Chris Brogan, the well-known social media strategist and evangelist has a post today about what some of us would call journalistic ethics.
On December 2, Chris wrote a sponsored post on his Dad-o-Matic blog about K-Mart. K-Mart gave him a $500 gift card to go on a shopping spree and write about it. He took his kids. They bought some clothes and toys for a Christmas charity. He wrote it up, with prominent disclosure, talking about how K-Mart isn’t the wartime-in-Beirut hellhole you thought it was. End of story.
Are you twitching yet?
Because some people were. They questioned whether this foray into “advertorial” by Chris called his entire body of work into question. A Forrester analyst in a Twitter post called Brogan a “bought” blogger. Another Tweet, from Ben Kunz, said “Nothing wrong w bloggers making $ from ads. But writing Puffery for Pay clearly diminishes @chrisbrogan ‘s voice.“
To those of you sitting in the newsroom, this probably seems like a waste of breath. “Of course any paid writing is advertorial, pure and simple.”
But what happens when the advertorial is written by your star reporter and not some kid in the marketing department? Because that’s the equivalent here. Brogan is a star of the emerging social media movement. He’s written tens of thousands of words, spoken at dozens of conferences, influenced untold numbers of people. Does this one post (or, if he decided, dozens of sponsored posts?) undermine his credibility?
I say no, it doesn’t. The wall between editorial and advertising exists for a good reason, but there are many ways to honor it. The traditional newspaper model is just one.
The key is disclosure. As a reader, I know before I read a word, that Brogan has been paid. I can then filter at will. If I think that the money exchange is unseemly, I can move on. If I stay, I have a crucial fact available to help me evaluate what I’m reading.
But this is all a very long introduction to the real reason why I’m typing this post on a Sunday morning rather than doing all the other things I need to finish before the sun smacks the horizon: Chris Brogan’s explanation. Anyone who cares about communication, journalism and business models for such should take a few minutes today and read his thoughtful debriefing on the matter:
There’s a whole stripe of people out there who argue that the sponsored post corrodes my editorial integrity, and that I’m not unbiased if I do something with sponsorships, etc. I want to address that, because it really hits to the core of the story, in my mind. Simply, they’re saying that one cannot be editorial-minded and manage a paid sponsorship. (Which, if you think about it, you’re saying that humans can’t separate their perspectives appropriately.) I have a few points with regards to this.
- Newspapers and magazines are dying. If you’re not reading Newspaper Death Watch and Paid Content and BuzzMachine, then you’re missing some of the most riveting and depressing news of our generation.
- Those models all work on advertising-to-pay-for-editorial and editorial-to-keep-eyeballs-to-support-advertising. In fact, all previous media works that way. TV, radio, etc. Lost isn’t on TV because it’s cool. It’s because people can advertise against it.
- Those models are dying because advertising and marketing have lost their impact in those spaces.
- Since the early 90s, people have hoped to figure out how the web will fix this.
- I have some opinions on this.
I’m not a journalist. But I am a publisher. I am a reporter. I am a media maker. And here’s the difference: as a publisher, I have all the jobs of the newspaper. I am both the editorial staff and also the business side of the house. In this piece by Barbara Gibson of IABC, Barb Gibson says in her comment to me: “One more note in answer to your points above: while magazines do indeed do advertorials, they’re usually not written and bylined by their star journalists.”
That’s the crux right there of what has people hackles raised, I venture. In larger operations, there’s a bag man to take the advertising money and leave the journalists pure. I’ll get back to that point, because there is a line still, and that line must be respected. That hasn’t changed, and won’t change. But because there are many of us who are the publisher, the writer, the researcher, the customer service department, and the public relations staff, you’re going to have to seek a slightly different way to manifest that distinction.
There’s much more at Chris’s site.