Is the line between advertising market pressure and editorial integrity becoming thinner?
Within the crisis much of the press is facing, being able to attract more advertising can be a critical factor in a publication's survival. And branded, or 'advertorial' content has become more popular: content published in the layout of an article. It is vital, when using this, however, to maintain editorial integrity.
As Journalism.co.uk reported, the Association of Online Publishers has taken an interest in how media outlets can take advantage of branded content without losing readers' trust and held a conference entitled "Maintaining editorial integrity and making partnerships pay" on February 17th in London.
"The line between advertising and editorial is set to blur even further this year. Some say we're going to see more advertising moving toward content, and more acceptance of that, while others warn of inevitable damage to editorial integrity", AOP said presenting the event. While for years advertisers have been trying to align ever more closely with publishers brands online and cross-platform, now different models between simple partnerships are emerging, especially as digital advertising becomes richer and more complex - it noted.
Talking about the collaboration between editorial and commercial in digital, Mirror Group Digital Content Director Matt Kelly said, in a video interview for AOP, that "The internet is the perfect forum for integrating those two functions, in a way that traditionally wasn't either desirable or probably practical in print."
How will advertising content within new formats continue to be clearly marked to distinguish it from editorial? And do users even care? Are we seeing the fruition of a long-held belief that advertising should act more like content? And how can publishers reap the benefits without compromising their relationship with their audience? These are some of the questions the AOP conference hoped to answer.
Journalism.co.uk reported that Bauer Media last year set up a dedicated division called Bauer Access to bridge the gap between advertorial and sales and work on advertiser-funded content across the group's radio and TV outlets, magazines and online. Speaking at an AOP conference in London, Bauer Access creative director Joseph Evea said - quoted in the article - that it's really important to provide a dedicated resource to create this type of content as if the right systems are in place, branded content can really pay.
Compromising editorial integrity for commercial purposes is a big risk.
"There simply is no point in compromising the long-term integrity of your editorial product for the sake of short-term financial gain", said MSN Content Manager Steve Wilson-Beales reporting on the event.
If the 'admixture' is the main risk, simple transparency can be an answer: maintaining a separation between news and advertising through a proper signpost is crucial. That news organizations maintain credibility as independent trustworthy information providers should also be important for advertisers because their branded advertising content benefits from that credibility.
Attending a seminar on "Influence, Values and Professional Responsibility in the News Media" in Salzburg (Austria) in 2002, 57 international journalists issued a statement of concern in defense of journalism as a public trust. As Poynter reported, also in that occasion, market pressures were founded to undermine the quality of journalism. In that statement, they recognized that news organizations function in a competitive, multimedia environment, and that financial strength is essential for journalistic independence. However, among the 10 proposals they raised to consideration, they encouraged the press to ensure that entertainment content does not compromise news coverage, as well as to keep a clear separation between advertising and news content. All advertising should be clearly labeled.
As George Boyce said in 1978 «The paradox of the Fourth Estate, with its head in politics and its feet in commerce can, however, only be understood if it is appreciated that the whole idea of the Fourth Estate was a myth. A myth can combine fact and fiction without any uneasiness extisting between the two.»