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Allergan reportedly offered 10 freelance journalists $250 to participate in a focus panel. (Credit: Allergan)

Freelance journalist Lisa Collier Cool and nine other freelance journalists were reportedly offered $250 for their  “feedback” and “insights” at a panel discussion, Poynter’s Jim Romenesko reported. While Collier Cool, bloggers and journalists are calling this a bribe, the public relations company that sent the invitation is claiming the money is a stipend for journalists and their time and not a buy for coverage.

According to the e-mail offer from Allergan company to Collier Cool,

“The goal of this Panel is to engage in a discussion about current facial aesthetics trends and innovations, perceived gaps in data, and any questions, concerns or misperceptions your readers may have about products and treatments.”

Allergan is a health care company that makes Botox, among other products.  Read the whole e-mail invitation here.

However, the public relations representative who invited Collier Cool to the event claimed that it wasn’t an attempt to bribe journalists for coverage, HealthJournalism.org reported.

Shara Smedley from Chandler Chicco Companies, which represents Allergan, claimed that Collier Cool “misconstrued” the invitation and that it wasn’t a bribe.

“We really regret that Lisa [Collier Cool] misconstrued this,” Smedley stated. “The allegation that it was a bribe took my breath away.”  Smedley added that she was “disappointed that Lisa wouldn’t have called, reached out somehow … for more information.”

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Smedley also noted that she is “highly aware” of journalism ethics codes.

The invitation was sent to ten freelancers, two have agreed to participate, and one has accepted the $250 stipend, Smedley reportedly told HealthJournalism.org. Smedley added that freelancers were invited since “they have a broad view and write for multiple outlets.”

Allergan spokesperson Caroline Van Hove also claimed that the invitation wasn’t a request for media coverage and commented that the $250 stipend was “a means to compensate them for their time, nothing more.” Van Hove stated to Forbes:

“To be clear, this meeting is NOT a media pitch or an attempt to generate stories; instead, similar to a consumer focus group, it is a chance for us to obtain insights from those who cover the market.  We have offered a stipend for their participation in a three-hour meeting as a means to compensate them for their time, nothing more.  The posting below mischaracterizes this focus group invite as a media bribe which couldn’t be further from the truth.  We have a longstanding, respectful and open relationship with the media and would never intentionally compromise journalistic integrity, nor our own.”

Poynter’s Romenesko added that, also in the past month, a skin care firm offered editors $100 for running its press release and getting people to use the treatment.  That e-mail reads in part:

“Would you consider running our press release as a win-win project? We will pay $100 for every Skin Care Patient who sees the press release in your newspaper and commits to our exclusive and effective process. We monitor each incoming patient and where they heard about us.”

The Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics advises journalists

  • “Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.”
  • “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.”
  • “Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.”
  • “Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.”
  • “Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news”

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PR Rep Says $250 Stipend for Journalists Was Not Bribe

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