Sponsored journalism – always dishonest and lacking in integrity?

In Sweden, and I guess elsewhere as well, there’s an ongoing discussion about sponsored journalism and that it’s dishonest to the readers. But is it? Can it even be that it is more honest?

We all know it – good journalism cost. It’s that simple, and more and more we’re getting used to “free” journalism, so it’s harder for the traditional outlets to finance their business. I put free between brackets because there is no such thing as free, sooner or later someone must pay. But I’m more discussing integrity here. Because there is a sense that sponsored journalism lacks integrity and only exist as a kind of infotainment. This time around it was a piece on the Swedish radio about one major Swedish newspaper that had started a co-operation with an auction house and thanks to that was able to offer high-quality articles on the art market. The sponsored journalists did not hide under which circumstances the articles have been produced. In other words it was clear that the content is produced in collaboration with this auction house. The radio journalists approached the subject under the assumption that sponsored journalism is dishonest and lacking integrity, and that “their” type of journalism is so much better. But “their” journalism is state sponsored through taxes, so how free is that? It is perceived so because we don’t see the direct relationship between the funds and the result, but is not only a perception? Can’t it be that sponsored content is much more honest and show higher integrity because the sender is (or at least should be) clearly identified and I as a reader know this? If I know that an article on pain management is written by pharma company producing a certain pain remedy I take that into account when I read the text. When I read a text by a journalist specialised in pharma I can’t be sure of the sources, and as a PR with a fair few years of competence in working with the press under my belt, I know for a fact that “sponsored” content i.e. successful pitch, is not unusual.

Can it be that openly sponsored journalism has higher integrity than we give it credit for? What say you?

One response to “Sponsored journalism – always dishonest and lacking in integrity?

  1. In any ”organized and commercial” publishing organization, advertising has always been the source of revenue that allows writers to write, editors to edit, presses to roll, and so on. In journalism school, we are taught to separate church and state (editorial opinions, ad bias and the news) and to always remain objective in reporting.

    Today’s ”sponsored journalism” is no different than former practices of ”advertorials” or news stories produced by advertisers. In my own experience, I worked for a large Los Angeles metropolitan newspaper that was backed by major city department stores advertising. When I reported on a disastrous fire at one of the stores, it ended up buried in the paper and cut down to a couple of paragraphs. Similarly, when I covered a Presidential candidate who happened to be a Democrat, the Republican candidate always got more space. The paper was heavily conservative, as evidenced by their editorial page slant.

    The question of integrity is not for well-trained journalists to answer, but for the gatekeepers to ponder. It is becoming a critical issue now that there are less printed news outlets and more online venues where advertising is undergoing a monumental paradigm upheaval.

    Gilla

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