The Blurry Line Between Journalism and PR | Best of ECT News

By John P. Mello Jr.

Nov three, 2018 5:00 AM PT

This story was initially revealed on the E-Commerce Times on Aug. 9, 2018, and is delivered to you right now as a part of our Best of ECT News sequence.

The line between journalism and public relations could be fuzzy, and news organizations have wrestled with that drawback for a while. However, that line not too long ago has develop into extra blurred than ever, with some publications enlisting armies of nonprofessional scribes to fulfill an insatiable urge for food for content material.

It’s simple to grasp why the issue has mushroomed. Demand for copy has gone up. The variety of folks to provide it and the income it generates have gone down. The outcome has been the rise of business fashions that embrace doubtful editorial practices within the pursuit of fatter backside traces.

One such observe is using contributor networks to fill Web pages. Networks of writers, normally with some measure of experience in a topic, have develop into engaging to some publishers as a result of they typically will pay nothing or next-to-nothing for the content material. They’re engaging to topic consultants, too, offering them with alternatives to get their bylines in distinguished publications.

Since these networks largely depend upon voluntary disclosure insurance policies to vet contributors, the observe is ripe for abuse, as Stephen Gandel found a number of years in the past, when inspecting contributors to monetary web sites.

“In the past year or so, several finance websites — including, Seeking Alpha, Wall St. Cheat Sheet, and others — have published articles by authors who were allegedly paid to promote the stocks they were writing about,” he wrote in a 2014
Fortune article.

“These articles were not labeled as advertisements and carried no disclosures that the authors had been compensated by their subjects,” Gandel continued.

‘Dark New Media Zeitgeist’

It does not seem that issues have modified a lot since Gandel’s piece appeared.

The observe of paying journalists and others for publishing promotional content material whereas making no point out of the cash altering palms may be very a lot alive, based on Jon Christian, who performed an investigation of “payola” in on-line publications and
reported his findings in a three,00Zero-word article for The Outline final yr.

Christian interviewed greater than two dozen entrepreneurs, journalists and others about people and advertising and marketing companies that paid journalists to advertise their shoppers in articles and preserve the preparations on the QT.

All the publications wherein the journalists positioned articles and took payoffs had strict insurance policies prohibiting such conduct, however apparently that didn’t deter some writers from supplementing regardless of the publication was paying them with some under-the-table cash.

“In that journalistic netherworld, where business leaders can pay to write about their own industries and publicists are trusted to write about topics related to their own clients,” Gandel wrote, “it can feel as though a dark new media zeitgeist has swept away old norms of integrity and independence and replaced them with a racket that, depending on your perspective, is either very funny or very sad.”

A Disturbing Turn

Payola isn’t restricted to writers. “Earned” or “organic” public relations is among the many companies provided by companies resembling
JoTo PR of Tampa, Florida, for instance. Earned PR is the results of a journalist following up on a PR particular person’s story pitch and creating it into an article for publication.

For instance, a company that has sponsored a survey could release outcomes that reveal some insights about its trade or customers, which could be spun right into a traits story.

For the final a number of months, although, there has been a disturbing flip with respect to earned PR pitches, based on Karla Jo Helms, JoTo’s chief evangelist and anti-PR strategist.

“I’ve noticed that more publications are coming back and saying, ‘We’re not doing earned media any more. You can pay us $350, and we’ll do a mention — more and we’ll do an article,'” she instructed the E-Commerce Times.

That occurs at solely a small share of the publications JoTo offers with, Helms mentioned. “It started to get on my radar when I started talking to my delivery team and found medical and health care publications doing it.”

“How can they be doing their due diligence on these health care products and services?” she requested. “It would seem that they would be beholden to the person that paid them.”

Clear Definition

As media shops mine new methods to earn a living, the excellence between adverts and editorial content material could be a casualty. The rise of the “advertorial,” or “native advertising,” is an instance of that. It is the observe of packaging promoting in a format that appears like editorial content material, creating the phantasm of earned public relations.

Advertorials reach deceptive folks, partly, by tamping down their skepticism and expectations for reality in promoting, based on a Dartmouth College-Stanford University research of well being advertorial revealed in 2016.

An advertorial is meant to be clearly recognized. If it is not, an advertiser is courting hassle, based on a media equipment for pitch outfits ready by The Seattle Times.

“Studies have shown that an advertorial can often generate better response [than] a direct promotion, but to avoid any confusion and potential customer backlash, advertisers must take extra care to clearly define the space as commercial, not editorial,” the paper notes.

“In today’s skeptical society, anything less than total transparency can be fatal to a company’s reputation,” it continues.

“Any time you do something and you don’t disclose it, you know it’s probably not OK,” JoTo’s Helms added.

Tricking the Audience

Making paid promoting seem like earned public relations could be an efficient software if used accurately, famous Elizabeth Lampert, president of
Elizabeth Lampert PR in Los Angeles.

“One could argue it’s sort of like product placement where people pay for their product to be highlighted in movies and other venues,” she instructed the E-Commerce Times.

“If you are providing content and you are using native advertising or advertorials, the line is blurred if and when you are being deceptive or providing false information,” Lampert mentioned.

“There is definitely a market for this, and in our content-driven world it has to be considered in any type of PR campaign. Today, there’s no solid line where paid media ends and earned media takes over. You’ll find people using a blend of the two,” she noticed.

“The tricky part about this for a PR company is it runs a fine line if there is any suggestion of deception,” Lampert added. “You don’t want to get a reputation for creating content that has every intention of tricking the audience into thinking an ad is actually editorial content.”

There isn’t any wiggle room in relation to paying for product placement in news and have tales, maintained Dan Kennedy, an affiliate professor within the
School of Journalism at Northeastern University in Boston.

“Pay to play is completely unacceptable, but it’s also understandable, since writers have to pay the rent just like anyone else,” mentioned Kennedy, writer of
The Return of the Moguls: How Jeff Bezos and John Henry Are Remaking Newspapers for the Twenty-First Century.

“Media organizations that pay their contributors little or nothing are reaping what they’ve sown,” he instructed the E-Commerce Times, “and they have little credibility when they express outrage about the practice.”

John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter
since 2003. His areas of focus embody cybersecurity, IT points, privateness, e-commerce, social media, synthetic intelligence, massive information and client electronics. He has written and edited for quite a few publications, together with the Boston Business Journal, the
Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government
Security News
. Email John.

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