The thorny question of when to allow businesses to post material about themselves on citizen journalism sites is getting some attention (here and here) after The Star Press, a Gannett paper, nixed an article about community web site Muncie Free Press. When I was at GetLocalNews.com, we crafted a policy intended to address such situations.
Here's what it says:
We allow businesses to use Readers Write to inform readers about their businesses if their articles are labeled "PRESS RELEASE" in the headline. The articles also must provide specific information about the business's expansion, relocation, release of a new product, etc. -- in other words providing news, not just promotional content. For instance, a submission about a new business opening would be appropriate if it said specifically when and where the new store or office is opening.
If you submit an article with Readers Write that does not meet these standards, we will remove it. For promotional material that does not meet our press release standards, please consider our advertising options ... .
We also encourage businesses to post personnel news, information about new product lines and new businesses (but we will not accept material that is promotional in nature).
ePluribus then asks "where the dividing line exists between informational and promotional when it comes to announcing new products and/or businesses." I don't know where it exists for The Star Press. At GetLocalNews, we would delete submissions that didn't have any news -- posts that simply told people to buy a particular product or use a particular service or announced a sale.
Whether we would have allowed a submission by a Muncie Free Press would have depended on whether it contained news about the business. Thing is, with a little effort, it isn't that hard for a business to come up with something newsworthy about itself. We were OK with that at GetLocalNews because we knew that by allowing readers to comment directly on every submission, a business would be held accountable for what it had to say.