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Companies "Buying" Editorial

Sometime last month The Philadelphia Inquirer announced it had set up a novel relationship with Citizens Bank in the US. (Information about the arrangement can be found here.) The newspaper is publishing editorial content under the name phillyinc. in a column sponsored by Citizens Bank. Apparently it will "carry the bank’s logo and be outlined in the bank’s distinctive green ink. The bank will also run ads across the bottom of the page and in an upper corner."

I don't have access to the newspaper so I can't confirm that this is, indeed, how it appears. The phillyinc. blog makes no mention of the arrangement. Nothing about the plan jumps out at me from the Citizens Bank news release list. Other than the blog mentioned above, I could only find a report on the whole situation on philly.com.

So, let's assume its true. Let's also assume that some media pundits will see this as further evidence of the decay of daily news reporting which has, the argument will likely go, reached its nadir in this new editorial arrangement. Editorial freedom is guaranteed say the publishers. But as one commentator on philly.com suggested it is unlikely criticisms of the banks will appear in the column.

The more interesting question from my perspective is what Citizens Bank hopes to gain by obscuring the boundary between editorial content and advertisement. Having a healthy, independent media landscape -- that is seen by others to be unfettered -- is good for business. It provides evidence of public oversight and accountability of the social engagement of corporations. It keeps everyone a little more honest. Isn't it better for business that citizens BELIEVE business reporting is non-partisan? I wonder if Citizens Bank has in fact unknowingly undermined its reputation as a good citizen by suggesting, however unintentionally, or however firm the newspaper is on the continued purity of its reporting, that editorial content can be "bought". 

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