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Comment: The relationship between news and underwriters


Marketplace's policy, when an underwriter is the subject of a news report, has been to acknowledge that relationship on-air. We are reconsidering the policy, for this reason: There is no communication between Marketplace's underwriters and Marketplace's newsroom. There is no opportunity for an underwriter to try to influence news reports; a story involving an underwriter is reported in the same way as any other story. And credits throughout each show already identify Marketplace's sponsors that day.

Not everyone agrees. This week several listeners complained when Marketplace aired a report on genetically-modified crops and did not include an acknowledgment that Monsanto, the leading manufacturer of genetically-modified seeds, is an underwriter (A credit identifying Monsanto as a sponsor that day did air during the show).

So we'd like to ask you, as people who rely on Marketplace for news about business and the economy: What do you think? Are these acknowledgments useful? Are they necessary? Or do listeners understand, and are they comfortable with, the "wall" that stands between the business side of news organizations and their newsrooms? Newspapers, for example, rarely acknowledge advertising relationships when they report on an advertiser.

Marketplace, like most public radio programs, has many underwriters. So this question starts with a report involving Monsanto, but applies to a wide range of businesses. Thanks for your thoughts on this.

Update: If the subject of a report is an underwriter of our show, we will mention it on air and on our website.

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FYI: In addition to censorship, NPR also carries out corporate public relations data mining. Any informed listener knows Marketplace's place in capitalism!
I listen to the show everyday <3

I hear acknowledgments on many broadcast shows, but of course not print. I think there is a difference. Speech is immediate to the listener, even when you are reading a prepared story. And your audience, i.e. the silent person in a conversation, needs to know your viewpoint and bias. Good news reading sounds spontaneous. Be it a daily market report or a political broadcast, I like when the speaker states their potential conflicts. There are plenty of places that don't and maybe that's one way to draw the line between news and entertainment.
Print, your counterexample, is different, and maybe not in a good way. Editorial has crossed over since there was movable type. And especially today, opinion comes from many directions, many sources. Does an AP piece in the Chicago Tribune need to state all of AP's stockowners? No. Print is also not immediate. We all know someone took the time to compose and distribute it, rather than just blurting it out.
I see two reasons behind my wish. One is clarity to us. But the second is more psychological. People are less likely to abuse a bias when they have to recognize it publicly. I feel the effort you go through to I.D. and note your sponsorship reminds you to take the objective path, to stay with your formal charter of news. And I think that is human nature.
By the way, so is an occasional miss.
There was a thread started a while back on a Linked-In forum about whether it is appropriate to state an opinion as fact. The thread is alive after a couple of hundred posts. Ethical standards are still alive in America. Your making the effort to remind us and yourselves of your potential conflicts with sponsors is recognized as part of that.

I find it interesting how many people are commenting on "dirty, evil Monsanto."

Let's answer Kai's question without thinking about Monsanto. Let's imagine that the comapny in question was a 501c(3), say the Red Cross. Or if that's too controversial, the American Heart Association. If they were the underwriter in question, would folks have wanted them referenced?

Maybe not. However, if it were a story about questionable practices in 501c(3)s, wouldn't it make sense to remind us that you had a sponsor that might be included in the "net" of the story?

Yes, of course. A good editor will note the relationship to ensure there is not even a whiff of favoritism, cover-up, etc.

PS. I agree with the listener who cheered the music choices. I love hearing Fugazi and pop-punk in a financial show!

>>> But...why are we different than newspapers?

Have you already forgotten the mess the Los Angeles Times got themselves into then they tried to pass off a "special advertising supplement" for Staples Center as news by not putting a disclaimer at the top of every page of that section as they had done in the past? They didn't put a disclaimer on any page, if I remember correctly. They nearly killed themselves before the internet inflicted it's great damage.

Marketplace should say every time they report about a company that is a sponsor of the show. Every time.

Why? Because of the obvious conflict-of-interest. You say that the New York Times does not do this? Well, the New York Times has hundreds of advertisers. Marketplace has few. So it is easier to do, and your sponsors are more important to you, I would suppose. Further, as a public broadcaster, you are held to a higher standard.

I wish public media was fully supported by the government and was rid of private financing. But, the Republicans, mainly, seem to dislike public media and will not do this.

All of this are reasons I like the BBC so much.

In regard to your specific broadcast that interviewed a professor about genetically modified seeds and pesticides: a listener noted that both Monsanto and the university where the professor works are both in the same town. Seeing how you are based in Los Angeles, the question arises: How was that university and that professor chosen for the interview? Was he recommended by Monsanto? If so, doesn't that in itself make you wonder if he isn't tainted or at least slanted toward Monsanto? And, why didn't you find another professor with another view? Better yet, why wasn't it attempted to find a scientific consensus?

As I said above, people hold you to a higher standard.

(And, for what it is worth, I really wish Monsanto was not a sponsor. I also wish you had no sponsors other than the government and perhaps individual supporters.)

Yes, you should mention that "so-and-so is a sponsor of this program." But don't stop there; you should go to great lengths to eliminate tainting the facts with bias. Disclosing that a story's subject is an advertiser is the first step, and it's the one that's the most obvious when you don't do it.

The comparison with newspapers isn't a good one. In most cases newspapers don't need to disclose such relationships, for several reasons: First, many such stories come from wire services rather from the newspaper. Second, most newspapers are for-profit corporations with lots and lots of small advertisers, so they stand to lose a lot more from adjusting a story to favor an advertiser than they do from letting the truth out and losing that advertiser. Third, again, since newspapers are for-profit, advertising is sold at set rates, while in public radio "gifts" of different values are mentioned the same way, which gives more opportunity for questionable conduct. Fourth, in a newspaper all the business relationships are already publicly visible, in the form of ads, while on radio not all "sponsors" are listed in any given segment, and a listener can tune in and out any time and so just catch the story and not a mention of the sponsor at some other point in the program.

great show i try to never miss, and listen to the podcast if i do. all participants on the show come off as professional, objective and unbiased. kudos to the person(s) responsible for selecting the music for the show, hearing joe cocker and pink floyd was great enough but when i heard crack the sky (saftey in numbers) i was impressed! keep up the good work!

I personally hate it hearing Monsanto's lie "promoting sustainable agriculture" advertised on your show. Please consider doing a story on their anti-trust practices concerning the seed industry, or the increasing suicide rates among farmers in India, many of whom have been bullied into adopting Monsanto-style farming. You can start by checking out this blog:
http://blog.seedalliance.org/.
Or call Matthew Dillon at Organic Seed Alliance, or someone at Center For Food Safety. I expect more from you regarding the transparency of your reporting.

WHAT BUNCH OF WHINERS! THESE COMPANIES GIVE YOU MONEY TO DO YOUR JOB, AND A GOOD JOB YOU DO. TOO BAD US SPOILED AMERICANS DONT REALIZE THAT ALL THE CHEAP FOOD IN THE BIG STORES IS MADE IN PART BY THOSE BIG NASTY COMPANIES INCREASING CROP YEILDS. SO MUCH SO THAT DUMPSTERS FULL OF FOOD IS DISCARDED DAILY.
I THINK THE BIG STINK IS THAT THE MONSATO CORPORATION DOESNT HAVE CUTSY NAME. THIS WILL ALL BLOW OVER AFTER THE NEXT HOLLYWOOD WHOS-WHO SLEEEPING WITH.
R/S FRANK

I am speechless. I heard the story. What was not said speaks volumes.

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