The Atlantic’s New “Sponsor Content” Guidelines

Jim Fallows helpfully unpacks the two quotes I put up yesterday and argues the full chronology of them does not imply some big internal disagreement at the magazine. I’m delighted to say that the Atlantic has devised a new post-Scientology policy with regard to “native advertizing”, “sponsor content,” “enhanced communication techniques”,  or whatever newspeak is used in creating confusing advertorials, designed to look like Atlantic articles, as a way to bring in more corporate income. Here it is, in full. Below is the critical section dealing with “Sponsor Content” or, as I think I’ll call them “enhanced advertorial techniques”:


The guidelines in the following section shall apply to all Sponsor Content served by or appearing in the print and digital publications of The Atlantic, including ads purchased under AAAA/IAB Standard Terms and Conditions. (These are in addition to the general guidelines for advertising content that appear above, which apply to Sponsor Content as well.)

Sponsor Content is content created by or expressly on behalf of advertisers in conjunction with The Atlantic’s marketing team (“Atlantic Marketing”). The Atlantic allows Sponsor Content in two forms: (1) Content produced by Atlantic Marketing on behalf of its advertising partners and (2) Content produced by advertisers.

As with all advertising, Sponsor Content ultimately reflects the views and choices of the advertiser—not of The Atlantic or its editors. Accordingly, The Atlantic will prominently display the following disclaimer on all Sponsor Content: ‘SPONSOR CONTENT.’ The Atlantic will additionally include the following disclaimer on all Sponsor Content: ‘This article is written by or on behalf of our Sponsor and not by The Atlantic’s editorial staff.’ The Atlantic may additionally include, in certain areas and platforms, further explanation defining Sponsor Content to Atlantic readers. In addition, The Atlantic will ensure the treatment and design of Advertising and Sponsor Content is clearly differentiated from its editorial content.

The Atlantic does not require that Sponsor Content steer clear of controversy. Indeed, we expect that Sponsor Content, like our own editorial content, will sometimes address contested issues and will be written with a distinct point of view. That said, even with the caveat that Sponsor Content reflects the views of an advertiser and not of The Atlantic or its editors, The Atlantic will refuse publication of such content that, in its own judgment, would undermine the intellectual integrity, authority, and character of our enterprise.

As with all advertising, and consistent with the foregoing General Advertising Guidelines, The Atlantic may reject or remove any Sponsor Content at any time that contains false, deceptive, potentially misleading, or illegal content; is inconsistent with or may tend to bring disparagement, harm to reputation, or other damage to The Atlantic’s brand.

The Atlantic may in its sole discretion enable readers to comment on Sponsor Content on The Atlantic’s sites. If comment functionality is enabled on Sponsor Content, the sponsor will not have any role in moderating such comments. The only moderation of such comments will be performed by Atlantic employees who implement The Atlantic’s generally applicable Terms and Conditions — which prohibit spam, obscenity, hate speech, and similar content—elsewhere on the site.

I’m going to put this document out there before commenting. I have some issues with it – but it does seem at least to recognize a real problem, whereas Buzzfeed thinks that the corrupting bugs here are exciting new features. That may be because Buzzfeed understands itself more as an entertainment site – and its journalism and reporting are relatively new. But so far as I can tell, the dubious ethics of this exercize haven’t even seemed to cross their minds. “Andrew,” as one of my Buzzfeed hosts told me, “you have a lot to learn from us.” Obviously, I do. Consider me on a learning curve. And what I learn I intend to pass on to Dish readers, so you can also get a better idea of how to distinguish journalism from corporate propaganda online.