Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
July 13, 2010 8:10 PM

When The Web Is Considered An Inferior Media

Going back a few years, the Internet was not considered a credible media source. That changed, but it's changing again.

In the early days of online publishing (even pre-Blogging) the simple fact that any one individual could publish their text, images, audio and video online created a major stir within the major mass media outlets. In fact, their only defense in trying to maintain control over what the public consumed was to scare the world with stories of online publishers not living up to the journalistic integrity that we have come to expect from our news and media outlets. To this day, there are still traces of this (look no further than the articles covering the accuracy of Wikipedia entries).

Can the Bloggers be trusted?

It's a powerful thing to say, but we've come to learn that the vast majority of Blogs (and the Bloggers who publish them) are overly transparent about who they are, what they're Blogging about and where their intention is (those who are transparent gain credibility, conversation and audience). On top of that, the Bloggers that do not disclose things like conflicts or when they are being compensated are becoming easier and easier to spot.

...But things are starting to get ugly again.

Yesterday, Paid Content, ran a news item titled, Condé Nast Enlists Web Edit Staff For Samsung Advertorial. Here's the gist of it: "Condé Nast is attempting to protect the traditional wall separating advertising from print editorial by having online-only staffers create an ad insert for Samsung... the use of web staffers was seen as a compromise and a way to avoid clashing with print editors who were considered averse to allowing their own staff work on an ad product."

Either you're believing in this digital content stuff or you're not. You can't be half-pregnant.

There are a couple of factors at play here:

  1. Making a differentiation between print and online journalism (in terms of quality and value) is downright silly.
  2. By allowing the online-only staff to do the advertorial content, this activity diminishes their ability to be considered credible (today and tomorrow).
  3. The overall action creates a bad moral compass for the company's ethics of journalism at a macro level (it's sounds like they're looking for some kind of ethical loophole).

The Web is not an inferior media.

The sooner that brands, advertisers and publishers stop treating the Internet like the red-headed step child of the media and marketing mix, the sooner they're going to be able to better understand how they can connect and build their brand in this new world where consumers are connected, looking for real interactions between real human beings and are, ultimately, not just a passive audience, but active participants, voices and community members. Publishers aren't the only publishers anymore. People are now also publishers and brands (and Marketers) are publishers too. So, we need to change our code of ethics around editorial content and advertising, and not just look for loopholes and ways to capitulate.

What do you think?

(hat-tip: Hugh McGuire)

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Trey Peden
    Mitch Joel

    It's the internet! Distinguishing between websites, users, and advertising is at the core of mastering a proper media strategy online.

    It's not the same as television or publishing! And we need to keep that in mind.

    Online media can be addressable and targeted. There's no reason to think of online media as "mass media" any more.

  • Posted by Kent Anderson
    Kent Anderson

    I'm currently reading Clay Shirky's "Cognitive Surplus," and he has an interesting contemplation on "media." It used to be that media meant "professional, broadcast, impersonal." Now, it means "amateur/professional coexist, interactive, and personal." The expansion in freedom and capacity means there is more low-quality material, but better high-quality material. But it also means MORE FREEDOM, MORE SHARING, MORE GENEROSITY, and MORE INTERACTION.

    One of the more resonant quotes in the first chapter is something along the lines of, "Is icanhascheezburger.com an impoverished version of the Cartoon Network. Or is the Cartoon Network an impoverished version of icanhascheezburger?" I actually think the Cartoon Network -- by encouraging isolated, passive, and programmed viewing -- is the impoverished media property of the two, despite lolcats being made by amateurs. And that's because the native capacity of the Internet for interaction and contribution and sharing makes it inherently richer than traditional media.

    • Agreed, but we then need more/new business models when it comes to traditional advertising and editorial content. While the lines blur, I think making one (digital or print) of less value in the equation is not the optimal outcome.

      BTW, I have 10 pages left in Cognitive Surplus... I can't talk up Shirk enough... such a great thinker/writer and storyteller.

  • Posted by Tyler Hurst
    Mitch Joel

    Conde Nast obviously does not consider their web presence of valuable. Actions like this are why I'm starting to cheer when old mags go under. They refuse to do what is needed to survive.

