July 17, 2013
When The Atlantic ended its brief business relationship with the Church of Scientology in January after publishing an online advertorial for the group that resembled a regular article, publishers realized they needed clear principles for handling content paid for and produced by marketers. As Forbes.com reports, Edelman has published a new paper laying out what it calls an “ethical framework” for sponsored content.
Based on interviews with executives at more than 30 media companies, the framework consists of six “ideals” — starting with disclosure that sponsored content appearing on news sites is sponsored. Another ideal is to provide the audience with an opportunity to give feedback. The Atlantic’s biggest mistake was not accepting marketing dollars from a controversial organization, but that it screened out negative comments about the article to make it appear the responses were overwhelmingly favorable.
Edelman’s other ideals for ethically handling sponsored content include a commitment to working with journalists, and continuously updating sponsored stories so they’re as current as news content. The framework recommends no quid pro quo arrangements between buying sponsored stories and editorial coverage, and a nonporous divide between those who produce and place sponsored content and those who work directly with journalists. — Greg Beaubien