Product endorsement and breaking the news

Watch this video about Apple and the Washingtonpost.com.

My multimedia professor, Steve Fox, presented this video on an exam. He asked us to answer various questions about the ethics of this “endorsement,” or, collaboration. The debate itself will never end, but I render this collaboration should be accepted and acknowledged by both parties…

There are ethical implications for the journalists who participated in the Apple-Washington Post video. Ethics won’t be a problem until a story has to be done about Apple or any other video or computer company. The reporters in this piece, and as they represent the Washington Post, show a clear bias favoring Apple computers and Final Cut Pro and a certain brand of prosumer video equipment. If a story has to be done about Mircosoft, how will the company be represented? What if there is a “negative story” that has to be reported about Apple? Will either side be represented objectively and without bias? Other media outlets are facing this same problem. Microsoft is a sponsor of some PBS programming, yet I’m sure not every videographer uses a Microsoft set up.

I’m sure this video was made using Final Cut Pro (please correct me if I am wrong) and the reporters featured endorse Final Cut and Apple products. The business implication is that Apple is using this video to market the Washington Post, the Post’s reporters, Final Cut Pro, and Apple computers. In turn, the video shows the Washington Post and its reporters fully supporting Final Cut Pro and Apple. I wouldn’t doubt if there was a business deal. How are users and viewers supposed to know if the Post and its reporters will report honestly? This situation might be even more difficult than an advertising campaign, if one doesn’t already exist. Could the Washington Post lose advertising support and/or technical support?

Consider the reporters themselves. Ben De La Cruz is a “videojournalist” according to the Washington Post’s Web site. He has won an Emmy, worked on freelance projects, and worked for music companies. I don’t know any professional documentary filmmaker who doesn’t fully “endorse” a video editing system, a computer, a camera, etc. Hiring a professional from this sort of background comes with these strings attached. Becoming a “documentary journalist” has these strings attached.

It is hard to say if this sort of “cross-promotional content” is acceptable. People’s gut feel is to render this unacceptable. It is unacceptable. But consider, these deals are still going on whether or not “promotional content” is presented in the public forum. Is it preferred that news outlets and companies come out about their biases, or that their biases are “swept under the rug?” This question is becoming more present in the new media landscape because companies make technology that is typically endorsed by industry professionals, and now journalism professionals are involved. This debate is never-ending and might never be resolved.

In the case of pure documentary production, I’m not even sure this issue matters or comes up that often. Many documentarians can choose their work and choose their sponsors. Its is up to the filmmaker to make ethical decisions. 

Please feel free to share your thoughts and/or expertise.

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Filed under documentary, Politic

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