Let them eat content
by Doc Searls Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Study: Fake News Threatens Audience Trust In Digital Pubs, by Sara Guaglione (@SPGuaglione) in MediaPost, correctly laments exactly the point its headline makes. Yet stories like this, good as they are, also misdirect attention from another story that's closer to home: how "content marketing" pays publishers to undermine trust in themselves.*

For example, in my email subscription to Google News for articles about ad blocking, the big G sent me to this piece of non-news in The Drum: Header bidding is the future of publisher income says Sovrn’s chief marketing officer. The smaller print says Sponsored by: Sovrn. The CMO has Manafort smile. Not good.

Then there's AdAge's "data driven TV" story. I just noticed some small print that says it's from "publishing partner" AT&T AdWorks. The byline says "By Rick Welday, President, AT&T AdWorks."

So let's look at the collateral damage here, both to the reputations of publishers who run this kind of shit, and to journalism itself.

To me as a reader, the two items above cost The Drum and AdAge my trust and respect for them. (Slightly less so for The New Yorker, which runs one clearly marked "Paid Post" in its daily emailings. I get why they do it—for the money—but those two words make sure I won't read it.)

As for journalism, there's my personal experience. For example, in this post yesterday I said I want big-name publishers who can afford to pay journalists to do exactly that. In a perfectly tweeted response, @dmarti tells publishers, "When you don't pay, you get "how and why you should buy stuff from http://example.com " by #contentMarketers at http://example.com."

Now I'm wondering if The Drum and AdAge pay free-lancers at all. I'll bet they don't, because that's the clear message a publisher sends with every (literally) fake news piece some content marketer pays a publisher to post.

Bonus links:

  1. Cluetrain's New Clue #66, which says "...how about calling 'native ads by any of their real names: 'product placement,' 'advertorial,' or 'fake fucking news'?"
  2. On "native" advertising, which calls content marketing "a Borg that wants to assimilate all the media it pays to fill with itself."

*To Sara Guaglione's and MediaPost's great credit, their latest is Domino Opens Office Sponsored By Brands. (Disambiguation: Domino is a magazine about interior decor. Domino's delivers pizza.) Pull-quote: 

The new office is not just a stylish workplace for Domino’s employees. CRO Beth Brenner told PD the space also acts as a studio for the magazine's content and can highlight their brand partners. A “large paid deal” with Bosch, for example, is behind the appliances in Domino’s kitchen, which are also featured in an online series, Brenner said.

Maybe my headline should have been Souls For Sale.