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Archive for the 'Credibility is Critical' Category

Free newspaper — paid news?


Dear Tina Chadha and Editors of (Boston) Metro,

I’m not a regular reader of Metro but I happened to flip through today’s issue while on the Green line. On the “Careers and Wealth” page I found a text by Ms. Chadha “Use the Internet to keep on track”  which describes a single product by the Behance network in glowing terms. It includes  3 graphic elements: a picture of the current product and its earlier incarnation and a little button that says “Learn more at” which is the website of the company, not of your publication or some independent or generic organization. (The online version has no graphics, but the text includes a clickable link to the website for the product.) I’m unable to see what distinguishes this item from a marketing pitch for a commercial product. Is it in fact an advertisement? Did Behance compensate Ms. Chadha or Metro for this piece? If so, what is Metro’s policy about labelling such “advertiorial” content? In a brief search, I didn’t see anything that looked like an ethics policy on your site to help readers figure out what your policy about paid articles might be.
If the company didn’t pay for this excellent promotion, you’re doing yourselves a huge disservice by not writing the article in a way that makes that clear. Even more so if Ms. Chadha actually “reported” this story rather than just re-writing a helpful press release.
Feel free to post your response in the comments field on my blog –  I notice you don’t have comments enabled on your site, which is a pity.

Persephone Miel

Image – my own snapshot of the paper version of Metro, since the online version doesn’t have the graphics.

When PR people worry about ethics, you know you have a problem*


Scary must-read column by Michael Bush from this morning’s Ad Age email reports that “19% of the 252 chief marketing officers and marketing directors surveyed said their organizations had bought advertising in return for a news story” and quotes the CEO of the company that did the study saying “I’m not saying it’s a huge problem,” Mr. Hass said. “But 19% of senior marketers saying they do it constitutes a problem.” Never mind that if 19% admit that they do it, how many might actually be doing it??

If you care about the credibility of the online media, you’ll think the problem is huge. Read the whole article to find out how many marketing people said the marketing industry as a whole is not following ethical guidelines in the new-media realm, it’ll send chills down your spine. Besides educating the public to be more skeptical, as Dan Gillmor recommends, is this more the problem of the PR industry failing to live up to a code of ethics? Or the failure of the traditional and/or online media who accept these deals, failing to live up to their own standards? Which is easier to do something about?

Public Relations Society of America Member Code of Ethics 2000 – “Preserve the free flow of unprejudiced information when giving or receiving gifts by ensuring that gifts are nominal, legal, and infrequent.”

A Bloggers’ code of Ethics (from “Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence content. When exceptions are made, disclose them fully to readers.”

American Society of Newspaper Editors Statement of Principles “Journalists must avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety as well as any conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict. They should neither accept anything nor pursue any activity that might compromise or seem to compromise their integrity.”

See also links to many journalism ethics codes from traditional media groups, helpfully collected by ASNE.

*Disclaimer: I have friends who work or have worked in PR who are wonderful and honorable people. Just as I know at least one honest real estate agent, who also happens to be a journalist, book author, and an occasional blogger, (and no, I get no kickbacks for promoting her stuff, she’s just a friend whose work I enjoy and you should too) I’m sure that there are many other good folks in PR, who know the extent of the truth behind the stereotypes of their industry and will therefore have the good sense not to be offended by this headline.

Image: Handshake-Money
Uploaded to Flickr by A.

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Can online firestorm get big media to investigate itself?


UPDATE 8/8/08 – If you only read one thing about this story, go directly to John McQuaid’s excellent wrap-up analysis. The short version is that ABC’s Brian Ross has given an interview making clear that the whole thing was a lot less sinister than some of us worried.

About 3 million Americans were watching as you reported that the deadly Anthrax sent to politicians and journalism organizations could be traced to Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons program. You were given this information by people you had reason to believe had access to the investigation and who insisted on anonymity. Telling the understandably terrified American people in the weeks after 9/11 that Iraq might be behind the Anthrax attacks clearly helped make the Bush administration’s case for war in Iraq. So, what do you do when you learn your anonymous sources were lying to you and you in turn were lying to your audience?

In an interesting test of whether online-only media can challenge the powers-that-be, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald makes a case that ABC News was deceived by sources whom it promised anonymity about the source of the 2001 Anthrax attacks and in turn deceived its massive audience, helping make the case for war against Iraq. My fellow Fellow and Center for Citizen Media founder Dan Gillmor, of Arizona State University and NYU’s Jay Rosen are leading a charge to get ABC to answer these charges and reveal who was using them to perpetrate this deadly manipulation of public opinion? They have come up with the following three questions that they want ABC to answer. What will it take to get ABC to respond? Here are Dan and Jay’s questions:

Three Vital Questions for ABC News About its Anthrax Reporting in 2001

1. Sources who are granted confidentiality give up their rights when they lie or mislead the reporter. Were you lied to or misled by your sources when you reported several times in 2001 that anthrax found in domestic attacks came from Iraq or showed signs of Iraqi involvement?

2. It now appears that the attacks were of domestic origin and the anthrax came from within U.S. government facilities. This leads us to ask you: who were the “four well-placed and separate sources” who falsely told ABC News that tests conducted at Fort Detrick showed bentonite in the anthrax sent to Sen. Tom Daschle, causing ABC News to connect the attacks to Iraq in multiple reports over a five day period in October, 2001?

3. A substantially false story that helps make the case for war by raising fears about enemies abroad attacking the United States is released into public debate because of faulty reporting by ABC News. How that happened and who was responsible is itself a major story of public interest. What is ABC News doing to re-report these events, to figure out what went wrong and to correct the record for the American people who were misled?

There’s lots more to read: Glenn’s original posts Vital unresolved anthrax questions and ABC News and Journalists, their lying sources, and the anthrax investigation, are followed up today with Additional key facts re: the anthrax investigation, which includes links to much of the follow-up, including John McQuaid declaring the blogosphere officially “aflame.” Jay and Dan’s excellent posts exploring the journalistic implications (and follow-ups via Twitter here.) Comments threads on the Blotter, the website of Brian Ross’ Investigative Unit are calling for ABC to investigate.

I absolutely agree that ABC should explain how this story came to be, but am withholding judgment on whether and how their sources should be named based on that investigation. On the not so black-and-white front, people I respect who’ve worked with Brian Ross on other stories give him a lot more credit for journalistic integrity and the ability to admit mistakes than Glenn Greenwald does, which leads me to hope that demanding an investigation doesn’t become a personalized witchhunt. But I’ll be watching to see what it takes to get the attention of ABC News, or its parent company Disney.

“At Disney, each of us is responsible for upholding our excellence and our integrity. This means acting responsibly in all our professional relationships, in a manner consistent with the high standards we set for our business conduct.”

– Bob Iger
President and Chief Executive Officer (from Disney’s corporate site)

Note: Very light blogging in August as my writing energy goes into wrestling with my white paper in progress. I fear only one of us will survive this epic battle.

Images: Mickey Mouse dressed up for the holidays by Zengrrl via Flickr.

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