By Scott Libin, RTDNA Ethics Committee Chair
Some forms of advertising look so much like news, you might not even notice the difference.
And that's a problem.
That's why RTDNA's Board of Directors this month unanimously voted to adopt and to publish new guidelines on what has come to be called "native advertising." The term refers to content that resembles journalism — but isn't. In fact, that resemblance is what makes native advertising so valuable and so dangerous.
It's valuable because businesses can get their messages published amid actual journalism, not off to the side, down at the bottom or otherwise segregated from news content. They pay handsomely for that.
It's dangerous because readers, viewers and listeners can mistake native advertising for news. They can infer that it was produced with their best interests in mind — when in fact it was produced to serve the interests of someone who wrote the site, station or publication a large check.
Like most of the profound, provocative challenges facing journalism these days, native advertising is too complex to confront with a simplistic, black-or-white, always-or-never approach.
Journalists and news organizations should consider a range of alternatives, think critically about native advertising and decide how, if at all, they will handle it. We hope RTDNA's new guidelines will help.
In addition to our Code of Ethics, RTDNA offers a growing collection of coverage guidelines to assist your newsroom in weighing ethical issues in different situations.
Does your news product, on-air or online, include native advertising? Do you have a policy for its use? Let us know in the comments below.