All Press Releases for March 07, 2006


A communications expert says media outlets are blurring the distinction between advertising and editorial, and are hurting everyone in the process.


/24-7PressRelease/ - KANSAS CITY, MO - March 07, 2006 - "Can you explain to me exactly why my competitor is mentioned in the newspaper every single week and they never even bother to contact me?" asked a doctor and potential client.

 "I have no idea," I replied. "It doesn't make sense they would quote the same person over and over. Usually journalists look for a variety of sources."
Then it dawned on me. This doctor thought the paper's weekly "Health Talk" section was editorial copy.  He had no idea the "Health Talk" feature in the Business section was really one big paid advertisement.
 Little did he know that folks in the health profession had paid for the privilege of asking and answering their own questions. Here was a well-educated doctor and he had no idea this was the case.
    Or take the newspaper's automotive pages. Folks read reviews of automobiles to help them make important car buying decisions. But few realize that in many cases the entire section---including the reviews that influence the second-largest buying decision a person will ever make---is part of the Advertising Dept.
"In every class I ask my graduate students if the Automotive Section of the newspaper is part of advertising or editorial and they all say editorial," says a local college journalism professor. "Newspapers today want to blur that distinction. They know that readers believe editorial copy more than advertising, so they try to confuse readers over which is which."
It's not just at the newspapers, but the editorial product at TV stations frequently is designed to confuse viewers. Nearly all "Health Watch" segments on TV stations use video supplied directly or indirectly by pharmaceutical companies. Watch closely for the mention or the showing of a company or product name somewhere in the segment.
Companies spend thousands of dollars producing these Video News Releases (VNRs) and supplying them to newsrooms for a single, brief product plug. Stations use them because the video footage is already packaged and ready for airing. The companies know a mention during the "news" portion of a broadcast is a much stronger endorsement of their product than a paid ad.
Radio stations also attempt to confuse listeners by turning over entire blocks of programming to advertisers. A listener can tune in and hear a "doctor" talk about his new diet program complete with (phony) callers. It's all pre-packaged advertising designed to trick listeners into thinking they are getting unbiased advice.  

Some stations allow their news reporters to do commercials, which adds credibility to the sponsor's message, but blurs the editorial/advertising distinction for listeners.
The wall between advertising and editorial has even gone farther than these few examples. In the past, newspaper reporters often were not even aware of who was advertising in their publication. That's not the case today.
A reporter recently complained to me about how difficult it was to work with a certain PR practitioner. She wanted to ignore him completely, but knew his client was going to be taking out full-page ads and she didn't want to upset her newspaper management. She reluctantly wrote a puff-piece about his business.
It might seem odd that a public relations person like myself argues for journalistic integrity, but I feel strongly PR folks have a stake in this, too. If our clients feel they can get media attention simply because they are big advertisers, it puts additional pressure on us to "pitch" stories with little or no real news value.
Our goal as PR professionals should be to educate our clients about how to work effectively with the news media. However, if clients see little difference between a newspaper reporter and their own internal company newsletter editor, it can be very difficult, if not impossible.
At some point media outlets need to realize the only real value they bring to readers/viewers/listeners is the EDITORIAL PRODUCT they deliver. News is supposed to be fair, unbiased and something the public can trust. Very simply, if there is no trust, there is no value in what is being delivered.
The public has a right to expect a wall between news and advertising. If media outlets continue on their current path of blurring that distinction for their short-term financial gain, their editorial credibility will continue to evaporate. When that happens people will simply go to other sources for news.
If that ultimately happens it will be a sad day for journalism. But, journalists will have no one to blame but themselves.

(John Landsberg, Principal, Bottom Line Communications. Please credit when using.)



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