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Can readers tell when an article is ‘sponsored’?


April 3, 2013

When The Atlantic published an article on its website in January that the Church of Scientology paid for, the post was widely ridiculed and soon removed. The article, which carried the headline “David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year,” had a yellow banner at the top saying “SPONSOR CONTENT.” But as Digiday reports, the magazine lacked clear policies on this relatively new form of content that intentionally blurs the line between editorial and advertising.

The site has since posted its policies on sponsored content, which The Atlantic promises will be reviewed by a senior staff committee and include a disclaimer that reads, “This content is made possible by our Sponsor; it is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Atlantic’s editorial staff.” Others news sites, like BuzzFeed, argue that their sponsored content is clearly labeled, eliminating the need for posted guidelines.

But since these ads mimic editorial content, the difference isn’t always apparent, especially when labels are ambiguous. Some sites — including BuzzFeed and Digiday — refer to the ads somewhat euphemistically as “partner” content. Forbes calls its sponsored content “BrandVoice.” James Del, in charge of sponsored posts at Gawker, says “We want to help brands create great content that people actually find interesting and useful, and if we do that right, then it should be crystal clear that a brand was involved. — Greg Beaubien



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