Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Fading Red Line Twixt News & Ads

There used to be two big red lines in journalism between news and advertising, and news and opinion/entertainment.  They weren't always there - a glance at newspapers in the 18th and 19th century will show a commingling of content - but as journalism and news organizations pursued the mantle of objectivity, the lines were drawn to clearly distinguish news from opinion, fact from fiction (or embellishment), and to isolate objective news from the influence of large advertisers.
  The line between news and entertainment started fading with morning news/chat shows, prime time news programs as concerned with creating hooks and embellishments to attract audiences, the rise of "new journalism" with its heavy use of literary techniques, and lost any pretense of distinction with the meteoric rise of Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert.  The line between news and opinion has been fading rapidly in the last decade or two, with the rise of news programs pushing conflict and debate among hosts and guests, to the point where opinion commentary gets inserted into almost every form of news (and quite often the opinions are totally unrelated, like taking a shot at a political figure in a story on fashion, sports reporting, or fashion reviews).
  The last of these - the wall between news and advertising, is crumbling.  It's been deteriorating around the edges for a while - reporters assigned to stories on advertisers for a special section, the use of materials provided by advertisers or PR reps (as they save the costs of independently creating equivalent materials), among other things.  What's new and significant, though, is that some major news organizations have started to develop new products and story types that openly integrate advertising content in news products.

News organization and publishers taking this step argue that a combination of changes in news markets, business pressures, and consumer preferences, are driving "an inexorable -- indeed an inevitable -- shift merging the "storytelling" of their organic journalism with those of their advertisers." The new media and news environment, they argue, require news organizations to find new ways to include and accommodate advertisers and other funding sources. For Forbes and NBC News, this means
introducing a spate of new "native" advertising formats that blur the line between advertising and editorial content in new ways, including brand-produced videos served directly in the news organizations’ video news players.
NBC has just announce a major transformation in its approach to news and news audiences, abandoning the what it termed the "archaic" focus on demographics in defining and targeting news audiences. Instead, the will focus on "news personas" - and as part of that effort are introducing a variety of "native formats" allowing advertisers to integrate their own content and messages directly into NBC News players and other digital news formats.
"Native advertising is really just more relevant advertising," explains Kyoo Kim, vice president-sales of NBC News Digital, adding: “If we can figure out how to earn a place on that infinite loop (use patterns of the "Always On" news consumer), whether it is a mobile device, a tablet, or a smart TV, then we are creating an environment and product that is more relevant to that experience... Essentially, (Native advertisers) become content publishers in our stream..."
After all, Kim continued, those "Always On" news consumers expect advertising content to be integrated with their news. In addition, Kim added, ad content sometimes generates more "engagement" with audiences than NBC News' own editorial content.

Forbes is taking a similar direction with its "Make Your Move" campaign of interviews with successful entrepreneurs and BrandVoice online advertising campaign. For BrandVoice, a staff of news producers and editors work with major advertising brands to assemble a mix of digital content sources built around promoting brand identity.
Forbes' Levien says the new BrandVoice spots are part of a progression that began a couple of years ago when became one of the first news publishers to begin integrating its advertisers' stories directly in its text-based news story feeds. That program was dubbed AdVoice, which has also been renamed BrandVoice with the launch of the new native video ad formats.
  She said the native formats have been a significant contributor to’s ad revenue growth, which is up 27% through the first three quarters of 2012.
Emmanuel Perrin, President and CEO of Cartier North America, explained that he felt that the "native ad" formats were more appropriate and authentic for today's younger news audiences.
"Especially with the new generation, if it’s in advertising, it’s suspicious," he (added).
  While markets and consumers are evolving in ways that may support a greater level of integration between advertising and media content, I'm sad to see this latest extension into news - particularly hard news. And the consequences of blurring and disappearing "red lines" of separation are real and damaging journalism and the news' own brand. As Gallup and Pew survey results show, there's been a near continuous decline in the public's faith in, and trust of news media and coverage. Increasing the influence of advertisers and other outside parties in the selection and production of news coverage isn't going to help.

Source -   The Natives Are Restless: News Publishers Move Line Distinguishing Edit, Ad Content,  OnlineMediaDaily

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