The Globe’s partnership with Biogen raises potential ethical concerns

The Boston Globe has announced a partnership with Biogen in which the company’s 4,000 Massachusetts-based employees will receive digital subscriptions. “As part of the deal,” writes Globe reporter Jon Chesto, “the Globe will host two town-hall style discussions around topics of Biogen’s choosing.” In return, the Globe will be paid somewhere in range of six figures.

State House News Service’s MASSter List estimates the deal at $800,000 and warns that it is “rife with conflicts-of-interest concerns.” Indeed it is. I’m not especially worried that the Globe’s coverage of Biogen will turn squishy as a result of the deal, because it’s not really any different from the pressures news organizations are under to go easy on an advertiser — or, in the case of a nonprofit, a funder.

It all comes down to those town halls. How involved will the Globe newsroom be? Will the Globe’s promotion of those town halls cross any ethical lines?

Good for the Globe for finding another revenue stream, especially at a time when COVID is wiping out what was left of already-shrinking ad revenues. Nevertheless, this is worth keeping an eye on.

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