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The Almighty Buck News Technology

Contributors To Prominent Publications Have Taken Payments in Exchange For Positive Coverage ( 130

Jon Christian, reporting for The Outline: Interviews with more than two dozen marketers, journalists, and others familiar with similar pay-for-play offers revealed a dubious corner of online publishing in which publicists blur traditional lines between advertising and public relations, quietly pay off journalists to promote their clients in articles that make no mention of the financial arrangement. People involved with the payoffs are extremely reluctant to discuss them, but four contributing writers to prominent publications including Mashable, Business Insider, and Entrepreneur told me they have personally accepted payments in exchange for weaving promotional references to brands into their work on those sites. Two of the writers acknowledged they have taken part in the scheme for years, on behalf of many brands. One of them, a contributor to Fast Company and other outlets who asked not to be identified by name, described how he had inserted references to a well-known startup that offers email marketing software into multiple online articles, in Fast Company and elsewhere, on behalf of a marketing agency he declined to name.
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Contributors To Prominent Publications Have Taken Payments in Exchange For Positive Coverage

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  • Double Standard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by danbert8 ( 1024253 ) on Tuesday December 05, 2017 @12:56PM (#55680657)

    It drives me nuts that bloggers and small time accounts are required by the FCC to tag and make obvious their posts that include sponsored content, but the major media outlets have blatant advertising all over the place that isn't disclosed. If it's an ad, they need to start putting disclaimers on it. Any compensation be it free product or paid placement/reviews needs to be stated before and after the ad.

    • What about having a standard logo for this, which would make it easier to identify such content? And rules about the minimum dimensions of the logo for TV/streaming, printed media and the Web?

      • What about having a standard logo for this, which would make it easier to identify such content? And rules about the minimum dimensions of the logo for TV/streaming, printed media and the Web?

        Is the poop emoji copyrighted?
        Maybe lose the smile though...

      • I'm not sure there is a technical/bureaucratic fix for it. I suspect that if the content confirms the biases that the audience has and likes, they will accept it as true no matter how many markings or red flags you put on it. Conversely, if it challenges what they want to believe, they'll ignore it.

        I mean look at X media. How can anyone take X media seriously? Those talking heads on X media are just screaming out to be punched in the face for their hypocrisy. Meanwhile, idiots watch X media and trash on
      • I propose the Blowfish emoji. For a pumped up message to poison public opinion. Off course, the "speak no evil monkey" and the "money bag" are somewhat more direct.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The FCC does not regulate media content on the Internet. There is no legal requirement to tag sponsored content or disclose close relationships. The web sites or writers do it because of journalistic ethics and integrity.

      • No, but the FTC does in certain cases. Video game reviewers, for example, have very specific and strict rules about what they must disclose. For example, if a review copy of the game was provided by a developer/publisher, they must say so at the beginning of the video. It's a fairly recent development, from what I understand.

        Here is an example [].

    • I don't think your blog is covered by the rules of the FCC. However normally it is to the blogger and the other companies to let people know what are ads vs what are are their views/opinions. The risk is if me as a blogger get paid by say LSung to prays their latest device, and the device sucks quite obviously, then my reputation as a blogger is diminished (if that is possible). Vs if I was a blogger and I was writing about something else, and there was a LSung ad for the same crappy product, being that i

  • Journalism ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CaptainDork ( 3678879 ) on Tuesday December 05, 2017 @12:57PM (#55680661)

    ... is cheaper than advertising.

    • Some lazy journalist and/or editor will take a well-crafted PR statement, make a few changes and publish it as a story.
      • FTFY (Score:5, Informative)

        by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Tuesday December 05, 2017 @01:03PM (#55680709)
        ALMOST ALL PUBLICATIONS will take a well-crafted PR statement, make a few changes and publish it as a story.

        FTFY. (Having spent years on both sides of the game.)
        • by thomst ( 1640045 )

          xxxJonBoyxxx corrected:

          ALMOST ALL PUBLICATIONS will take a well-crafted PR statement, make a few changes and publish it as a story.

          FTFY. (Having spent years on both sides of the game.)

          Sadly, I am out of points, or else I would mod this post +1 Informative.

          As a former computer industry writer (my last gig was as a columnist and feature writer for Boardwatch Magazine, before Penton Media first turned it into a low-rent Network World clone, then folded it), I've seen this kind of thing happen all the time. We didn't do it at Boardwatch, but I sure came under considerable pressure to whore myself out when McGraw-Hill ousted Susan Breidenbach as editor in chief at LAN T

    • Journalists pushing ads are far more valuable than traditional advertising. Traditional (Internet) advertising is super cheap.

