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Mayo, Star Tribune form content partnership

Mayo Clinic has entered into a sponsored content deal with the Star-Tribune to generate health, disease and condition treatment related info-graphics for the Twin Cities' largest newspaper.

The clinic describes the arrangement as an opportunity to distribute its medical content and introduce itself to a broader audience. The newspaper describes the agreement as an advertising deal that enables the paper to offer content from a trusted source of health related information.

The deal will include Mayo material for the Web and the newspaper's Sunday Science + Health section, regular Mayo advertising drawing attention to each week's content, and "an email blast to promote and attract new subscribers," according to a Mayo intranet communication obtained by the Post Bulletin.

Both parties call the agreement a partnership.

"Beginning in October, Mayo Clinic will be the exclusive sponsor of Star Tribune's popular Sunday Science + Health section," writes Steve Yaeger, vice president and chief marketing officer for the Star Tribune, in an email to the Post Bulletin.

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"Mayo will also be highly visible in several Star Tribune digital channels. Our readers' interests in specific health and wellness topics aligns incredibly well with Mayo Clinic's areas of expertise."

Dr. John Wald, medical director for public affairs and marketing at Mayo Clinic, said Mayo will continue to seek partners "who can help us reach out to health consumers in many different ways."

"In our opportunity to work with the Star Tribune, we get to supply them with interesting health content, which perhaps helps with their distribution and brings readers to them, and they get to help us distribute the great content we have and extend Mayo Clinic's reach into many different and new markets."

According to the intranet posting, the sponsored content will feature information on cancer, cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular surgery, among other topics, as well as the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program, Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine, neurology and neurological surgery and transplant.

"Our hope is that the graphics associated with it will pop off the page," says Wald. "It will clearly be attributed to Mayo Clinic and obviously that's one of the benefits for us, that people recognize what we can do and how we can do it."

Observers had mixed views on the potential for conflicts of interest in the deal.

"This is essentially going to be sponsored content or native advertising, and it is a form of information that actually could work well in the journalism environment, presuming that the hospital is, and you think they would be, super accurate and informative," said Kelly McBride, media ethicist for The Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, FL.

Former University of Minnesota journalism ethics instructor Gary Schwitzer was the founding editor for one year of MayoClinic.com 14 years ago. As publisher of Health News Review.org he has become a leading voice in the oversight of how health stories are reported in the media.

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Schwitzer says it's too early to tell what the arrangement means for health reporting at the Star Tribune but says it warrants scrutiny as the series evolves.

"Not having seen the content, I raise potential concerns that I would raise about any such arrangement," he wrote in an email. "Anytime any health care entity enters into an exclusive sponsorship arrangement with any news organization for placement of that health care entity's information within news space, there is cause for concern. Who will edit, verify, question the information?"

"Will the Strib be as tough in investigating issues that have a Mayo angle now that the exclusive sponsorship agreement is in place?"

He took special interest in the comments by Yaeger that "Star Tribune and Mayo Clinic are two trusted and iconic Minnesota brands. We're proud to partner with Mayo Clinic to tell their story in a unique and relevant way."

"Is that the job of a newspaper?," Schwitzer wrote. "To 'partner' in exclusive arrangements to tell sponsors' stories in a unique way? Or is it a newspaper's job to independently vet claims, to question them, to compare them to others doing the same thing or to others doing something differently -- and to ask why?"

"But this is the new journalism. Readers can expect more such deals."

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