A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

Quill question: When does sponsored content require disclosure?

By Lou Harry

An SPJ member asked: “A local entertainment publication provides a weekly print edition with information on weekly entertainment happenings in the area. They also feature various articles on people and events. Sometimes the cover is sold for the featured event. Does this require a disclosure?

Quill turned the question over to Lynn Walsh, current Ethics Chair for the Society of Professional Journalists.

Lynn Walsh, SPJ Ethics committee chair

“First and foremost, sponsored content should always be labeled,” she responded. “That goes for when it is shared on social media platforms, posted online or aired on TV, radio or a podcast.”

“With this example,” she added, “if any of the organizations (bars, museums, restaurants) pay the news organization to be on the flyer, website, printout, etc., I think that should be disclosed. If it’s not, then users read it and think it is truly something the news organization recommends. That recommendation could bring a lot of weight into someone deciding to attend the event or not. But, if they are paying to get mentioned, I may not weigh the news organizations recommendation as much when making my decision about what to do that weekend.”

“The same goes with any articles or stories written about these events, businesses, and people,” she said. “If the news organization is receiving payment from them to be featured in this section, that should always be disclosed.”

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