Monday, May 23, 2011

It's Better to Disclose Than to Deceive

Eamonn Reynolds

Product Placement. We see it everywhere from in sporting events, to our favorite television programs, to magazines, to talk shows. We soak it all up sub-consciously and it has sparked conflicts between many media outlets and advertising agencies. As social media continues to surge into literally every aspect of our daily personal and social lives, this concept is becoming even more prevalent in our consumption of news and information. Bloggers who are paid to promote certain products sometimes hide the fact that they are receiving compensation for their reviews, while celebrities have started tweeting positive feedback about companies and organizations.

An average person may ask, “So what?” or “What’s the big deal?” However, as journalists, it is our responsibility to examine this increasing trend and approach it from an ethical standpoint. The key point that must be addressed is as product placement continues to find its way into mainstream media, it is essential for those involved to disclose what they are doing, rather than deceive their audiences.

In the Wall Street Journal article titled “Paid to Pitch: Product Reviews by Bloggers Draw Scrutiny,” authors Miguel Bustillo and Ann Zimmerman address this very issue. They write, “Not all bloggers make clear that they are being compensated to talk up products, if they disclose it at all. The Internet is becoming so rife with paid blogging that the Federal Trade Commission, which guards against false advertisements, is examining whether it should police bloggers” (Bustillo and Zimmerman). This raises an interesting point. After taking JOUR 370: Media Relations and Publicity this quarter, I am an advocate for the full disclosure of compensation by bloggers. If bloggers wish to maintain their reputation and credibility, they must make it clear to their readers that they are indeed receiving payment for their reviews. Hiding this from their readers will only damage their credibility and make media outlets who plan to pitch them question their reliability.

However, the discussion does not stop with bloggers. The same problem applies to major social media outlets such as Twitter, where celebrity presence is monumental. In the Poynter article titled “News organizations sign deals for sponsored tweets, then do not participate in them,” author Adam Hochberg raises good points. Personally, I am content with allowing celebrities such as Michael Ian Black, Kim Kardashian, and Mark Cuban to promote sites such as AOL; however, the same disclosure must be applied. With the thousands of followers who are connected to these high-status people, it makes AOL look unethical if this information is not disclosed. It’s OK to make money, but again, hiding this from the audience should be avoided at all costs.

For a deeper look into the future of media buying and Twitter, check out this column by Tessa Wegert on Clickz.

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