Critical questions about online sponsored content, and the relationship between editorial control and hyperlinking, continue to be raised. The firewall between advertising and editorial has been eroding in some publications, and former Baltimore Sun health reporter Mary Knudson (bio) is the latest in a long line of bloggers who have drawn their own lines in the sand.
Knudson was invited to blog about heart health for U.S. News on the heels of her most recent book, “Living Well With Heart Failure, the Misnamed, Misunderstood Condition.” She quit before her first post was published. Now, she explains why.
On the PLoS Speakeasy Science blog, the veteran author and Johns Hopkins medical writing professor shares how her initial enthusiasm quickly waned when she noticed that her first post had been studded with sponsored hyperlinks.
She says the magazine informed her the sponsorships were not negotiable. The rabbit hole goes deeper (see Knudson’s post for more) but the end result was both unfortunate and predictable:
So, I said no to U.S. News & World Report because I could not accept the conditions they would force upon me as a blogger. I am a journalist. I will not fall in line and become a U.S. News Stepford wife.
I am currently setting up an independent blog HeartSense that will seek to find the truth as best I can about issues involving the heart and patient involvement and I will only create links to places I think will bring more information to readers about the topic I’m writing about. No ads will pop up at my readers.
The magazine chalks it up to experimentation.
“Like all internet publishers we are continually experimenting with different kinds of content and advertising,” U.S. News editor Brian Kelly said via e-mail. “Some work and some don’t. Healthline Navigator is a new feature that we are evaluating.”
Healthline Navigator is, of course, the product which autolinked Knudson’s post.
Where will it end? Knudson, for her part, calls for an independent national network. She has approached AHCJ about creating a national network for health bloggers.
AHCJ board member Ivan Oransky says AHCJ has been studying the possibility.
“We’ve watched with interest the proliferation of science blogging networks, and we appreciate Mary’s suggestion, which was on the minds of some at AHCJ,” Oransky says. “These networks are adding and amplifying important voices. We’d love comments from members, and others, with experience creating blogging networks, or contributing to one, as we work to figure out if this is something it makes sense for the association to take on.”