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Your favorite newspapers, magazines and blogs are so
hungry for content to fill their pages that sometimes, rather than paying their
own writers to produce text, video, and other journalism those publications
take money from strangers to print their content instead.
You may not have noticed. It's getting harder and harder
to discern journalism from newsy advertising.
You may know it as advertising or maybe "advertorial" but
publications are slipping it in under new fancy media names like "sponsored
content" and "sponsored posts". There's an entire publication called paidContent that promotes the approach
as a way for media organizations to pay the bills.
The Wall Street Journal has
been accepting sponsored content, in an exclusive contract with Deloitte, for
its CFO Journal, CIO Journal for a while and now will feature Deloitte's
content in a new publication, Risk & Compliance Journal.
I have not seen that reported elsewhere.
A recent controversy over "sponsored content" by
Scientology in the Atlantic magazine raised the temperature of the
discussion amongst media watchers to "hot".
A critic of the practice, Andrew Sullivan, wrote
about what he thinks went wrong with the Atlantic's foray.
"Obviously sponsored content from Scientologists, with
Atlantic employees systematically removing negative comments, is self-evidently
But I have to say I tend to agree with Pareene: why is the Church of
Scientology more objectionable as "sponsored content" than, say, Shell or Intel
or IBM? Here's a video entirely provided by Shell:
This is corporate propaganda, not journalism. Yes, it is
identified as such - but on the video page, actual journalism by brilliant
writers like Alexis Madrigal is interspersed with corporate-funded propaganda.
You can easily mistake one for the other."
Now paidContent reports that the venerable Washington Post is
going to try sponsored content to plug its revenue gap. Why?
"Like virtually every other traditional media outlet, the
Washington Post has been squeezed hard by the decline in print
advertising revenue and the inability of digital ad revenue to fill that gap.
Unlike almost every other outlet, however, the Post has resisted putting up a
paywall (for now at least) and instead has been experimenting with other
methods of monetization."
Forbes, where I write online and
for the magazine, believes in the approach. (No, they still pay me. I don't
have to pay them to write about accounting and audit.) The Forbes BrandVoice
platform is similar to what the Washington Post plans. The challenge for
readers, according to paidContent is that, "marketing or
advertising-driven content from brands is given more or less equal prominence
to that created by editorial staff, with the appropriate disclaimers. Corporate
bloggers at Forbes have the exact same platform that a staff blogger does, with
all the same tools."
Shafer at Reuters, another critic of Forbes, in particular,
addresses the concept of sponsored content as "thought leadership":
"Lewis DVorkin of Forbes, an early promulgator of
sponsored content, continues to bang his drum for it. He claims 20 partners (SAP,
Harris Bank, et al.) for Forbes's "BrandVoice." It's enough to make
you barricade yourself behind Orwell's collected works when DVorkin approvingly
quotes his chief revenue officer's quip about BrandVoice: "It's not an ad, it's
No, Lewis. If money moved from the client's hand to that
of Forbes, and Forbes posted the client's copy, it's an ad."
Last October, the Wall Street Journal wrote all about the phenomenon,
featuring the tactics of another online publication, BuzzFeed.
"Sponsored online content, which blurs some of the
traditional boundaries between advertising and editorial, isn't new. Gawker
Media introduced sponsored posts in 2009 in the stream of its regular blog
posts. Forbes.com and Huffington Post also have introduced
Facebook Inc. recently introduced its own form of social
advertising, also called sponsored stories, which show up on a user's Facebook
page if a friend "liked" an advertiser's brand. Facebook Chief Operating
Officer Sheryl Sandberg called sponsored stories the "cornerstone" of
Facebook's advertising strategy."
What The Wall Street Journal didn't say back in
October and it seems no one else has yet reported, is that that paper has been
getting paid by Deloitte to publish the firm's "thought leadership" for a
Read this article in its entirety at the re: The Auditors, a blog
by Francine McKenna.
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