[Letter and reply printed in current edition of CJR:]
The Columbia Journalism Review deserves a notable Dart for ambiguity and nondisclosure in the magazine’s twelve-page supplement from The Commonwealth Fund titled “What Will Happen Under Health Reform -- and What’s Next?” (CJR, May/June)
A reference to CJR was in smallish type at the top of the first page: “Supplement to the May/June 2010 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review.” Are we to understand that “supplement” is a euphemism for “advertisement”? I can see why an advertiser would prefer to avoid the less lofty word, especially in pages filled with editorial content. But shouldn’t we expect better of a magazine devoted to raising journalistic standards?
I’d suggest that CJR let readers in on the information they had a right to know in the first place. Did CJR’s editors have any role in putting together those twelve pages? If so, what was that role? If not, why the avoidance of truth-in-labeling words like “paid” and “advertisement”?
And if the twelve-page supplement was strictly advertising, then can any well-heeled outfit buy itself a supplement to the Columbia Journalism Review? Are there any editorial standards applied to such advertising, and if so, what are they?
By the way, this particular supplement from The Commonwealth Fund, while fact-filled, was hardly free of arguable judgments. Its “Conclusion” lauded the new federal health-reform law as “a pragmatic approach,” and offered these final words: “It will lay the foundation for a high performance health system affording access to care for all, improved quality, and greater efficiency.”
I wonder how much it would cost to challenge that conclusion with a twelve-page supplement to the Columbia Journalism Review.
The editors respond: Solomon has a point. Because the supplement was physically separate from the magazine -- while shrink-wrapped and delivered with it -- we thought it would be clear that it was not part of the issue. And the Commonwealth Fund logo, contact information, and list of experts, we thought, made its provenance clear. Still, the word “supplement” is indeed ambiguous, and we wish we’d written “sponsored supplement.”
We were delighted to have it, by the way. It was rich in valuable research and information. As for its “arguable judgments,” we are big on free speech. If Solomon knows someone or some organization that would like to challenge the supplement’s conclusions with another sponsored supplement, we’re all ears.
[Columbia Journalism Review, July/August 2010]