Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Advertising in Journalism

This weekend among turkey, cranberry sauce, the most delicious green bean casserole, and the return of the Jets, I watched Morgan Spurlock's The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. The documentary discusses marketing and advertising in movies through product placement, and I wondered, does this happen in journalism?

One example that came quickly to mind was travel writing. I remember discussing this last year in class. There is an instance where journalism and advertising combine to create stories about different places (journalism), but are funded by freebies such as free hotels, tours, etc. Some people wouldn't call this journalism since it is sponsored by those giving out the freebies, but isn't the journalist still telling a story and getting information across? I can understand that it would be perfect if the journalist didn't get anything free, but traveling is expensive. I'm not sure if it's better to have a sponsored article, no article at all because there isn't the budget for it, or an article written by an underpaid journalist.

The New York Times has a strong stand on the ethics of travel journalism. You can check out their ethics on travel journalism below. Journalists are not to accept any free amenities. The New York Times are even to be aware of freelancers who may have had special treatments in the past because, "such a reputation can embarrass us."

From the New York Times Company website:

Travel Journalism

65. No staff member of our company who prepares a travel article or broadcast — whether on assignment or freelance, and whether for us or for others – may accept free or discounted services or preferential treatment from any element of the travel industry. This rule covers hotels, resorts, restaurants, tour operators, airlines, railways, cruise lines, rental car companies and tourist attractions. This prohibition does not rule out routinely awarded frequent-flier points.

66. Editors or producers who accept travel coverage from nonstaff contributors have an obligation to guard against real or perceived conflicts of interest. They should exercise care in assigning or editing freelancers who have accepted free services while working for other news organizations; such a reputation can embarrass us. We do not give travel assignments to anyone who represents travel suppliers or who works for a government tourist office or as a publicist of any sort. A newsroom manager may make rare exceptions for special purposes – for example, to assign a writer widely recognized as an expert in a particular culture. In such a case, the journalist's connections must be disclosed in the published or broadcast coverage.

67. Writers of travel articles must conceal their identity as journalists during the reporting, so that they will experience the same conditions as an ordinary consumer. If the affiliation becomes known, the writer must discuss with a newsroom manager whether the assignment can be salvaged. In special cases, the affiliation may be disclosed – for example, when a permit is required to enter a closed area.

68. No journalist may report for us about any travel service or product offered by a family member or close friend.


But what if there was a disclaimer telling the reader that certain amenities were provided for free to the writer of the article. Would that maybe make it okay? Could advertising within journalism give newspapers the profit they need again to stop laying off journalists and shutting down papers as we saw in Page One: Inside the New York Times, a documentary our class watched last week. 

Another idea that came to mind was beauty products in magazines. Magazines are sent free beauty products all the time. Are the articles on the products real evaluations or just advertisements? Is the article not credible because the magazine got the product for free? 

Obviously, advertising within journalism would not be in line with the purpose of journalism because advertisers would then have say in the content of the writing. Advertisers aren't stupid. They have contracts, as I saw in Spurlock's documentary, of exactly how their brand or product should be portrayed. Advertisers are paying big bucks to advertise. I could definitely see the danger of incorporating advertising into journalism because people would abuse it. It would be a very thin line that people could cross when the smell of that sweet advertising money is under their nose. 

What if advertisers didn't pay for services for the journalist, but had naming rights or product placement in journalism. Would it be so harmful if each article in the paper was brought to you by a brand or if it was mentioned that the interview subject was sipping on a Coca-Cola? I believe some people would definitely think advertising in their journalism/news would be intrusive, but what if they traded that intrusiveness for journalists who are paid a proper wage so they aren't overextended freelancing and working as a bartender at night. What if as journalists we turned the whole thing on its head and used those advertisers for their money to fund we want to do. If journalists are already mentioning products or brands in their writing, why not ask for the advertising dollars for the mention?

In the documentary even school's are "selling out" by selling advertising on school property so the school doesn't have to cut programs. 

I think advertisers would be clamouring to get into journalism. Journalism still has a credibility that people trust. If it's in the paper or my local news anchor says it, it has to be true, is still the thought process of many people. I think that's where ads come from that look like articles in newspapers and commercials that look like informative, buyer beware segments like those Brand Power commercials.

Local news casts mention what salon the anchors get their hair done at and where the clothes they're wearing are from. Is that only okay because there isn't a story on the salon or store. Is it different when a journalist receives a free flight while traveling to write an article opposed to a free hair cut. The journalists are still getting something for free. But is it because one freebie may sway a story more than another, it's okay? 

In our broadcast journalism class we've been warned not to advertise in our news stories, which can be hard because we cam do it without even noticing it, especially when covering events. We need to make sure that we aren't promoting the event just because it's happening, but finding out and telling the viewer why it's important they should know about the event. 

As a journalist, I don't want to be told what to do by advertisers, but I sure wouldn't mind a piece of the pie from Coca-Cola or Brand Power. 

1 comment:

  1. But Krystalle, how can anything bad happen from the two of us coming together?