If the internet has a downside, it’s that is has neither barriers to entry nor a filter.  Of course, that’s also part of what’s so good about it.  However, there is really no way to tell if what you’re reading is from a credible source that did research or if it’s just made up crap.  One way I think users can distinguish one from the other is by considering the source.  Legitimate news operations tend to have done their homework and there’s usually some sort of editorial control in place to assure that some writer’s fantasy doesn’t get put out there as fact.

That’s why I found the story in this morning’s Media Post so disturbing:

If there is a red line delineating the church and state of journalism, some big news publishers have just crossed it — introducing a spate of new “native” advertising formats that blur the line between advertising and editorial content in new ways, including brand-produced videos served directly in the news organizations’ video news players.

This is not a new phenomenon.  “Advertorials” have been around for a long time.  These are long-form ads written to appear as regular editorial and are designed to look like a legitimate and independent news story. It might be a TV piece that’s an “infomercial,” or as a segment on a talk show or variety show. In radio, it might be a discussion between the announcer and a brand representative.  The brand usually controls all of the content and there are subtile differences – a tiny “advertisement” written someplace – that make it hard for someone encountering the content to tell that it’s brand advocacy, not editorial.

I’m not a fan.  Obviously I’m a big fan of ad-supported media – I worked in it and sold it for decades.  I do think, however, that doing this in digital in particular is an issue since there is so much content out there and users’ expectations of editorial integrity as explained above are not met when the line is crossed.  It calls into question all of the legitimate reporting.  I get that people might ignore advertising but pay attention to this.  They need to know it’s not the same as other content.

The pressure for revenue can’t undermine the integrity of the news brand, and while it’s easy to rationalize including this sort of advertising, you’re ceding control to someone who may not meet the same sort of standards you set for your organization.  I don’t think that’s smart.

What do you think?

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

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