March 10, 1999

Not good enough, Amazon

Its new disclosure policy doesn’t go far enough

This column appeared March 10, 1999, in the Online Journalism Review. Here’s the version on the OJR site.

By J.D. Lasica

If there were a doomsday clock for Web ethics, it would surely be approaching midnight. Nearly every week the line between editorial and advertising blurs a little more, and the gulf between old media and new media mindsets grows ever wider.

The year’s most famous culture clash between old and new media, of course, came with the Feb. 8 disclosure in the New York Times that Amazon was accepting “co-op placement” payments for titles that it recommends on its editorial section pages. Turn to this week’s Literature & Fiction section and you’ll find “Evening News: A Novel” by Marly A. Swick touted under “Fine New Fiction”; turn to Mystery + Thrillers and you’ll find Laurie R. King’s “A Darker Place” heralded under “New and Notable.” Amazon received payments from the publishers for running the books under those headings. (Amazon does not, and never has, accepted payments to alter its best-seller lists. And, to be fair, it receives no payment for most titles it recommends.)

The day after the Times story, Amazon turned on a dime and amended its policy, and it should be applauded for that. But it didn’t go nearly far enough.

Continue reading »


Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 UnportedThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported.

One Comment
December 7, 1997

Preserving old ethics in a new medium

To avert ethical problems in cyberspace, cling to traditional journalism values

This column appeared in the December 1997 issue of The American Journalism Review. I was interviewed on the topic of Internet news sources’ trustworthiness by Bloomberg Radio on April 4, 1998.

By J.D. Lasica

If ethics are rarely debated during the daily miracle of churning out a newspaper, the subject is rarer still in the whiz-bang, techno-toy-driven realm of new media.

While all the old ethical rules surely still apply in new media, the Internet also presents dilemmas that never existed in a print world: reporters lurking invisibly in chat rooms; ad links embedded into editorial copy; the posting of private tragedies in news archives until the end of time; tracking users’ habits and sharing that data with advertisers; putting the tools of publishing into the hands of little league coaches and others who aren’t trained journalists.

But the ethical issue that may soon dwarf all others centers on what I call transaction journalism: the quid pro quo between a Web publication and outside interests such as advertisers or business allies. To the degree that it blurs the line between editorial and commercial interests, it poses a threat to the integrity of Web journalism.

Continue reading »


Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 UnportedThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported.

One Comment