Monday, April 11, 2016

A Grain of Salt


Claire Walters, a local writer specializing in travel and food brought up a topic on the Boulder Media Women loop that caught my attention: those articles you see in magazines that don't appear to be paid advertising but are. You may, for example see an actual paid-ad off to the side of the article.  At the very least the article itself touts the product and gives contact info. The point is, the article would likely not be in the magazine if the exposure hadn't been remunerated.  YS and Boulder Lifestyle are two local examples.  But companies like Subaru and chambers of commerce have them in the form of official visitors' guides.  You have likely read many of these articles that aren't marked as advertising.  They are essentially quid pro quo. 

Our local magazines are full of advertorials. If it's not the actual point of the magazine, it's a matter of survival. I take all profiles of restaurants and other local businesses with a grain of salt (the origins of that phrase is interesting). If it weren't for these pseudo-journalism stories I might not have otherwise known there was such a person/restaurant in our midst.  I'm all about capitalism.  Though I'm unlikely to buy based on advertising, I might do the research to see if I'd like to know more.

You could say this is on the ethical edge. Sponsored content is deceptive to the extent it doesn't announce what it is....just as a variety of TV media pretend to be news. There will be readers who don't understand the difference, just as there will be people who trust the biggest ads in the yellow pages, assume a billboard is proof of value, and that Mikey liking his cereal is an endorsement.
 
And BTW "a grain of salt" was part of a poison antidote. Threats involving the poison should then be taken "with a grain of salt," with skepticism.
 
How do you feel about articles that are really paid advertisements?
 
--- From the Inkpot

7 comments:

  1. Paid-for editorial has become common in many art and book reviews as well. I prefer not to write it because my readers rely to a certain degree on my recommendations and suggestions and I want those to be genuine. I understand that advertising dollars keep publications going, but feel more comfortable when it's clear that's what the "articles" are.

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    1. Yes, ethics in all sorts of media are blurred. I think if it is made clear that the profile subject has also paid for the nearby ad, that is much better.

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  2. I've written advertorials for 12 years for Women's Edition magazine. We call them articles, though. The advertiser pays for their space and one story per year is written about them. I did it for published clips initially, but now I continue to do it because I absolutely love meeting all these cool people and learning firsthand what they do. I interview them, I conduct in-depth research and then write the story, not in an attempt to 'sell' their product or service, but in a clear attempt to educate and inform readers. All other clients pay my full rate. I don't cut it for anybody.

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    1. Did you ever feel pressure to NOT mention bad things, downsides? Like the hamburger could have been cooked a little longer? Karen

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  3. To me it's all about intent. Are the intents of these articles to deceive? If so, I'm definitely against them. Sure, they give writers jobs, they get paid well, according to Unknown, and Unknown finds her subjects interesting...but is her employer intentionally trying to deceive the public? Unknown and his/her kind may not be doing the work to deceive, may be doing their level-best to do a good and decent job...but the parent companies...well, if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck...so my answer is, no, I do not like them, because I do feel companies are, indeed, trying to deceive the public. If I can't figure out what I'm reading is one thing or the other, then I feel I AM being manipulated. If I can figure out what I'm reading is one thing or the other, then I'm fine with whatever. I understand creativity...I also understand that business, unfortunately, is all about money (how most---not all---treat it).

    So...talk to me about INTENT and I'll tell you whether or not I agree with what you're doing. Then I'll ask you: are YOU good with what YOU'RE doing?

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    1. If the writer is allowed to be free and write as if there was no quid pro quo, then I can trust that the article isn't a puff piece to keep an advertiser on board. But then that might literally allow for pissing off an advertiser and driving them away as well as shuttering the magazine. It does, indeed, come down to the honesty either way--writer's honesty in the writing or the clearly stated info that the subject is an advertising customer. Not because many writers can't tell the difference, but because most of the public in general doesn't even know such a thing exists, so may be snookered by it if the article is glowing unnaturally. Maybe a simple line at the bottom of the article "thank you to XXX for advertising in our magazine."

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  4. I worked for a weekly newspaper that ran a spotlight on a business, and of course during that time period, it advertised. This is typical these days, and conducted ad nauseum on the internet. It makes me leery to click on to an article even if it interests me because I know the next time I'm on Yahoo or FB I'm going to see several ads for it. I guess the main thing is to remember caveat emptor.... oh, look at me I'm in my Latin phase today. Great post, Karen.

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