Commercial Alert
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SEPTEMBER 20, 2004
9:10 AM
CONTACT:  Commercial Alert
Gary Ruskin (503) 235-8012
 
Journalism Profs Call for New Rules to Stop Advertisers’ Threat to Press Freedom
 

WASHINGTON - September 20 - In an effort to keep advertisers from undermining freedom of the press and editorial integrity, 61 journalism and law professors sent a letter today to the American Society of Magazine Editors, asking it to enact new rules to require disclosure of product placement in magazines, and to prohibit the disguising of ads as editorial content, or providing special favors to advertisers.

The letter was written and organized by Commercial Alert, a nonprofit organization that opposes commercialism. It was sent to Marlene Kahan, executive director of the American Society of Magazine Editors. The letter follows.

Dear Ms. Kahan:

Magazine editors in the U.S. are under increasing pressure to weave advertising into their editorial content. In the past, advertisers have sought to influence stories, often with success. Now they are going further, and seeking to turn ads into articles.

These efforts are a fundamental threat to press freedom and to the integrity of American journalism. If magazines become mere tout sheets for products and the interests of those who sell them, then every story will be suspect, and the reading public may have nowhere to turn for information that is truly independent of reigning commercial interests.

If there was ever a need for resolute action by your organization, this is it. You should strengthen the Society’s editorial guidelines, to draw a clear line against aggressive advertiser intrusion into story content. This would both provide confidence to readers, and would prevent advertisers from playing one magazine against another. It would also give editors a convincing reason to turn down advertisers’ requests.

In recent months, publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Advertising Age, PR Week and the Christian Science Monitor have reported on how advertisers are leaning on editors to blend advertising with editorial content. This is part of broader efforts by advertisers to increase the impact of their advertising spending. Other media – especially television, movies and video games -- have acceded to advertisers demands for more product placements.

Now advertisers are trying to gain similar concessions from magazines, too. “The only way we’re going to be more successful is to get even more creative and try to find ways to address this church-and-state,” meaning the high wall between advertising and editorial, Matthew Spahn, director of media planning at Sears, Roebuck, told Advertising Age.

Many editors are feeling the pressure. “More advertisers ask us to blur the lines between advertising and editorial,” Nina Lawrence, publisher of Bride and Modern Bride, told Advertising Age. “It’s accelerated in the last year.”

Brand names appear more frequently in magazine articles these days, which raises questions about the extent of product placement. For example, the Christian Science Monitor recently reported on an article in Ski magazine, which mentions the Land Rover truck brand eight times, and features seven pictures of the truck – in an article on travel in Colorado. The article praises the Rover for its “versatility,”“well-crafted lines,” and a “rugged but cosmopolitan look,” as well as its “ride [which] was smooth even in bad conditions.”

Some editors appear to be weakening in the face of advertisers’ demands. For example, Kim Olson, director of brand public relations for General Mills, told PR Week, “It depends on the magazine and the publisher, but I see much more openness to (product placement) now than there ever has been before. Where it used to be church and state, there is much more of a willingness to come together and at least discuss it – not always a willingness to do, but a willingness to discuss.”

The American Society of Magazine Editors should safeguard the integrity of magazines, by incorporating the following provisions into its editorial guidelines.

Product placement. If an author, editor or publication receives money, goods or other consideration from an advertiser mentioned in an article, that fact should be prominently disclosed, including the amount or fair market value of the goods or payment.

Advertorials and special sections. The words “advertising” or “advertisement” or “promotion” should be at least 1.5 times the size and weight of the publication’s normal editorial body type face, rather than just “at least equal in size.”

No special treatment for advertisers. ASME should incorporate a provision from the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics to “Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.”

Enforcement. Current ASME enforcement mechanisms are inadequate to meet the new increased advertiser pressure. Any magazine that violates ASME editorial guidelines should be ineligible for National Magazine Awards for at least five years. Editors who violate the editorial guidelines three times should be permanently expelled from the ASME. All warning or sanction letters from ASME should be made public and placed on the ASME website.