  • Posted by claudio alegre
    claudio alegre

    Mitch, I believe you are right when you say, you either believe in this stuff or not ... The thing is that there are ppl out there that haven't had a chance to make that choice yet ... they just don't know the true power of "this stuff" (not referring to journalist, publishers and advertisers, they've had front row seats to the show from day one)

    I think you, many of your guests at media hacks and perhaps to a lesser extent some of us, we are primarily educators ... and it's very early in the game I think, there is a lot of educating and mind shifting to do still. I'm optimistic about that.

    Most people still treat the internet primarily as a media consumption tool, not as much production and certainly not distribution. That behavior I believe makes their experience inferior and short lived!

    Nice piece, thanks!

    • It's funny to read that, and then to think that we're closing in on 20 years of a commercialized Internet - one that had people publishing to it from day one. Things move both super fast and super slow at the same time.

  • Posted by Phil O'Brien
    Mitch Joel

    I've just been reading Tim Sanders "Love is the Killer App" for the first time (first published in 2002). Tim has a cool way of working out what he reads (he use the analogy for dining) with Magazine Articles – Between-meal snacks, News Media (electronic or print) – Candy & Soda, fun to eat, but hardly appropriate to live on and (his favourite!) Books – the complete thought meal. It’s changed my perspective – and when you think that the other lighter meals are shoveled with those nasty additives (advertising!), you can see why books get a big thumbs up. The book was written pre-blogging (well at least mass blogging) - but I think the key to inferior media is the advertising content delivered with it (books - and many blogs - are delivered ad free!). Your point: "...transparent about who they are, what they're Blogging about and where their intention is (those who are transparent gain credibility, conversation and audience)" is very valid.

    • ... and there there are people like me who only read books on my iPhone now with iBooks, Kindle App, etc... Content is content. I think we need to move beyond the device (print or digital) that it's delivered through. It's harder and harder for me to distinguish between content that is a book, magazine article or Blog post - especially when it's all filtered through an app.

  • Posted by Melissa Balmer
    Mitch Joel

    Excellent points, thank you. Isn't it human nature to denigrate that which we don't understand? And to want to give "rank" to different skill sets? I have confidence that talent rises to the top and will overcome this current split between "print" and "online" but I'm sad this rift is still apparent.

    If Condé Nast is smart, it will lead magazines into a new online future. I can imagine a time (just around the corner) when fashion and lifestyle magazines are truly a rich, fascinating multi-media event online that people will pay for, a time when the way the interviews, and fashion layouts, and fashion shows are presented will dazzle and inspire.

  • Posted by Jennifer
    Jennifer

    It's fascinating how we all interpret things differently which is why I love reading your blog. It makes me think!

    As I was reading your post, it never occurred to me to think the web editors would become less credible because they wrote in a different medium. Or that Conde Nast was making a conscious differentiation in quality and value between print and online.

    I interpreted that they were trying to maintain separation of ad and edit in their reader's minds. As a marketer, I don't believe there is much of a separation any more, but the average consumer that reads their publication probably does believe that ad and edit are two different things. In an effort to maintain that belief (right or wrong), assigning online writers was the "win-win" solution (economical for the pub, belief maintaining for the consumer).

    Thanks for keeping me thinking!

  • Posted by karim kanji
    Mitch Joel

    I think the bigger question here is revenues. Conde Nast might be in a financial bind which is why they are creating advertorials. Having online writers do this for the print version is not really a big deal. Someone had to write the piece and CN has made their decision.

  • Posted by Lisa Stockwell
    Mitch Joel

    It seems to me that if Conde Nast is holding their online editors and writers to a different standard than their print ones when it comes to journalistic integrity, they're shooting themselves in the foot. Good journalism has its own set of rules for non-bias and transparency. Advertorials are written by marketing copywriters who don't pretend to be journalists and get to focus on creating copy that sells. (Some writers do both to pay the bills, but true professionals know the difference.)

    What I don't get is why Conde Nast would be turning to its own editorial staff rather than the sponsor's advertising or PR agency to create copy. Samsung should provide the content. Or if they want a truly unbiased review of their company or a product written by one of Conde Nast's journalists, then it becomes a feature and not an advertorial.

    This makes no sense to me, other than the fact Conde Nast is living in a bubble and no one there has taken the time to understand the Internet.

  • Posted by Ian Alexander
    Mitch Joel

    The lack of analytics understanding, fear from the 500k website costs of 91' and a lack of content strategy is what we come across most often. This leads to style guides for print but not for web, expectations that the digital alphabet cost less arrange than the printed alphabet and a messy line between journalism and advertising.

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