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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NPR is the standard by which other news media are judged. When you abandon the moral high ground, even in something seemingly as small as identifing underwriters, you descend and become no better than the commercial stations.
We are asked to contribute on a regular basis to keep superior programing. Please continue the policy of identifing sponsor and underwriters.

I am compelled to wonder what motivates Monsanto to underwrite your news programming. Is it corporate guilt or does their attraction to Marketplace somehow contribute to Monsanto's bottom line? So much of what passes for real news these days is little more than biased journalism and speculative commentary.
In order for Marketplace to remain a credible news source, it must necessarily embrace a policy of identifying its underwriters however much that may drive off future corporate underwriting.

As long as Public Radio does not become "monsanto radio" or influenced by any other corporate or political body I think its acceptable that underwriters can donate. Even better if their add appears immediately after a critical piece about them (and regular acknowledgment should be included in pieces about underwriters. and the Monsanto add does rankle me a bit)

Does Marketplace or NPR in general ever reject underwriter donations? It seems that as public radio, it could be very dangerous to "pick and choose" who donations are accepted from in response for brief advertising. I imagine there is a line somewhere, for example I don't expect to hear adds from hate groups etc.. but that line potentially does not restrict 'greed/profit' groups.

Honestly, I don't think it should be an issue. When I listen to Marketplace, I don't feel like I'm being sold anything. If a lot of people complain, I'd say to mention a disclaimer. But since any show is pressed for time, I say the redundant mention isn't necessary.

Marketplace, just keep doing your thing.

I am a counselor with Consumer Credit Counseling Service which is a United Way Agency in our area. We are often called on by local media regarding stories of potential fraud and misleading advertising of companies offering financial services. The same media sources also run paid advertisements from the very companies the same media source is questioning in their news piece. How does this relate to Marketplace being sponsored by Monsanto? Well, we all have to make decisions regarding how far we will go for income when the sponsor is not doing something we support. The comment "well everyone else is doing it so we have to do it" is the ultimate cop-out. We all have to determine our own ethical or moral standards. I am listening to your April 16 PM program and you are being critical of those who are going along with Goldman Sachs "because everyone is doing it" and you are being critical of that. But you will take Monsanto's gifts "because everyone is doing it." Just think about it. And I'm not evening saying change. I might do the same thing if I had to find ways to keep a program like Marketplace on the air. But does it mean I have compromised my values? Probably.

My comment is to whether NPR should, via advertising, endorse Monsanto AT ALL.
It was a jaw-dropper for me to hear that NPR accepted advertising from Monsanto and it added insult to have Monsanto use a by-line touting its dedication to "sustainable agriculture" when Monsanto's non-renewable seed products specifically require farmers to buy new seed every year. Monsanto's deadly herbicide and pesticides have the effect of cornering farmers into buying more poisons each year as plants develop a tolerance for the herbicide levels. It is unconscionable to promote these practices as a dedication to sustainable agriculture. I have a public relations background. Monsanto is only advertising on NPR because Montsanto it wants the endorsement and NPR's credibility, not because of NPT's huge listenership. NPR's credibility won't be around long if it endorses such blatantly immoral companies.

And yes, sponsors should be identified regardless of the firewall between the newsroom and the business side because people will not believe that the firewall is effective. Without the disclosure, the relationship WILL get out, and reduce the perceived integrity of NPR.

Transparency is absolutely essential to credibility. Everything should be above board and done in the clear bright light of day!

For me, Public Radio and Public Television set the "Gold Standard" for journalism.
To me, the best journalism always involves openly stating any potential conflicts of interest (such as a report that relates to a sponsor or underwriter or the revenue stream of such).

If Marketplace is doing a report about an area of interest that includes a sponsor or underwriter, that relationship should be openly and honestly acknowledged.
When asking, “do listeners understand” there is always potential for confusion either way.
But hasn’t “full disclosure” always been journalism’s best practice?

For what it is worth, I do not have a problem with anyone donating to Public Radio or underwriting a Public Radio program (and, in my opinion, more corporations and individuals should do so).
That is, of course, provided those donating are doing so for the purpose of unbiased journalism that tries its best to tell as much of the story as is humanly possible.
I would generally put Marketplace in the category.

You state:
“Newspapers, for example, rarely acknowledge advertising relationships when they report on an advertiser.”
Well, to me, that is the example which should not be followed.

In my experience, the best journalism has always been as transparent as possible.
In this day and age, we need more – not less – of that.

Thanks for listening.

I am glad to see that I am not the only one outraged with the fact that Monsanto has been allowed to give money to my, our public radio. And yes, when NPR reports on companies, you should definitely make a special acknowledgment if they are an underwriter.
This whole discussion has to do with COI, or Conflict Of Interest. For example: can we totally trust a scientist who is publishing about a topic related to the pharmaceutical company that is sponsoring him? I don't think so... and I am sure the scientific world doesn't either. The trustable medical journals are making clear COI for their publishing authors.
Another example: do you want to know from where is coming the food you are buying? I want, and maybe, based on the origin of a product I may chose not to buy it.
Do I think a public entity has to be transparent? I sure do: a public entity belongs to all of us, that is why we support, pay for its existence... or not... If a public entity/company stops representing the public interests it cannot be called public anymore.
Yes, I want to know who is involved financially with NPR, at all times,
Yes for transparency.
And may be NPR could also have a survey about what companies should not be allowed to be amid others contributors. I am sure Monsanto would be at the top of such a list.
Respectfully and worriedly,

I cringe every time I hear Monsanto mentioned on NPR. To the best of my knowledge they are one of the most greedy, corrupt and immoral corporations. If canceling their sponsorship might eliminate a program, that would be my choice.


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