The New York Times ran a piece on Sunday on online publications use of sponsored content. There was some underlying suggestion in the piece that sponsored content equals bought content, and I'm here to tell you that's not the case.
I had a debate on Twitter with Mike Rose from TUAW and Tim Stevens from Engadget, who both took a rigid view of sponsored content, suggesting that sponsors were dictating content. It may be at some publications that's happening, but in my experience of dealing with sponsored content, it's not.
In fact, I always stay clear of the business side of the arrangement and if I have direct dealings with the sponsor, I always direct any business questions back to the business side.
Consider these three sponsored content examples:
* In my work for Fierce Markets, we generate sponsored eBooks and sponsored webinars. We come up with the editorial concepts for these items and the advertising department tries to find a sponsor. I host the webinar and write the eBook and the companies don't get approval of the content --and in the instances where they have tried to take some control, I can tell you that my publisher has defended the editorial side of the business.
* I also host sponsored Twitter chats with IDG Enterprise. I have never been told what to say and I'm kept out of the loop on the business arrangement.
* I recently started writing sponsored content for my socmedia news site. Again, nobody tells me what to write and I can write pretty much whatever I want to write. I run my posts by someone at the agency that's running the program, but have yet to have anything but an enthusiatic response.
In all these cases, someone is paying to have their name associated with the content, but they are not paying to dicate the content anymore than advertisers can dictate content simply because they are helping pay for the publication.
Advertisers and sponsors will try to assert themselves from time to time, but if the business side makes it clear that the editorial side is independepent, then no issues occur.
It's also about transparency. Every journalist and publication has its own sense of how this should work, and it depends a great deal on the nature of your content, but getting sponsors for content is another way of making money online and it's tough enough to do that without putting up restrictions based on some sense of editorial purity that isn't really part of the equation unless you choose to have no advertisers.
The easiest thing to do here is to take a black and white view of it, but if it's done correctly, there is nothing wrong with sponsored content, and it gives another possible revenue stream to keep publishing --and that's the idea.
Photo Credit: Orin Zebest on Flickr. Used under CC 2.0 Share Alike/Attribution license.