Is anyone surprised that news managers are consorting with sales reps to clear or promote news favorable to advertisers before publishing or broadcasting it? It’s certainly not fooling readers or viewers of ‘main stream media’ (MSM) according to American Journalism Review (AJR) contributor, Deborah Potter (Sept 2001). She contends the practice is subtle and perhaps more common than journalist would like to admit. In any case, is it wrong? If you’re talking about journalistic integrity, then of course it is; but if you’re trying to move merchandise, then … well … duh! Sadly, it’s entirely unnecessary to compromise your journalistic principles to sell ad space, if you’re savvy enough to produce good journalism in a format that appeals to your audience.
Snake oil or substantive news: The mixing of journalism and advertisement is hardly new. The two seemed to have evolved together. “Caveat emptor” (let the buyer beware) is a concept that goes back to the roots of our civilization. This may explain the public’s skepticism about journalism’s protestations (at least in some quarters) that there is a distinct separation between news and advertisers and that the former is not influenced by the later. Consumers of news should be no less skeptical of what’s being ‘pitched’ to them then purveyors of cure-alls.
The Numbers Count: Advertisers are motivated by the numbers of people they can reach with their message. After-all, they give away the weekly circular that's choked full of advertisements, but anyone wanting to stay abreast of current events will find it ... light. It doesn't help anyone's business if most copy is never viewed. If an advertiser wants to pull an ad about something they object to then who's going to stop them, and how do you please everyone?
New technology is targeting consumer interests like never before. Cookies and applications that track internet traffic are proliferating and are an adman’s best friend. Try and outrun an advertiser’s pitch on the internet. How quaint, they know exactly what you’re craving. Russ Baker (CJR, Sept 1997) notes that editors who bow to pressure from advertisers risk losing their audience, and uses Chrysler's demands for advance content notice from publishers as a practice that's moving in the wrong direction. But Chrysler put its ads in Maxim because they know the content, and the readers of Maxim know its content, too. Baker is right, if a news outlet wants to kowtow to advertisers, it will likely see its numbers dwindle, because subscribers/viewers/listeners are not usually waiting for the latest Chrysler product off the assembly line. People seek information they want: if its ads then it’s ads and if it’s news, it’s news.
Exceptions are not the rule, but wouldn’t it be nice? There should be a distinction between advertising and good (or even mediocre) journalism. Publications like Consumer Reports and media outlets like NPR base their reputations on being free from advertiser’s influence. Is that realistic for everyone else? Most likely not, but journalist shouldn’t forget who holds the reins in these collaborations. Without the journalists’ contribution, is there ANY content?
Really, what do admen know about the news anyway?