Do we need to learn to live with sponsored health care content?

I was going to scan in the front page of today’s Globe, which features a story on Partners staff complaining about how hard it is to learn the new $1.3 billion HIT system. There was a teaser nestled up to it for a story on the first penis transplant. That juxtaposition made me wonder how a slip of the finger on keyboard might impact the noted surgery. But, I decided to be a grown up.

Instead, I’ll let someone else rag on the Globe, or in this case the sort of Globe. That would be the part of the Globe Media Co. that is hiring new staff, not the newspaper itself, which is offering staff buy-outs.

Over at Health News Review, Trudy Lieberman complains about a “serious and rapidly emerging dilemma for consumers of health news. What’s real journalism and what’s “content” masquerading as journalism as we know it?  Examining stories on The Guardian’s Healthcare Network site and on STAT, the fledgling digital news service that’s making a name for itself with loads of daily content, I discovered a blending of traditional stories with advertising and promotion that simply fools the reader.

She goes on: When I first caught on to what STAT was doing, I felt deceived like I was when I read The Guardian’s breakthrough piece. The pooh-bahs at STAT are making it easy for me to read something I don’t want to read and confusing me with look-alike content prepared by some of the biggest names in the healthcare business— Cigna, CVS Health, Johnson & Johnson, Baxalta, a new biopharmaceutical company, and PhRMA whose contributions to Morning Rounds have included “America’s biopharmaceutical researchers and scientists are tireless in the fight against disease” and “Imagine “smart bombs” that fight cancer and reduce side effects.”

First, my conflicts. I was involved in a major sponsored content project once. And I have a family member who works at the Globe.  And while I’m not a big fan of native advertising, I am a big fan of good journalism and we need to pay for it somehow. Or, the folks at STAT will be getting those buy-out offers.

Plus, it looks pretty well-Capturemarked to me with all that orange.  Also, I’m not sure the idea is so much to hide PR in news-sheep’s clothing. My understanding it that the idea is to get this stuff out on social media where the orange banners and disclosures don’t show up — social marketing. That concerns me, along with all these university and hospital publication that look and sound like news but are PR and marketing. Many will argue — we report these stories just like journalist. The difference is — who do they answer to? Who is the customer? That would be the marketing staff at institution or the hospitals, not the reader. But, that stuff gets tweeted out and no one knows the difference. My journalism students don’t know the difference.

Honestly, I hate this stuff as much as Lieberman does. I want to keep that wall between advertising and editorial up. Are native advertising and social marketing, by nature, deceiving the reader?  You could make that argument.  But, I see the dilemma. Here’s hoping we find a better way to support good journalism.

 

 

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