Guidelines Needed in Fusing News and Media Content

I receive the news in a few ways. It mostly comes in the form of Twitter or my email inbox from news organizations and blogs. Some months ago, I began to notice that my daily email from the fashion and beauty website, Refinery29, reported more on breaking news in addition to topics like style advice and horoscopes. I thought this was a brilliant move. In a FastCompany article I read that their mission was to be the "#1 new-media brand for smart, creative and stylish women everywhere." 

And it has grown to become "an editorial playground for daring stories by and for women," according to FastCompany. 

Despite Refinery29 becoming one of my first sources of news in the morning, I was reminded recently that they are not a news organization.  

Last week, an online petition was started by Danielle Costa requesting Refinery29 to stop posting stories about the Kardashian family.  I know, you're probably rolling your eyes. But the company also writes new stories like the Taliban's next leader and a college in Illinois that took away student health insurance to prevent easy access to birth control. The petition by Costa requested the company to stop or consider lessening the frequency of posting gossip-based articles about the family. It was inconsistent with the topics Refinery29 typically covers. It received 200 signatures. 

Like news organizations often do, Refinery29 responded. However the response was a lengthy argument for continuing to post about the family and defended their cultural influence in our society. 

What I find interesting is the ethical tension that Refinery29 must face in this situation as a company that is strengthening its news branch while continuing the "gossip." 

Can the company successfully become a reputable news source and continue the clickbait without confusing or upsetting readers? At this writing, the second most read story on Refinery29 is "See The Kardashians & Jenners As Disney Princesses (You Know You Want To)."

I found the petition and Refinery29 response to be an example how the audience needs more clarity on what exactly their reading, because the fusion of news and media content is only increasing. Guidelines would help, but how do you go about addressing something like conflicts of interest for a company that doesn't stand on the foundations of journalism ethics? The argument for posting more about the Kardashian family was in essence an opinion on their cultural significance, not an argument about newsworthy content. And Refinery29 can certainly do that - they're not a news organization. They don't owe it to their readers to report the truth or even appearing to be fair. 

Yet they aim to report on more news. With a high site visit of 36 million each month, Refinery29 will have cause for reflection and action if more of their 'smart women' readers like Costa will call out inconsistencies until the company's core beliefs and values with regards to both reporting news and media content can be incorporated in writing.

Emily Turner1 Comment