Every day there are ethical decisions that impact the hundreds or thousands of people who watch, read, listen, and/or click on a media source. The foundation for making the right decision starts with ethics classes in college. Students in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism will use this blog to reflect on ethical questions in the media today.
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Ethics and Sponsored Content
Source: Google Images
Can sponsored content be done ethically?
The first issue to address with sponsored content is always keeping readers at the top of the list. They are your number one priority, and we are doing them a disservice if we are not transparent.
Being 100 percent honest to readers about sponsored content is the best way to be transparent.
Firstly, labeling the content as sponsored is absolutely necessary for a news outlet choosing to publish sponsored content.
The fact that the content is sponsored should also be very clearly marked to readers.
Readers should not be tricked into thinking sponsored or branded content is just like the rest of the content coming from the news organization.
It should be communicated to readers how the organization was involved in the creation of the branded content.
Poynter wrote an article about maintaining ethical standards when publishing sponsored content and it states, “It seems pretty obvious that
sponsored content should be labeled in some way -- every publisher seems to do
that. But that might not be enough. The reader deserves to know not only that
this is sponsored content, but what role the sponsors played in
shaping the content. Did the sponsors write it themselves? Did you write it but
they reviewed it before publishing? Or did they have no control and just want
to associate their brand with the content? It would be ideal if every piece of
sponsored content incorporated or linked to such a disclosure.”
Readers have the right to know where their content is coming from and who was involved in giving it to them. This is important to an organization's credibility.
Sponsored content can be done ethically as long as it does not become the most prominent content that is published. This article from PRSA about branded content talks about the ethics of branded content and mentions a set of guidelines by the PR firm, Edelman, for sponsored content.
They make a good point about not letting original content slack when using sponsored content. The article says, "Don’t let it
become a substitute for earned media. Just because you post branded content
doesn’t mean that you should stop working with the PR community to develop
stories that deserve publication."
By providing readers with content that is branded does not mean original content can slack or become less important. Authentic, unbiased reporting should always remain first priority.
Sponsored content may be able to be traced back to the current financial state of news outlets, especially print. They are low on money. And how do they get some? By letting companies with big bucks come in and send their message out to readers. It makes sense why it has become such a big trend the past few years.
Digitally, a reader can simply click on a link and be taken directly to the company's website. I get it, it is a way for news organizations to keep their heads above water in a difficult period for news.
PRSA agrees, "The rise of branded content as a tool for both editorial organizations and PR practitioners was probably inevitable, considering the changing economics of both professions. It makes sense: Editorial needs content and ways to pay for it, which presents an opportunity for those of us who have messages to convey on behalf of clients. They get the content they need and our clients get their message out."
Sponsored content is not a malevolent trick on the weak, but a symbiotic relationship between journalists and PR professionals.