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Hypergene MediaBlog » Watchdogging the watchdogs

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Thursday, 17 Oct 2002

Watchdogging the watchdogs

A CNet story about potentially misleading CNN text ads is a good example about the speed at which news and reaction can make for tricky reporting.

A CNet story on Wednesday (October 16, 2002) 3:58 PM Pacific took CNN to task for “running stripped-down ads that look a lot like editorial links, raising some concern among some journalism ethics experts.” Here is the screenshot CNet posted.

A day later, when we read the story, CNN’s templates for pages that featured these links were now containing the word “advertisement”, as recommended in the story by Sreenath Sreenivasan, who runs the new media journalism program at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Here’s a screenshot what the text ads now look like.

We don’t know exactly when CNN made this change in their design or what prompted them to do it, but in less than 24 hours, CNN had rectified their misleading practice. It appears as though we should give them credit for listening and reacting to their critics.

Interestingly, the CNet story also sources an online discussion about these ads: “For news outlets, blurring the line between advertising and editorial may be risky. The ads, for example, were called into question Wednesday on a discussion group run by the Poynter Institute.”

The CNet story follows by quoting someone’s comment from the discussion. While it’s nice to see reporters validating online discussions, it raises some interesting questions about the difficulty of sourcing forums.

Are there legal implications to lifting quotations directly from a forum, or does this fall under the “Fair Use” despite whatever copyright might exist? If so, why not source the actual individual - screen name or real? When online participants see their posts distributed in the mainstream media, will this change or skew the nature of the discussions? When participating in forums, people can change their mind at some point based on what they learn in the discussion. Will these quotations misrepresent someone’s true position?

As of 3:51 PM Central on Thursday, CNet had not updated their story to the correction on

Posted on Oct 17, 2002 | 3:53 pm EST
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