Saturday, April 07, 2007

Is Online Journalism Ethically Unique?

Some strange arguments are surfacing these days re the ethics of journalism...Editor's Weblog posts on MarketWatch's decision to allow Bambi Francisco to to accept stake in a matchmaker for startups and venture capitalists.

In the case of individuals who are identified as journalists (separating from "citizen journalists"), who are working with known news agencie, there doesn't seem to be a reason to allow them a different set of ethical standards than their print counterparts.

How would MarketwWatch feel if a tech reporter for the New York Times took money from the same company as Francisco--and then wrote articles about them afterward?

Yet, it's not just journalistic ethics at play here--there's some overlap into the realm of unidentified paid endorsements on the Internet. The FTC set up a guideline for Word of Mouth Marketing
"The FTC said it would investigate cases where there is a relationship between the endorser of a product and the seller that is not disclosed and could affect the endorsement. The FTC staff said it would go after violators on a case-by-case basis. Consequences could include a cease-and-desist order, fines and civil penalties ranging from thousands of dollars to millions of dollars. Engle said the agency had not brought any cases against word-of-mouth marketers."

So, even if Francisco is seen as a word of mouth marketer, she would have to disclose that she had a relationship with the company that she was writing about.

It seems that, even if she claims to be not a journalist as Amanda Congdon recently claimed re her relationship with DuPont and ABC News there is some violation of FTC guidelines re paid endorsements and word of mouth marketing...

Because when a celebrity starts to talk about a product in public, it is, tacitly, an endorsement. That's how it's perceived by the public anyway...

So, should Francisco disclose? Well, even if she wants to use the not-a-journalist argument, she might still have to deal with the FTC. If she wants to use the not-a-paid-marketer claim, on top of the not-a-journalist claim, then I'd question what her role online is in general...

Either way--as a journalist or marketer--Francisco's relationship to Vator (the company that's paid her) should be disclosed.

No comments: