Perhaps I am naive, in this age of flogs (fake blogs — see a list of some of the more infamous fakes at the Wikipedia article here), Pay-Per-Post, content syndication, paid placement masquerading as content and other forms of hidden influence, to believe that there is a wall between editorial and advertiser when it comes to news organizations, whether offline or online.
No, not perhaps. I am naive. I believe it when a media rep tells me that regardless of my media buy, he can’t guarantee that our press release will end up in the same issue. And if that’s the case with a PR, I’m floored by the idea that you can buy your way into actual editorial, if you’re big enough and have enough money.
MarketingVox had an article yesterday that quotes a PR Week survey saying that 19% of senior marketers admit that their companies have bought ads on a news site in exchange for a news story.
Even worse, this isn’t really new: last year that number was 17%.
My outrage is a year late. But better late than never.
I believe that the only reason to cover a story is that it is newsworthy. For me, the definition of newsworthy is so broad — virtually every story is of interest to somebody — that it is rarely a barrier to coverage.
I also understand that news organizations are businesses. But, like doctors, hospitals, lawyers and law firms, police officers, accountants and their firms and other businesses, journalists and editors and news organizations operate according to a set of agreed upon ethical principals, some backed up by laws.
Is news coverage in return for payment illegal? I don’t know. Is it unethical? In my opinion, it’s unethical, immoral and any other pejorative I can throw at it. It is certainly contrary to any claims of fair and balanced journalism, journalistic integrity, or trustworthiness that all news sources proclaim as loudly as possible. Where is the ombudsman? The ethics committee? What right do these organizations have to cast doubt on independent journalists and bloggers when their own practices are so… compromised?
I am reminded of that famous quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw. “We have established what you are, Madam. Now we are merely haggling over the price.”
So now, let’s turn to the “johns” in this equation.
Is it unethical for the marketers who bribe their way onto the news sits and into the papers? Well, they are willing participants in this unethical process. But some business people will take any advantage they can (in this case, 19%), just as some athletes take steroids and other performing enhancing drugs. When it’s illegal, that’s an issue for the courts. When it’s unethical, that’s an issue for the public.
In keeping with the naivety of this post, can someone please explain to me why this story isn’t getting more press coverage than it is?