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Report makes alarming allegations against major news outlets: 'Where is our integrity?'

Much of this report outlines the massive amount of money big oil companies pay for advertising space within these outlets.

Much of this report outlines the massive amount of money big oil companies pay for advertising space within these outlets.

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The difference between advertisements that we know are ads and those we do not is a line that is getting blurred more and more often. A recent report produced by climate misinformation reporting outlet Drilled and DeSmog highlights the frightening relationship between major oil companies and at least seven major, and widely considered reputable, news outlets. 

What's happening? 

This report, which was conducted from October 2020 through October 2023, outlines the problematic relationship between news publications and advertising payments from big oil companies. Much of this report outlines the massive amount of money big oil companies pay for advertising space within these outlets. 

"According to data from MediaRadar, The New York Times took in more than $20 million in revenue from fossil fuel advertisers from October 2020 to October 2023", as reported by the website The Intercept. But The New York Times is not the only outlet scolded in this report. The list includes notable outlets like The Washington Post, Reuters, Bloomberg, The Economist, Politico, and the Financial Times. 

Why is this advertising relationship concerning? 

Answer: advertorials.

The main concern surrounding these advertising relationships is the type of advertising. The majority of the major oil companies, such as Saudi Aramco, BP, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, and others, produce advertisements in the form of an advertorial. An advertorial is an advertisement on behalf of a company written in the same format as an editorial article. 

The concern is that the average reader can rarely identify the difference between an advertorial and the rest of the publication's editorial reporting. So much so that a Boston University research article found that fewer than one in 10 study participants were able to identify advertorials without a disclosure of the advertisement present. 

This type of smoke-and-mirrors advertising is inherently problematic, but it is even more disturbing when the contents promote misinformation alongside fossil fuel industry greenwashing, all within the pages and web space of a reputable news publication. It's effectively misinforming readers about the truth surrounding the dangers of climate change and the urgency for solutions and reduced fossil fuel consumption. 

"Not only does it undermine the climate journalism these outlets are producing, but it actually signals to readers that climate change is not a serious issue," The Intercept quoted an unnamed climate reporter as saying.

Another unnamed journalist said they were concerned about their publication's credibility when such advertorials are published at the same outlet: "Where is our integrity? How can we expect people to take our climate coverage seriously after everything these oil companies have done to hide the truth?"

What can be done? 

While the use of the advertorial to deny climate change was first pushed in the 1980s and 1990s by Mobil Oil's advertising team and has been prolific since, there are still rules and regulations surrounding the requirement to provide a clear and obvious disclaimer of content paid for or created by a third party. 

The task, however, falls to the reader, listener, or viewer to search for and notice affiliations or sponsorships on all consumable material discussing a company, good, or service. 

Sponsorship is more common, and it does not necessarily influence the editorial independence of the content, but it is still important to be clear to readers or viewers. This may be in the first 10 seconds of a podcast, such is the case with Reuters' "Powered by How" podcast, which is paid for by Saudi Aramco. It may also be written within the subheader of an article title, atop a newsletter, or as an on-screen credit at the start or end of a short video or film.

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