I read an article the other day by a veteran reporter whom I like. Actual, useful news:
At the bottom of the piece, I also noticed a “You Might Also Like” prompt, like the ones everyone’s accustomed to seeing on blogs and publications to expose the reader to relevant or related content. I’d never “surf” this publication linearly, looking for something to read. But I noticed the photo of George Soros (not identified) seemingly linked to what appeared to be an odd story:
So what happens if you follow this publication’s (what appears to be) editorial recommendation and click on the link to (what appears to be) a tip on a stock about to explode by (who appears to be) George Soros? Well, you end up here:
And what does George Soros (whose photo still unidentified) say about this stock about to explode? Not a single word. The “article” has absolutely nothing to do with Soros, or any other professional investor remotely of his caliber. What is this six-month old “article” that this publication thought “You Might Also Like” about?
Quite simply, it’s a pump and dump, penny stock email scheme…which comes with its own lengthy disclaimer, if you can read it:
Of course, you’ve seen this movie before, in your spam-mail folder. And yet this isn’t some obscure publication written mostly by keyboard slaves over there in some remote country or a ‘news-blog’ sweatshop gearing up to sell itself to a bigger one.
No, this is nothing but household brands: CNN (the once-daring company that changed cable forever) and Fortune (founded by Henry Luce in 1930, four months after the Wall Street Crash of 1929). This is the establishment. The “mainstream” media that is constantly fretting about its loss of stature, impact and financial viability.
You might say, “Hey, what’s the big deal, they’ve got to make money so they’re running some ads!” Another way of saying the same thing is that one day some fine folk at Time Inc. gathered in a conference room and decided that it was acceptable to mislead their readers by disguising penny stock sales brochures as editorially related content. Because, presumably, they need the money.
“But it works!”
Does it, really? If “it works” — meaning Time Inc. online properties intellectually attract and profitably serve the penny stock demographics — can they remain financially solvent news outlets for any length of time? Or are they so financially distressed that they’ll do anything for revenue right now? If this has no adverse effect on news credibility or brand equity, then what’s next? “Native advertising” where an average reader will no longer be able to tell apart news from advertising in the editorial stream? (One 156-year old publication already rented its editorial space to a cult.) Will these advertorial deceptions and misdirections move from the ad wells around the periphery of the page into the news delivery itself? Will there be product placements within news sentences? What follows that? Is the “mainstream media” management about to capitulate on long-held principles because it’s unable or unwilling to pursue any other strategy but the race to the bottom of the advertising barrel? Is there anything more precious than credibility to a news organization? If not, why is Time Inc. poisoning its own well so nonchalantly?
If Google has taught us news is free, Time Inc. is teaching us so is our time.
UPDATE: Only hours after this post, The New York Times jumped eyes wide open into the “native advertising” well, as explained in a tortured letter from the Public Editor.