective news reporters, unswayed by companies urging us to help them sell more. This isn't happening if bloggers are accepting money to blog about a certain product, tweets are being posted promoting a brand, and news organizations are allowing product placement in their papers for money.

Product placement isn't hard either. It's as simple as using a company's or product's name only once in a news story or blog. And for doing so, you could make big bucks. Sounds tempting, doesn't it. It can be as simple as attaching a photo that "just happens to have a specific company's brand of car in the background" to a story in the newspaper. But as ethical journalists, we need to know when to say no. That's the problem that stands before us today.

An argument has been made as well that product placement can be appropriate if you as the person posting or promoting it actually believes in the product or company. For example, the article by Greg Toppo from USA TODAY shone light on how the Bush administration paid a prominent black pundit $240,000 to promote an education reform law on his national TV show and to urge other black journalists to do the same. In response to this, the journalists,Armstrong Williams, said he accepted and did this because it what something he actually believed in.
Is this an ethical dilemma? I definitely think it is. Our SPJ ethics codes blatantly tell us to be objective and not be pressured by outside parties. He could have had two options: not take the money and promote it on his own or be totally objective and speak about both sides of the law he believed in inorder to let people make their own decisions.

This photo above is a shot from a Las Vegas daybreak news program who was paid by McDonald's to place their iced coffee drinks on the show.

This is a prime example of the many dilemmas pertaining to product placement that we journalists may face in our near future. Although making a few extra bucks to consciously place a word in your tweet or attach a photo to your blog or story may sound nice, we need to remember we are here to be objective and use our ethical decision making skills to be real journalists.

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