Paid links compromising online journalism

2 examples of Google's Sponsored Links

2 examples of Google's Sponsored Links

Paid links have been around online for quite a while in some shape or form. The most obvious example is Google’s ‘Sponsored Links’ which always appear to the right of a search and often just before the ‘legitimate’ results. It may be of annoyance to the common internet user but at least they know what exactly why the link is given more prominence than others. Simply, because someone paid for it be there.

Things get a little bit more complicated when these paid links start appearing but users aren’t actually aware that they’re paid for. It has come to light in the past few days that the Telegraph Media Group have been including paid links in articles on Telegraph.co.uk without warning users, as David Naylor discovered:

Many of these links go via affiliate networks such as Tradedoubler & Affiliate Window, which will pay a commission on sales. I’m no expert but I think that’s sailing pretty close to the wind in terms of journalistic integrity, and I believe the NUJ’s code of conduct would agree with me.

These links, from the Telegraph website, show an affiliate link when hovered over (shown in the status bar) indicating that the link is being monetised

These links, from the Telegraph website, show an affiliate link when hovered over (shown in the status bar) indicating that the link is being monetised

The central creed of journalism, both online and offline, is that it should be impartial and objective. Surely leading readers to certain sites and pushing the agendas of companies and organisations isn’t part of the manifesto. The Telegraph Media Group did, however, respond to Naylor’s claims:

“The articles you have highlighted do contain some affiliate links. This is an accepted means by which online publishers monetise their content.

“The key point is that Telegraph Media Group’s editorial teams have no involvement in the commercial side of the operation. The links that you refer to are added post-publication by our commercial department.  The use of an intermediary to track links has no impact on which websites our journalists select and this does not affect our editorial standards in any way. Our journalists are free to write whatever they like about any products, as you would expect. In this respect it is no different from the traditional journalist / advertiser relationship.”

It seems like a perfectly good explanation, but it’s still troubling that advertisements have made their way directly into news stories. It may, however, be a necessary evil, as online news sites struggle to earn revenue.

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