Thursday, November 3, 2016

New Ways to Make Money the Same Ethics: News Organizations and Branded Content

Christian Phillips

What is Branded Content?

Branded content is also known as “native advertising.” Branded content seeks to operate the opposite way of traditional advertising; instead of placing advertisements for a brand within the content of a news organization, it places content within the brand and that ends up being the advertisement. It can be explained more simply as advertisement disguised to look like the other content on a platform, usually online.

Branded content has come about as a result of the evolution of the Internet. The online community has become relatively immune to banner ads so brands are looking for ways to promote their products and services. On the side of news producing organizations, they are always looking for ways to create revenue while at the same time, maintaining their journalistic integrity. So branded content comes with someone guidelines.

Is Branded Content Ethical?

The main ethical issue that arises when it comes to branded content is independence. Since brands are paying to either have journalists write stories that bring attention to their products and services or are paying for permission to have access to content management systems. The trust people have in media is fragile, so something like branded content could damage this relationship further.

Just like any other ethical issue that faces journalists, they should find the best way to serve themselves and their other stakeholders. In the case of branded content, the other main stakeholders are the brands the news organization works with and their readership. Publications should seek to help both parties and there are several ways to do this: 
  1. Be transparent- clearly label branded content, let readers know this is sponsored and branded content
  2. Be sure that branded content serves a purpose beyond being an ad- allow sponsored content to still be journalistic by bringing information to the readers. Publications should ask themselves if they would still publish a piece of branded content if they weren’t being paid to.
  3. Allow readers to engage with the content- just like any other piece of journalist writing that appears online it is important to allow people to comment on it, whether good or bad   
There are other guidelines some journalists agree should be followed but another one that stands out is the need for respect to organizational divide. People on the news staff should not be creating branded content; they should focus on creating newsworthy pieces. Instead, brands should be allowed to create these pieces of branded content with the consultation of journalists and then approved by someone attached to the news organization they wish to publish with.

Publications must keep in mind that their number one priority is to serve the public by providing them with valuable and honest content. They also need to be careful not to rely too heavily on branded content. Readers seek the publications they do for simple, truthful and non-editorial content. Though well-written sponsored content can be successful publications have to be ever aware not to cross that line of too much.

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