This column appeared March 8, 2001, in the Online Journalism Review. Here’s the version on the OJR site.
By J.D. Lasica
“Sponsored content” on the Web comes in different shapes and flavors. At some online publications, like Slate, Salon, iVillage and ESPN.com, clicking on a “sponsor” link transports the user to another site or to a co-branded page paid for by an advertiser or hosted by a strategic partner.
Other sites, like Women.com and BabyCenter, publish special features pages hosted on their own servers.
Not all sponsored content is created equal. Some of it is pure promotional puffery, while some offers useful editorial material.
More than any other revenue source, however, online sponsorships seem to come with their own special set of ethical headaches. Should a company that manufactures children’s acetaminophen be allowed to sponsor a baby site’s medical section on child fevers? Should a children’s clothing manufacturer be allowed to sponsor the articles on how to dress your child?