advertising editorial wall

The Mythical Wall Between Editorial and Advertising

Excerpt from the book, Media Collusion (Available on Amazon today in paperback and Kindle formats)

“Fear is freedom! Subjugation is liberation! Contradiction is truth! Those are the facts of this world! And you will all surrender to them, you pigs in human clothing!” – Satsuki

There used to be a well-defined line that separated hard news and opinion from advertising. That line is now more blurred than ever. With so much content to consume and so many “news” outlets across dozens of aggregators and social media platforms, we’re inundated, as consumers, with stories that could be news or might be veiled advertisements bought and paid for by advertisers.

There are so many legitimate-appearing news outlets in our midst, as well. Some look very official, and their articles follow formal journalistic presentation practices, but they’re providing all kinds of suspect information that’s driven by political, social, and commercial agendas. For these kinds of sites, publications, YouTube channels, Facebook pages, podcasts and whatever else, there isn’t necessarily an editorial team in place. And if there is, you don’t know what they’re up to unless you do some serious digging (like a reporter) into tax filings, LinkedIn profiles, court documents and the like. Who’s got time for that?! But when you see a great headline and click through, there’s a reasonable chance you’re going down a rabbit hole.

Without an editorial team and a significant legal and ethical apparatus in place, publications quickly slide into this area where “fact” promotes commerce and political agendas, while lobbyists, PR companies and smear artists steer the messages in hard reporting.

The metaphorical (and sometimes physical) wall between editorial and advertising was once considered sacred. If a reporter or journalist crossed the line, mixing advertising with news reporting, they’d get fined, slapped, fired or shamed out of their position (maybe not slapped). If an honest editor didn’t protect his reporters from dubious sources, he’d be canned as well.

Legitimate publications allowed advertising, of course, but they worked very hard to make sure the advertisers didn’t take over the place. They kept advertising out of the hard reporting as much as they could. If they reported a baseball score, of course, they’d be promoting the local team. But they weren’t going to let McDonald’s into the body of the hard news coverage – which they do today, by the way, with companies like Starbucks, Toys R’ Us and McDonald’s. We’ll get into these specific examples later.

Just keep it in your mind that there used to be a time when ad-supported publications and broadcasters fiercely fought against advertiser involvement in editorial content. There are publications that attempt to fight the good fight these days, however the persuasive forces aligned against them frequently succeed in placing their advertising-based stories within their pages and programs. Some of those companies may be actual advertisers in the publications. Some may not be.



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