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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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Yes the acknowledgments are useful and necessary. Please keep/put them back in the show. p.s. Your reports are influenced by your underwriters in spite of your statement to the contrary.

Yes, please keep the disclaimers up-front and in-context for two reasons:

1) Show me, don't tell me:
I have no way to know the reality of an underwriter's relationship to your staff.

When you say on-air--mid-stream--that there is a sponsorship there, it helps build credibility because you're letting me form my opinion about that relationship with all the information.

2) Portability of Credibility:
If a clip of a story is used elsewhere, having the disclosure embedded "in-line" is important to maintain your own credibility. People who only read/hear a quotation may miss your disclaimer and falsely suppose you are allowing bias to creep in if they later hear/see evidence of sponsorship from that entity you reported on without in-line disclosure.

Because Marketplace is a public radio program, I think it's important to always, in every case, disclose sponsors that are covered in a news story, no matter what part they play in that story.

Rather than comment on Monsanto as a sponsor, I wish to respond to the question you posed:
"Are these acknowledgments useful? Are they necessary?"

I believe they are absolutely necessary, in the interest of full disclosure, and to maintain your credibility. Perception is everything, and even if as you say there is no opportunity for an advertiser (aka sponsor) to influence a story, you are a non-profit news source and as such, your listeners hold you to a higher standard of transparency.

That's why we're turning to you for our news instead of mainstream commercial media.

From one former foreign service officer to another, Kai, how can you possible accept sponsorship from Monsanto!!???

the notion that business should be transparent is absurd, to say the least. anyone who listens to Monsanto's schpeal at the beginning or end of an episode of Marketplace can easily come to the conclusion that's it's completely bogus. Using more petroleum based synthetic chemicals is sustainable? what I think irritates me most, both as a farmer and an avid listener to Marketplace, is the notion that somehow something that was once as sacred as NPR (or APM in this case), has allowed it's good name to be associated with the likes of Monsanto. I think, more than anything else, my liberal sensibilities are offended when i'm reminded that companies like Monsanto have the money to whatever they want, wherever they want, whenever they want.
should you give a disclaimer? do you give disclaimers about taking money from an electric company before doing a story on increased rates of lung cancer at coal fired power plants on the Ohio River? Do you do stories about cancers at coal fired power plants?

I don't think I need to hear a disclaimer. I understand fully that when I hear a story on your program about GMO's, I can expect to hear exactly what the industry has kindly handed you. Am I disappointed? No, i've just accepted the fact that no reporters would really want to take the time, or risk loosing their salaries, to tell the stories of cotton farmers who put everything on the line to grow Monsanto's BT cotton, only to watch their entire lives disappear after massive crop failures. Or talk to organic farmers who now have even more difficulty dealing with insects because genetically modified crops also produce mutated insects. why is no one asking why? How can a corporation with as large a customer base get away with such outrageously large price hikes, year after year, as more acreage is becoming dependent on it's synthetic products for fertility? Is this modern agriculture, or is this modern slavery?

Public Radio should start by looking into the rBGH story and how Monsanto manipulated, lied, cheated, and put an entire nation at risk through its illegal, unethical, and un-American business practices.

The US is the only developed country that allows for rBGH hormone to be injected into dairy cows.

That's what Public Radio should be covering, not a pro-GMO story underwritten by Monsanto.

Please do some investigative work and be true journalist.

Monsanto is the MOST DESPICABLE company in the world. The very idea that Public Radio is in any way affiliated with, underwritten by, or in any-way-shape-or-form connect with Monsanto is a cause of great concern.

Public Radio should be INVESTIGATING AND DISSEMINATING the unscrupulous practices and harmful dangers of the most despicable company in the world - Monsanto.

It's admittedly difficult to set aside my personal feelings about Monsanto, but there are some things that make your program - and its relationships with underwriters - different from an organization like the New York Times.

For-profit news is fundamentally bound to run into conflicts of interest, and no amount of ombudsmanship can really make up for that, especially when the company is struggling to meet its financial goals. In a way, this means for-profit news sources should be especially rigorous and direct about who their advertisers are and how that does or doesn't affect editorial decisions.

Another difference, though, has to do with the medium. It's easy to ignore ads in the newspaper or even on TV, but radio produces a different kind of focus in its audience. A greater level somehow. I'm unlikely to notice a Monsanto ad in the Times or on the Times website, and I can't get upset if I don't notice it (which is a problem actually). With radio, however, the commercial (or underwriter plug) is in stark focus for a few powerful moments.

For this reason, I think you need to not only acknowledge your underwriters, but directly, transparently and in-context address the potential for conflicts and compromises.

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