Denis Muller

Conflict of interest: Hybrid journalism's central ethical challenge

Acute economic pressures on media, legacy and new alike, induced by digital transformation have contributed to the burgeoning of a class of news-like content that goes under various deceptive names such as 'hybrid journalism'. This challenges certain foundational assumptions on which ethical notions of editorial independence, conflict of interest and deception have rested for many decades. News-like content is not just about the promotion of commercial products and interests, which have generally been the focus of 'advertorials' in the past, but about politics, religion and ideology as well. These developments confront democratic societies, which depend on news media for a bedrock of reliable information on which to make choices as citizens, with a new and serious problem. This paper examines these foundational assumptions and ethical norms by reference to three case studies and concludes that long-term trust in media is being traded off for short-term financial gain

Keywords: of interest, deception, native advertising, sponsored content, hybrid journalism


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Note on the contributor

Dr Denis Muller is a senior lecturer in politics and journalism at the University of Melbourne. He practised as a journalist for 27 years, mostly on the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, Melbourne. His special research interests centre on media ethics, and he was a consultant to the Finkelstein Inquiry into Media Regulation, conducted in Australia in 2011-12, contributing sections on press theory, codes of ethics, and media performance. In 2014, he published Journalism ethics for the digital age (Scribe, Melbourne). He may be contacted at or 613 8344 9439 or 61419 414 121.