Sincerely,

Robin Andersen, Associate Professor, Department of Communication and Media Studies, Fordham University; author, Consumer Culture and TV Programming

Paul Ashdown, Professor of Journalism and Electronic Media, School of Journalism and Electronic Media, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

David Badger, Professor of Journalism, School of Journalism, Middle Tennessee State University

Sarah Bartlett, Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism, Baruch College, City University of New York

C. Edwin Baker, Nicholas F. Gallicchio Professor, University of Pennsylvania Law School

Sharon Bass, William Allen White Teaching Professor, William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of Kansas

Bonnie Brennen, Professor and Chair, Department of Journalism, Temple University

William Celis, Assistant Professor, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California

Doug Cumming, Assistant Professor of Journalism, Washington & Lee University

Joan Deppa, Associate Professor, Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

Jim Detjen, Knight Chair in Journalism; Director, Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, Michigan State University

Susan Douglas, Professor and Chair, Department of Communications Studies, University of Michigan

Greg Downey, Assistant Professor, School of Journalism & Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Richard Dubin, Visiting Professor, Television, Radio and Film Department, Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

Meenakshi Gigi Durham, Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Iowa

Gene Foreman, Larry and Ellen Foster Professor, College of Communications, Pennsylvania State University

Jon Franklin, Philip Merrill Professor of Journalism, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland

Peter Gade, Associate Professor, College of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Oklahoma

Todd Gitlin, Professor of Journalism and Sociology, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University

Elinor Grusin, Professor, Department of Journalism, University of Memphis

Deborah Gump, Knight Professor of News Editing, E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, University of Ohio

Dustin Harp, Assistant Professor, School of Journalism, University of Texas at Austin

Lyle E. Harris, Professor, Department of Journalism, Western Washington University

Steven Helle, Professor, Department of Journalism, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Ray E. Hiebert, Professor and Dean Emeritus, College of Journalism, University of Maryland

Louis W. Hodges, Visiting Distinguished Professor of Applied Ethics and Knight Professor of Ethics in Journalism Emeritus, Washington and Lee University

Walter B. Jaehnig, Director and Associate Professor, School of Journalism, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale

Robert Jensen, Associate Professor, School of Journalism, University of Texas at Austin

Nicholas Johnson, Visiting Professor, University of Iowa College of Law; former Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission

Thomas Johnson, Professor, School of Journalism, Southern Illinois University

Lee Jolliffe, Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Drake University

Joel Kaplan, Assistant Dean for Professional Graduate Studies, Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

Robert L. Kerr, Assistant Professor, Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Oklahoma

Stephen Lacy, Professor, School of Journalism, Michigan State University

Edmund B. Lambeth, Professor Emeritus, School of Journalism, University of Missouri*; author, Committed Journalism: An Ethic for the Profession

Carolyn Ringer Lepre, Assistant Professor, School of Journalism and Electronic Media, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Deborah Mathis, Assistant Professor, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University; syndicated columnist, Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Sherrie Mazingo, Cowles Fellow, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Minnesota

Robert McChesney, Research Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; author, Rich Media, Poor Democracy

Max McCombs, Professor and Jesse H. Jones Chair in Communications, School of Journalism, University of Texas at Austin

Don McLeese, Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Iowa

Philip Meyer, Knight Chair in Journalism, Professor, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Mark Crispin Miller, Professor of Media Ecology, New York University; author, Boxed In: The Culture of TV

Bella Mody, James de Castro Professor in Global Media Studies, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Colorado, Boulder

Jennifer Moeller, Assistant Professor, School of Journalism, University of Missouri

Susan Moeller, Assistant Professor, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland

Christine Ogan, Professor, School of Journalism, Indiana University

Geneva Overholser, Curtis B. Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Reporting, School of Journalism, University of Missouri

Ivan L. Preston, Professor Emeritus, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Don Ranly, Professor, School of Journalism, University of Missouri

Barbara Reed, Associate Professor, Journalism and Media Studies, School of Communication, Information and Library Studies, Rutgers University

Douglas Rushkoff, author, Media Virus and Coercion; Professor, New York University Interactive Telecommunications Program

Gary Ruskin, Executive Director, Commercial Alert

Gary Schwitzer, Assistant Professor, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Minnesota

Lawrence Soley, Colnik Professor of Communication, Marquette University; author, Advertising Censorship, Censorship Inc. and Leasing the Ivory Tower

John Soloski, Dean and Professor, Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Georgia

Herb Strentz, Professor Emeritus, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Drake University

Lee Thornton, Eaton Professor of Journalism, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland

Mark Tremayne, Assistant Professor, School of Journalism, University of Texas, Austin

Venise Wagner, Assistant Professor, Journalism Department, San Francisco State University

Charles Warner, Leonard Goldenson Endowed Chair, School of Journalism, University of Missouri

Ronald E. Yates, Dean and Professor of Journalism, College of Communications, University of Illinois

*Affiliation listed for identification purposes only

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