Blurring lines between news and ads
Since the beginning of the newspaper crisis around the turn of this century, print media has been searching for more and more ways to get the attention of readers and increase revenue.
Since the early 1900s, advertising dollars have been the number one source of income for print media.
While many newspapers have ceased publications since 2000, several other newspapers survived the crisis by moving online and finding innovations, such as convergent journalism, catchier headlines and new types of content.
The newest trend in grabbing reader’s attention is “native advertising” or “sponsor content.” For more on this phenomena and what John Oliver of “Last Week Tonight” has to say about it.
If you read the last issue of the Collegian (Volume 91, Issue 10), you saw the full-page editorial on the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.
Based on the size of that spread, you might guess that here, in the Collegian, we take journalistic ethics very seriously. Once a week, when we sit down to have our editorial meetings, we often spend part of those meetings discussing topical ethical events. Every issue, we strive to make our paper as objective as possible. In our journalism and media courses, we spend hours reading about and discussing ethics. That is, ethics are a part of our everyday lives here at the Collegian.
With that culture as a part of my life as a journalist, you might imagine that my reaction to the news of “native advertising” was a turning stomach. It is obviously an ethically bankrupt practice.
In “The Vanishing Newspaper,” written in 2006, Philip Meyer stresses that newspapers would eventually get into more hot water than less by focusing on profit margins. Prophetic?
Of course, a newspaper company has to make enough money to stay in print and pay their writers. However, ethics must be a part of every single decision that takes place in a newsroom.
We consider the impact of our stories, the phrasing of our headlines and even our quote attributions each week. In fact, it is to the point that we have had lengthy discussion on the difference between he or she “said” and he or she “intoned.” The conclusion is that anything other than “said” is editorializing. Every detail, from what stories we choose to print, to “said” versus “intoned,” involves thoughtful consideration of journalistic ethics.
Every publication is different, of course. Regardless, using any ethical compass, “native advertising” is clearly wrong. It is wrong to the point of being negligent and harmful. Keep in mind that absolutes in any field are rare.
Some of you may be wondering why this article is in the first person and riddled with opinion. You may question what sort of ethics I am employing while writing this. However, keep in mind that this is an editorial. So, the point of it is to discuss my opinion. This is the section of the newspaper where we get to sound off. This is the section of the newspaper where we have the opportunity to be intentionally subjective rather than objective. It should be easy to tell the difference between hard news, editorials and advertisements.
The publications that employ “native advertising” blur those lines for profit. They might make a lot of money, they may attract new advertisers and they might get more readers doing it, but it will not be worth it.
If you watched the video above, you saw Meredith Levien of The New York Times Co. and Joseph A. Ripp of Time Inc. defending “native advertising.”
Our duty as members of the fourth estate is to act as watchdogs; we are meant to protect readers, not confuse, exploit and harm them.
Dear Levien and Ripp, if you care at all about your readers or ethics or your duty, stop what you are doing immediately.
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