Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Digital publishing has forced us to breach the traditional institutional barriers that separated journalists from marketers. That is creating both opportunities and threats, as explained in my new article for Publishing Executive, “Redefining Publishing's Church & State Separation for the Digital Age."
Native advertising, AKA branded content, is a perfect example. Tapping this growing source of revenue requires the work of both salespeople and journalists. But it also puts at risk our main source of competitive advantage – our reputations.
"’Branded content’ and ‘native solutions’ are just fancy-ass bullshit for advertising disguised as editorial,” ad-industry critic Bob Hoffman wrote today on his Ad Contrarian blog. “Media aristocrats are now walking around with their knickers down begging advertisers to have a peek.”
I don’t completely agree with Hoffman: Some publishers are handling native responsibly, such as by clearly labeling rather than disguising it and by not having their reporters create content for brands they cover. But Hoffman’s comments are a reminder that, for many people, when it comes to native advertising we publishers are guilty until proven innocent. We have to avoid not only doing evil but also the appearance of evil.
Keeping our journalism untainted by commercial interests is not only the right thing to do. It’s good business. Back in 1954, The Wall Street Journal showed the way by refusing to back down from publishing articles that its largest advertiser, General Motors, didn’t like. It followed with an editorial containing this timeless observation that is relevant to all high-quality publishers regardless of medium:
“When a newspaper begins to suppress, whether at the behest of its advertisers or to please some special segment of business, it will soon cease to be of any service to its advertisers or to business because it will soon cease to have readers.”
Other Dead Tree Edition commentary on publishing includes: