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Introducing the First Post in Our Native Advertising Series

Tomorrow we are publishing the first post in +Demian Farnworth's series on native advertising. Its called "5 Ways to Rankle an Old-School Journalist."

(Update: The post is now live: http://www.copyblogger.com/advertising-versus-editorial/)

In this post he'll make the case that native advertising and great journalism are NOT incompatible. In fact, they are both advertising models … and they can both be profitable.

And he'll make his point by highlighting five ways you can irritate old-guard journalists … 

Stay tuned. 
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38 comments
 
Sounds intriguing... I look forward to the series!
 
I hope someone will be representing the balancing views of those with journalistic standards to maintain.
 
 I'd like to see some balanced reporting and writing too-you know "old fashioned" journalism, based on research, facts, reporting (more of a balanced approach); so far, the author seems to be shooting from the hip...but of course, this is the new model.  If objectivity is a myth, rules don't apply and advertising and editorial are all just one and the same-a flow of "content" - the world is simplified:  anyone can write, blog, be an influencer...and sell ads around it. What's not to like? 
 
Hey +mark ivey , not sure what you mean by shooting from the hip. I've researched this topic, I'm looking for facts ... I have questions about the model ... seeking expert opinions. That's not the old-fashioned that's at stake here. It's the idea that business and news shouldn't co-exist, shouldn't mingle. And I'm not suggesting objectivity is a myth, either. That's why this post -- and probably this series -- is so long. It's complicated, and truth takes time to tease out.  
 
As a Boomer is who doing content marking/native advertising it all makes sense.  When I write content I have three jobs:

1.  Make my sponsoring partner look good (or at least interesting).
2.  Tell the truth . . . which is ultimately the truth as I see it.
3.  Be interesting and entertaining.

They are all consistent.

The truth is that even the purest investigative journalist does not tell the whole truth. He tells his version of the truth, which means filtering out stuff he deems to be irrelevant or boring and likely highlighting what is interesting and important to him.   That's okay and even good as long as we have a free press, because I can as a reader, root around the internet to see what others have to say.  Ultimately the best picture comes from consuming a variety of points of view.

Steve
 
Advertising is intended to make the company look good. That's good for the company and the writer, who both benefit financially, and for some who are seeking those products or services. 
Serious journalism has a much broader aim: public service. It's intended to provide useful information to help communities and individuals make good choices regarding their health, government, safety, investments and other public affairs.
To say that native advertising and serious journalism are compatible requires readers to have critical thinking skills and know the difference between the two. Based on the state of our country's education, that's questionable. 
 
"5 Ways to Rankle an Old-School Journalist.", huh? Ever wondered how many old-school journalist (like me) read Copyblogger? I could stop tomorrow – and maybe I will. Cheap-shot headlines can alienate as well as engage.
 
Caren I guess I have more faith in people in peoples ability to figure stuff out.  

But I would ask this:  I assume you do not consider MSNBC or CNN on the left or Fox News on the right to be "serious journalism"?  Since all three site do stories with a strong bias in favor of their particular political point of view and a strong negative bias toward the competing view?

Steve
 
Steve, I'm sure you're right about bias, but what we're debating is the motive for that bias. Is it about truth and justice, however misguided, or is it about profit and sales?
 
I think the question is really the same.  I may be wrong but you seem to be implying that political bias is somehow more pure than advertising bias.  I would argue that typically with advertising or Native Advertising has way more disclosure than does political bias which ultimately gives it more dignity.
 
You say business and news should mingle, but to me you haven't yet managed to justify it.

A key question is what would you recommend to the journalist who when commissioned to write a piece for a client finds a information which creates a conflict of interest? 

For example a furniture manufacture commissions you to write about how sustainable sources of wood. When you investigate you find that they actually don't use a sustainable source. 

Dan
 
+Demian Farnworth I could give several examples but one is around objectivity-do you really think advertorials, social ads, native advertising-or the latest clever marketing respin-is equal (objective, unbiased, etc) to journalist-produced content? Intel, Sony, Raytheon produced content is the same as the WSJ or NYT? No matter how hard you try-and all the cheap shots on traditional journalists-equating corporate (profit) driven content to real editorial content is laughable. You could make your points without branding anyone who's not drinking the new Koolaid and joining the marketing cheerleaders as out of step. "Melting the wall between journalism and advertising" may be a good thing short term for marketers, but people will eventually see through the smokescreens. I look forward to your series but already thinking there are better ways to evolve the business than what you're showing so far (BTW-why didn't you define "native advertising" or did I miss it? Old journalist technique- start with the most important facts first) 
 
+Dan Frank What I tried to do in this article is lay the groundwork. I know I haven't justified that business and news should mingle. Heck, I haven't even defined native advertising yet. :D I just wanted to start with "here is the current state" based upon my research. Then bring that state of NA into sharper focus with our survey results next week. And so on. All editorial decisions. 

If there is a conflict of interest then the writer should either be allowed to report his findings as is or he should bow out. And this is why disclosure is so important. 
 
As a former journalist (10 years at 3 newspapers) I'm looking forward to your series Demian. I think the devil as usual is in how it's done and how you define native. If I as a journalist write an article and it is not twisted in any way that would make it untrue because of the advertiser, and it is clear to the reader what is paid for vs. free, then I don't see how it's all that different than the front page of a newspaper with a wrapper ad. (Journalists of my ilk once found  this type of ad shocking. Now it's routine.)  
 
+mark ivey Objectivity is a myth ... everyone is biased whether they are consciously aware of it or not. Transparency is a much better approach, because it forces all of us to examine our innate biases instead of glossing over them as if they don't exist.
 
Brian, you can believe that objectivity is a myth if you like, but you seem to be using that as an excuse to abandon the attempt, and that's another thing entirely. We might not always be as objective as we think, but the moment we stop trying is the moment we stop being journalists and start becoming something else.

And please excuse me for saying so, but in all my years in publishing I've never seen an advertising copyrighter or marketeer examine their innate biases – though I've seen plenty of other things glossed over.
 
Enjoying Demian's piece. And the new comments sections. Fab research, great revelations and insights. Thanks for sharing! and looking forward to the next chapter.

Reflecting on what I just read - Demian's piece & comments - and to save time, I let two other guys sum it up for me:

"The most important quality of leadership is intellectual honesty, i.e. the reality principle – the ability to see the world as it really is, not as you wish it were." (Jack Welch)
"Smoking is healthy, signed Dr. Marlboro" (Otto, German stand-up comedian).

Journalism and (native) advertising - the two seem like the relativity and quantum theories,  so the search is on for a unified theory - with you guys leading the pack, near as I can tell.
 
+Brian Clark  traditional journalism at least strived for objectivity (vs corporate agendas) and I'm not ready to give that up just yet or throw the baby out with the bath water. ... I'm all for transparency, starting with our terminology.Example: Marketers talk about "Branded journalism",but it's really not journalism at all. Why not just call it "branded content" or "corporate sponsored content".? What are we trying to hide? 
 
+mark ivey I agree. I've always flat out stated we were not journalists, even though what we're doing at Copyblogger is trade journalism. But the point is, this is how it will work in a digital world where people can route around obvious ads, so let's figure out the right balance and terminology. Because the alternative is no funding for journalism.
 
There's a bunch of empty arguments in Demian's story.

Just because news and advertising were blended in previous centuries is not a reason for doing it today. If anything, having so much more information available to us is a good reason for keeping them separate. It makes it easier for audiences to weigh the source of the information and its credibility.

His argument about objectivity is a red herring. Just because "absolute objectivity" is a fiction, doesn't mean we shouldn't try. It's still an excellent goal. Good journalists can reach high standards of balance and objectivity - if their purpose is to inform people. Any kind of advertising is ultimately about persuasion. The needs of the advertiser trump the needs the audience. Native advertising may be as "objective" as poor news reporting, but it can't be as "objective" as good reporting.

His 5th point can be summed up as, "only old people care" about this issue. I'd be real interested in seeing if he's got data to back this up, not just an anecdote he pulled off the web. By the way, more anecdotes doesn't count as data. 

I agree with Demian that news media have to change in order to survive and thrive. Native advertising may be part of the solution. If it is, more transparency is needed. Let the audience decide.
 
+mark ivey I think one thing that journalism has always struggled with is the very question of what is journalism. Is it only hard news reporting and investigative journalism? Or does it include entertainment reporters, paparazzi, reviewers, and critics? Does it only extend to newspapers, magazines, and news networks? Or does it also include pundits, obviously-biased news networks (pick your flavor), or free weeklies? Advertorials, branded journalism, or whatever other terms we want to throw out are just another branch of an argument that's been going on for a very long time.
 
+Demian Farnworth I read the article and thought "But where's the definition?!" The survey makes a lot more sense now after reading this post. That said, from the little I understand about native advertising, I'm still on the fence (as a consumer). But how I feel about it doesn't make any difference. Native advertising is here to stay and more and more businesses will start using it. Honestly, as a business owner, I can't come up with a single good reason not to use native advertising.

+mark ivey +Brian Clark Even if objectivity wasn't a myth - it's so damn hard to achieve. Personally, I'd rather have transparency and allow my readers to make up their own mind than lose brain cells over making sure I'm objective. I want to be able to feel strongly about issues and write about them without worrying about objectivity - as long as I lay all my cards on the table. I want my readers to make their own minds.

Bottom line: If native advertising is going to be huge as huge as we think, so will transparency. It's going to be the new ticket to authority.
 
+Dennis Newman Here's the only argument you need in favor of native -- it's the only form of advertising that will work online (online allows us to avoid any advertisement as soon as we decide we don't like it).

Without advertising (or some other business model that might offend you even more), there's no money to pay for journalism. Now, argue against that -- because that's all it boils down to, and that's why native is happening whether we like it or not.
 
+Adam Melton Maybe  it's because "Journalism" is just another label, and labels only describe avatars, but we're dealing with actual people. The way I see it, "Journalists" is no different from "Consultants", "Bloggers", "Fate", "Time", "God", "Devil", "Americans", "Russians", "Straight" or "Gay" - it's simply in the nature of generalizations (labels) to describe, at best, avatars, but in the privacy of our actual hearts and minds, we each have our own.

PS. In the US I'm sometimes told I'm not a typical American, in Switzerland, that I'm not a typical Swiss (I have dual citizenship). The objective truth (lol), well, my truth anyway, it's not about me, it's about their avatar :-]
 
+Adam Melton  Agree it's a battle that's been going on for years but doesn't mean we throw in the towel and say anything goes now, that true journalism is anything out there-including corporate-driven marketing pieces.... One definition (wikipedia). Journalism is "..a method of inquiry and literary style that aims to provide a service to the public by the dissemination and analysis of news and other information.[1] Journalistic integrity is based on the principles of truth, disclosure, and editorial independence..." Note the last part "editorial independence." In theory it should cover any type of news gathering operation-yes, even sleezy paparazzi. The line is not always clear but it's pretty obvious most corporate driven material is not editorially pure and not seeking truth-except the "truth" as defined by the corporate marketers...(Orwell anyone?) I do agree both journalists and marketers are going through a major adjustment, and figuring out the "right balance and terminology" is key (Brian Clark) 
 
+Beat Schindler LOL. Do you also describe doctors, lawyers, accountants and other professionals as "just labels"?  Consultants, bloggers, gardeners are the same as trained journalists? We're all just avatars? 
 
+mark ivey Not to sound cynical and conspiracy-ey (okay, I sound cynical conspiracy-ey), but editorial independence is something not enjoyed by almost any news organization in the world. By this definition, journalism is only done by individuals out in the wild funded by their audiences (these do exist) and not organizations. Go far enough, and you'll find something with an agenda pulling the strings for most major news operations. I think the question is (and the question that I hope this series will explore even if it's from a marketing standpoint) is what the real difference between a well written, well researched advertorial is and a well written, well researched news feature is. Is it the intent? Or is it how close the reporter is to the person/group paying their fees? Like the quote from the young reader in +Demian Farnworth 's article, if you can't tell the difference (or there's no substantive difference), does it even matter? I suspect though that organizational trust is going to slowly be replaced by individual trust. If I know that I can trust the reporter/writer/label (because of their past track record and actions), and they take a job writing an article directly for a business, I'm probably going to trust the content they put out. If I find out later that something was off in their article or misrepresented... well, the same that happens now if a reporter is caught breaking ethics will happen: they lose trust, they lose readers, and ultimately they lose money.
 
+Beat Schindler I think semantic arguments are interesting to a point, but in this case it may be a bit too grand. I may not see a difference between a chef and a cook, but in the restaurant business they are two very different things. A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but if you call it a skunk flower, I'm probably not going to let it in my house. Also, I have to admit that I hate the term blogger... it would be like describing a newspaper reporter and novelist as a paperer. Saying you write a blog is about as descriptive as saying you write on paper :)
 
Just finished reading the marathon, very well defined but we all know that.  Can Native advertising work, absolutely, it has been used since day one of advertising, just in a clever fashion painting a story without knowing your being pitched by a brand, product or a service. Empathy plays an important ingredient with this type of advertising, soft sell, like carbon monoxide a silent killer, it gets results............perhaps a bad a example, just not the results....    
 
+Adam Melton Thank you for the comment ... your question is noted.

And thank you everyone else ... I read all your comments, I look forward to growing and learning through this. 
 
+Adam Melton -what do you base your statement on that "...editorial independence is something not enjoyed by almost any news organization in the world..." ???  Yes it does have a conspiracy tone to it-I've heard these criticisms for years, (hidden media company agendas, etc) but have never seen anything to prove it, at least during my journalism days (I was a business journalist for over a decade, most of it with BusinessWeek/McGraw Hill ). Just because we've fooled the reader into thinking it's real journalism  doesn't make it right (yes, it does matter). My approach would be  more transparent-corporate content should be labelled corporate sponsored or "branded content." Corporate bloggers are spouting opinions, not practicing journalism, and so on. Do you really think a corporate writer writing for, say,Ford, is going to be as objective as a NYT or WSJ journalist covering a new car introduction or even an auto trend story?  Why not be honest with your audience? 
 
+mark ivey Good point: paranoid and conspiracy-ey sounding --  but regardless of the existence of my shadowy lizard-men there's always a push-and-pull between the editorial and advertising side of the business in journalism ;). More to the point, I think your last words are key to the whole question. If you're not honest with your audience, you're not going to have an audience for very long whether you're a journalist or a corporate marketer or someone writing an "advertorial." Yes, there will be those who write these sorts of things for a fast buck with little research and plenty of spin, but I doubt they will be writing them very long (or for much money). On the organizational side, groups (whether it's a newspaper or a blogroll) that don't practice editorial control are going to find themselves losing readership fairly quickly to groups that do. I think a disdain for corporate bloggers versus journalists implies a judgement on quality that just doesn't always pan out in reality. There are poor journalists (lift and print) just like there are honest corporate bloggers. I think we both agree, though, that honesty and transparency are key whatever your job title happens to be. I also think we're both kind of dancing around the idea that people reading these sorts of things don't have some sort of responsibility as well in thinking about where they're getting their information from and establishing their trust with the providers of information. Ultimately, my hope is that sponsored content like advertorials can exist as a viable revenue stream so that journalists (or whoever happen to be writing the content) don't have to starve (or become an endangered species) doing what they love and can do it without compromising their professional ideals. It's a Brave New World out there, and trust (or dare I say... authority?) is all we've got.
 
+Adam Melton - I share some of the same hopes. Journalists, unfortunately, already are an endangered species-one reason I got out back in the 90s...Also agree with you on the last part, that it's a brave new world...one we're all redefining as we go. 
 
This is why the closest thing to a paper I buy is PrivateEye
 
Posted yesterday, fyi..."...  The (Nielsen)  study, commissioned by San Francisco-based InPowered, found that consumers rely on online content five times more than five years ago and that they overwhelmingly seek trusted content written by unbiased, independent authors.

 The results paint a poor picture for the performance of content marketing by brands, and new trends such as native advertising, which seeks to look similar to trusted content..." 
http://www.siliconvalleywatcher.com/mt/archives/2014/03/nielsen_study_finds_v.php

Clearly a lot of "branded content" isn't working as well as the brands had hoped. However as the publisher of the study says, "This isn’t about disproving any particular type of content, it’s about identifying the most effective blend of content types to help effectively educate and inform consumers...."
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