Tanzina Vega writes how a growing number of well-known online media like Huffington Post, The Atlantic, BuzzFeed and even the online edition of The Washington Post are now including forms of branded content. Often, it's written by the outlet's regular news staffers. But it's clearly sponsored by a company or a brand.
The article explains that this is happening as media are struggling to monetize their sites in ways that bring in more money than simple banner ads, which are often ignored by readers.
Sponsored content is not new. Even newspapers as old-school as The New York Times have, for years, carried special sponsor-supported supplements and sections, often tied to an event like the Auto Show or the U.S. Tennis Open. Or from time to time, we'll see a few pages in The Times business section promoting business in a particul;ar country, clearly spomsored by that nation's trade mission and some local banks and other businesses. But these sponsored sections are always clearly identified as sponsored, and they usually are written by writers not on The Times' staff.
I have no problem with sponsored articles, but with these caveats..
Sponsored articles should always be clearly labeled as such.
Sponsored articles should not simply be puff pieces and should be balanced
I want newsrooms to survive. A democracy needs independent and unfiltered news. So if sponsored articles will help keep newsrooms alive, I'm for it.
But, for me at least, when I see a sponsored article, I won't read it with quite the same level of trust as I would an unsponsored article. Nagging in the back of my mind will be the question of what information was not included or played down to keep the sponsor happy.
That's not a question I really want to be wondering about when I read what is supposed to be news.