Andy Schotz, SPJ Ethics Committee Chairman, (240) 420-2993
Beth King, SPJ Communications Manager, (317) 507-8911
INDIANAPOLIS — Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists commend newsroom employees at the Memphis Commercial Appeal for taking a stance against a plan that would have resulted in “sponsored” news.
The newspaper planned to have FedEx sponsor a six-part series on the city's international links, according to an Editor & Publisher story on Thursday. The series might have reported on FedEx, too, creating an unavoidable, damaging conflict. But after several newsroom employees spoke out, the plan to “monetize content” was abandoned.
In the story published by E&P, Commercial Appeal editor Chris Peck said: “I went to our publisher and said we have probably gone half a step more than we should have gone on this project…It is treacherous ground when you start talking about having an advertiser in a section that has them in the reporting.”
As news organizations develop creative ways to create new revenue streams in a time of lower circulation and ratings, SPJ encourages journalists to keep a vigilant eye toward journalistic independence and integrity. A wall between news and advertising must be firmly established and upheld. The trust of readers, viewers and listeners is at stake, and once lost, cannot be retrieved.
“I cringed when I read about an editor's interest in ‘monetizing content,’ a phrase that needs a wall right in the middle of it,” SPJ Ethics Committee Chairman Andy Schotz said. “Outsiders’ money should not be involved in the news process.”
To help journalists keep advertising dollars and content separate, SPJ leaders suggest following the Society’s Code of Ethics, which states in part:
• Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived
• Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility
• Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.
The full code can be found at www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, the Society of Professional Journalists promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For further information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.