Journalist offered money to cover Alzheimer’s briefing

A representative of Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, which treats and researches Alzheimer’s disease, has issued invitations to cover an hour-long briefing hosted by its principal scientist.

Image by Logan Campbell via flickr.

Image by Logan Campbell via flickr.

The lure?

“Participants will receive $100 for their commitment to write about the impact of Alzheimer’s and what readers can do to help combat the disease.”

The organization is part of Banner Health, one of the largest nonprofit health systems in the country.

The emailed invitation includes more details about how to collect on its offer:

If you participate, BAI asks that you agree to write about the Registry in a blog post or article during the month of November and include a trackable URL to direct your readers to the Registry website (www.endALZnow.org). We will also encourage you to share your blog through social media, using the hashtag #EndAlzNow. In turn, we will promote your blog post through our social media channels, which include 5,700 Facebook likes and more than 850 Twitter followers.

Longtime Covering Health readers will remember what happened when a public relations professional representing Allergan offered a stipend for covering a panel hosted by that company. After we wrote about that incident, the representative said the offer was misconstrued and an Allergan spokesperson said the payment was to compensate writers for their time.

AHCJ President Karl Stark, who is the assistant managing editor, health & science at The Philadelphia Inquirer, weighed in after seeing the Banner pitch:

Here we have a nonprofit hospital system taking a page from the pharma playbook and adding a twist of its own: the promise of web promotion. Wow.

This pitch is doubly suspect. The $100 puts reporters on the health system’s payroll and pretty much converts attending journalists into paid publicists.

But this pitch also comes with blogging and social media promotion of the required post. So journalists are enticed with the offer of an expanded audience. It means their sell-out will get more eyeballs. It positively inspires cynicism.

Accepting money in return for coverage would violate common ethical guidelines for journalists. For example, AHCJ’s Statement of Principles includes the advice to:

  • Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
  • Refuse gifts, favors, and special treatment. Refuse meals from drug companies and device manufacturers and refuse to accept unsolicited product samples sent in the mail.

The newly revised code of ethics from the Society of Professional Journalists says journalists should:

  • Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.
  • Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; do not pay for access to news. Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not.
  • Deny favored treatment to advertisers, donors or any other special interests, and resist internal and external pressure to influence coverage.
  • Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. Prominently label sponsored content.

The Public Relations Society of America addresses what it calls “Pay for Play” in its ethical guidance, and has even issued an Ethical Standards Advisory on the topic (PDF), revised in 2012. The PRSA’s guidance advises that any such compensation should be disclosed, noting that “Media professionals are responsible for their own ethical issues.” It also says “it is important that public relations practitioners do their part in addressing any undisclosed practice that could significantly affect the credibility of communications channels.”

In response to our query about this “opportunity,” which was sent to Liz Seegert, AHCJ’s topic leader on aging, Stephanie Wight from GYMR Public Relations sent the following note:

This invitation shouldn’t have been sent to you. It was meant for mommy bloggers who are not members of AHCJ and are not representing news organizations. Mommy bloggers tend to write promoted posts and include disclaimers to ensure transparency about their sources and compensation.

I apologize for my mistake.

Best,

Stephanie

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3 thoughts on “Journalist offered money to cover Alzheimer’s briefing

  1. Avatar photoKendall Powell

    Wow, let’s hide behind the “mommy bloggers” because no one will expect them to be ethical or to really understand the COI here. How very lame and patronizing.

    That response makes them look worse than if they really had just owned up to soliciting journalists. Thanks for posting it!

    (Aaron–mommy bloggers refers to usually stay-at-home moms who write blogs about their children, families, households, caring for elderly parents perhaps, etc.)

  2. Pingback: Journalism » 3to5: Scientist-Journalist

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