In October, The Huffington Post and Causecast formed a partnership to create HuffPost Impact, a new section for the Internet newspaper that focuses on activism, social causes, and non-profit organizations. HuffPo provides the platform and outsources the content creation to Causecast, a for-profit company that provides services for non-profit organizations, including fundraising. Laura McGann, assistant editor at Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab blog, recently investigated the potential conflict of interest in the partnership.
One of the problems with this partnership, McGann points out, is that Causecast sometimes uses the platform to promote its own clients. This may not be so bad, since the organizations are in line with the mission of the newspaper section anyway, but Causecast has not been transparent enough in its content about these relationships. (See our post from yesterday about transparency guidelines.) At the end of the articles, there are sometimes links to donate money to the non-profit being profiled. Those links lead to a Causecast-affiliated donation page on its website. Causecast says it does not take any portion of those donated funds.
The HuffPo-Causecast arrangement, in conjunction with ads, could be an example of the kind of hybrid solution publishers are struggling to find. However, by blurring the line between advertising and content, it also raises questions about conflicts of interest and editorial responsibility.
McGann links to specific articles on Impact which exemplify the potential conflict of interest, and gives some backstory on each example. McGann also reprints a disclaimer that Impact uses at the end of any articles it publishes soliciting donations for individuals instead of vetted organizations, a portion of which reads: “Causecast Corporation and The Huffington Post make no representations or warranties as to the legitimacy of this person’s story, need for assistance, or the amount of any medical or other bills, if any, owed by this individual.”
Brian Sirgutz, Causecast’s president, said about the arrangement, “[W]hat we’re able to do was to bring our expertise, because this was our field, we were able to provide that service to the Huffington Post and come up with an arrangement where they don’t have to spend any money to cover this type of content or on providing the direct ability for their readership to take action.”