CommonWealth Magazine last week published a story reporting that several scientists who were interviewed by freelancers working for The Boston Globe’s advertising team were not told that those interviews were for branded content sponsored by the tobacco giant Philip Morris. I was among those who offered a comment to CommonWealth’s Colman M. Herman.
Earlier today the Globe issued a response. I am posting it in its entirety, followed by a counter-response from CommonWealth. First, the Globe statement:
BOSTON, April 4, 2022 — We conducted a review of all written correspondence with the medical doctors, scientists, and their representatives who were contacted to participate in the Thank You, Scientists branded content series that is referenced by CommonWealth Magazine. This series, written by freelance journalists and labeled as branded content, focused on recognizing the careers and contributions of scientists across industries and their positive impact. The series made no mention of any products.
In each case, we found that the individuals and/or the PR representatives who support them were in fact informed that their participation was for a branded content piece funded by Philip Morris International, and about celebrating scientists.
Our journalism is funded by subscribers and, like nearly all our industry colleagues, advertisers. Branded content has become an essential and widely used product by many news organizations. Done well, it creates a better experience for advertisers and for readers and it helps support our industry.
When working with an advertiser on branded content, Boston Globe Media’s advertising team maintains an editorial firewall — the newsroom and opinion teams have no involvement. We are deeply committed to honoring the integrity of our journalism and demand that our Studio/B team and the freelance writers with whom we work are transparent throughout the process.
This includes disclosing the nature of the work as branded content to potential sources and subjects. We share who the sponsoring entity is. When we publish, we clearly separate and label the final product on our print and digital platforms so that readers are aware that the articles are not produced by the Globe’s journalists. This is all common industry practice.
We are surprised by the journalistic tactics employed by CommonWealth. An individual who described himself as a freelance writer emailed the Globe seeking comment without identifying whether he was working for a specific publication or pursuing a personal agenda. He never mentioned the misleading claims that he went on to raise in the story. He didn’t follow up for any specific response. We would expect far more of an organization that undoubtedly holds itself to basic journalism standards.
We will continue to see and set the highest possible standards in assembling and publishing this kind of work.
CommonWealth editor Bruce Mohl’s retort is on the publication’s website, so I will simply link to it rather than reproducing all of it. I think perhaps the most substantive criticism offered in the Globe statement is that Herman’s attempts to obtain comment from the Globe were insufficient. Here’s what Mohl says about that:
He [Herman] did reach out to many officials at the Globe during the early phase of his reporting, when it was unclear who he would submit the story to, and never heard back from any of them. He did not follow up more recently when the focus of the piece became clearer.
Mohl also says that the Globe shared emails and texts with CommonWealth showing that the scientists were aware of Philip Morris’ involvement. He writes that CommonWealth “has reached out to all the scientists quoted in its article to ask them about the Globe’s documentation, but had not heard back from any of them yet.”