It has long been sanctimoniously asserted by the mainstream publishing industry that it alone can be counted on to ensure the quality of writing and discourse in society. While I have previously reduced that assertion to rubble on multiple occasions, it’s worth nothing today that the industry itself has thrown in the towel at the highest levels, openly trading its tattered reputation for cash from sources whose stated intent is to deceive, then abetting those same funding sources in that fraud.
That this is happening in journalism in companies that purport to hold themselves to the highest ethical standards tells you that the game is over in every other corner of publishing. This realization came to me, ironically, from news stories about PBS and the New York Times. The PBS story, which I happened across a few weeks ago, concerned the funding of a new series by its news division:
On December 18th, the Public Broadcasting Service’s flagship station WNET issued a press release announcing the launch of a new two-year news series entitled “The Pension Peril.” The series, promoting cuts to public employee pensions, is airing on hundreds of PBS outlets all over the nation. It has been presented as objective news on major PBS programs including the PBS News Hour.
However, neither the WNET press release nor the broadcasted segments explicitly disclosed who is financing the series. Pando has exclusively confirmed that “The Pension Peril” is secretly funded by former Enron trader John Arnold, a billionaire political powerbroker who is actively trying to shape the very pension policy that the series claims to be dispassionately covering.
I can’t say I was surprised that PBS sold its soul for money, but I was disappointed. I was surprised, however, when I read today that the New York Times is planning to use what are euphemistically called native ads in its new paid app, NYT Now:
The new, paid mobile app for iPhone and iPod, debuting April 2, will cost $8 per month, and will focus on aggregation and curation, with editors selecting stories from the NYT and the wider Internet for a “fast and engaging news experience.” It also marks the NYT’s biggest move away yet from regular display advertising, with all ads on NYT Now in the form of “Paid Posts,” NYT’s term for native advertising — or advertorial, as it used to be called.
If you’re not familiar with native ads, advertorials, sponsored content or paid posts, they are essentially the same thing: attempts to deceive an audience that what’s being presented comes from the editorial or content side of a business when it’s really coming from marketing weasels inside and outside the organization. As always, there are plenty of good people working in publishing who don’t support such tactics and who really do believe in standards — at least until their own paychecks are threatened.
Which is to say that if you still think you need to wait for or even ask for someone’s permission to write whatever you want, you don’t. So get to it. Because even if you write the worst thing that’s ever been written, you won’t be a fraud.
— Mark Barrett