Journalist Paul John Scott of the Rochester Post Bulletin writes, “Mayo, Star Tribune form content partnership.” He begins:
Mayo Clinic has entered into a sponsored content deal with the Star-Tribune to generate health, disease and condition treatment related info-graphics for the Twin Cities’ largest newspaper.
The clinic describes the arrangement as an opportunity to distribute its medical content and introduce itself to a broader audience. The newspaper describes the agreement as an advertising deal that enables the paper to offer content from a trusted source of health related information.
Scott interviewed me for my opinion of the arrangement, and he then wrote:
Schwitzer says it’s too early to tell what the arrangement means for health reporting at the Star Tribune but says it warrants scrutiny as the series evolves.
“Not having seen the content, I raise potential concerns that I would raise about any such arrangement,” he wrote in an email. “Anytime any health care entity enters into an exclusive sponsorship arrangement with any news organization for placement of that health care entity’s information within news space, there is cause for concern. Who will edit, verify, question the information?”
“Will the Strib be as tough in investigating issues that have a Mayo angle now that the exclusive sponsorship agreement is in place?”
He took special interest in the comments by (Steve Yaeger, vice president and chief marketing officer for the Star Tribune) that “Star Tribune and Mayo Clinic are two trusted and iconic Minnesota brands. We’re proud to partner with Mayo Clinic to tell their story in a unique and relevant way.”
“Is that the job of a newspaper?,” Schwitzer wrote. “To ‘partner’ in exclusive arrangements to tell sponsors’ stories in a unique way? Or is it a newspaper’s job to independently vet claims, to question them, to compare them to others doing the same thing or to others doing something differently — and to ask why?”
“But this is the new journalism. Readers can expect more such deals.”
Three months ago today, Trudy Lieberman wrote, “Questions about Mayo Clinic deal with Minneapolis TV station.” The new deal, described in the Rochester newspaper, is a somewhat similar situation – although this time involving the state’s largest newspaper, the Star Tribune. And that statement by the newspaper’s marketing VP – “We’re proud to partner with Mayo Clinic to tell their story in a unique and relevant way” – also puts the ethics of this deal in an entirely different league.
We will continue to monitor these new forms of “journalism” and new “partnerships” between news organizations and the entities they’re supposed to be reporting on.
Addendum on September 20:
Here’s a fresh example of what can happen when newspapers partner with local medical centers in deals that allow the health care entity to place its content within news space.
The Las Vegas Sun published content created by Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, “Prostate Cancer and the Importance of Early Detection.” On this page, the content is referred to as a “story,” not an ad.
And that “story” states: “most men will need to be screened annually.”
Not even the American Urological Association – the professional organization of the doctors who treat prostates – make that statement.
Did anyone at the Sun vet this statement? It reflects the opinion of the urologists at the hospital providing the content.
This is why our concern about newspapers abdicating their responsibility on such deals is not merely hypothetical.