It is time to bring back the Great Wall. No, not the one that protected China’s emperor from nomadic hordes on the Eurasian Steppe, nor the one that kept civilising Romans safe from the dreadful Picts: I’m talking about the one that separates news from advertising.
I can sympathise with media organisations scratching for revenue while their traditional business model is showing durability akin to the wall that once cut Berlin in half. However, that search for earnings carries considerable risk when it threatens the traditional barrier between journalism and commercial interests. It’s all about trust and I will return to that.
I have never liked advertisements that look like news stories but have bowed to the inevitable so long as they carried a clear label that they are just that – advertisements. And that label must be obvious to anyone who sees or hears it. I prefer ADVERTISEMENT top and centre, but I accept PAID CONTENT in the same place.
What you won’t hear me calling it is ‘native advertising’. There is nothing native about it. ‘Native’ means indigenous and ‘native advertising’ is a bad example of colonisation. It is the phase used by advertising executives in polite conversation to justify the format, but it never appears on what they produce. Their current preferred label appears to be (in lower case or sotto voce) ‘partnering with….’ although ‘sponsored content’ may be a publisher’s preference. Too often, however, the label is the last thing you see, if you notice it at all. ‘Job done”, says the advertising executive, because the content and the brand are imprinted before the provenance.
I find this sort of advertising at best irritating and at worst misleading. However, I suppose I have reluctantly learnt to live with it.
What I have not accepted – and will not accept – is the use of bona fide journalists to purvey this sort of content. I do not care whether their bosses have some form of conscience-salving agreement over ‘editorial control’: It crosses a line that I do not believe should be crossed. Continue reading “Bring back the Great Wall that once protected the news”