Deloitte and Wall Street Journal Exclusive for Sponsored Content

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 awful.

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."

Jack 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, UPS, 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 thought leadership."

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. and Huffington Post also have introduced similar advertorials.

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 while.

Read this article in its entirety at the re: The Auditors, a blog by Francine McKenna.

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