      • Agreed, and I would add that traditional (Internet) advertising doesn't work well at all [].

        Procter & Gamble said that its move to cut more than $100 million in digital marketing spend in the June quarter had little impact on its business, proving that those digital ads were largely ineffective.

        Embedding ads into news stories makes sense but, just as TV shows are short on content and long on commercials, journalism will be an afterthought.

  • It happens (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Tuesday December 05, 2017 @01:00PM (#55680683) Journal

    This is just the tip of the iceberg. Forbes just fired its science writer for having Monsanto ghost-write his pro-GMO articles for him. The scumbag is also a "researcher" at Stanford who has published scientific articles about how safe GMOs are.

    http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.c... []

    • At least unlike the TV show, we were able to find out who the ghost writer is.

    • Hope this tool loses his degree.

    • But was the ghost-writer wrong, or being deceptive in his content?
      I can see someone posting an article that he didn't write under his name, a fireable offense. Being the GMO are often portrayed as the boogie man, Monsanto want to put their best foot forward.

      I am not saying Monsanto is the good guy, but you are quite bitter about this, where I haven't yet heard of any major proven problems with GMO. Sure big companies can be hiding them, this is historically a common problem. However there seems to be en

      • I haven't yet heard of any major proven problems with GMO

        If Monsanto is willing to go to such shady lengths to have researchers say good things about their products, are you surprised that you haven't heard of any proven problems?

        Just remember how far the tobacco industry was willing to go to make people think their poison was safe.

    • You know GMOs are safe right? Or are you a gene denier?

    • The scumbag is also a "researcher" at Stanford who has published scientific articles about how safe GMOs are.

      GMO plants are no more or less safe than other plants. The danger of GMOs is not the GMOs themselves but rather why they have been modified. Specifically, Monsanto modifies plants to be immune to extremely caustic pesticides and herbicides which can kill other farmers' crops miles away and have unquantified long-term effects on humans. What we really need is large-scale precision farming so that there is no need for pesticides or herbicides.

  • by DontBeAMoran ( 4843879 ) on Tuesday December 05, 2017 @01:01PM (#55680689)

    Are the words "bribe" and "corrupted" still in modern dictionaries?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, but they're just redirects to "political donation" and "business".

    • Ever sense 2016, these words have no meaning, neither does truth, integrity or sane.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    When I see a magazine or website featuring "the 10 best" of anything, I assume, unless otherwise stated, the criterion for listing is actually "the ten best affiliate sponsors". There may or may not be laws about truth in advertising, but it looks like, if you don't admit its advertising, you are exempt from having to tell the truth.

    "There are lies, damned lies, and websites!"

    • Normally this is click bait more then anything else. And it is the 10 best based on what they know about, and they didn't do a lot of real research to find this no-named brand which is actually superior.
      Top 10 Cell phone I will classify iPhone 8, iPhone X, Samsung Galaxy 8, Samsung Galaxy Note 8, Google Pixel 2, Essential Phone, Razor Phone, I would probably need to look up what LG has and perhaps Nokia. To seem like I am being fair I would make the most popular phone (iPhone X or the Galaxy Note 8) in the

    • When I see a website featuring "the ten best" of anything, I assume that they divide it into twelve pages, each 80% advertising.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I am shocked and appalled that these quality publications would behave this way. That is Uber irresponsible. Perhaps Facebook and Google can use their groundbreaking AI technologies to detect this kind of thing.

  • a solid public education system. I've long since learned to spot this stuff. But I _learned_ that. It took years and several hard working and very good teachers. You're always going to have this kind of stuff. Every couple of years a few of the more obvious ones get caught. What you need is a system that teaches people to catch it and respond accordingly. In other words, teaches critical thinking skills. Yes, they can be taught. If it doesn't come naturally it's hard to teach and takes years, but it can be
    • Education helps, but experience helps more. In fact, formal schooling (at least primary and secondary education) is a pretty bad forum to learn to be skeptical. The mechanics of the whole process are predicated on reading or listening and believing. You can be told to take everything with a grain of salt until it's the background chorus for your dreams, but it's just another thing you've been told, right along with American history and redox reactions and Shakespearean sonnets. It's not until you go out int
    • I don't think the public education system is terribly interested in teaching critical thinking skills. From what I've seen over the last several decades it feels like its gone in the opposite direction (or perhaps I'm just more aware of the problem and it was always there) and engenders notions such as not questioning authority and adhering to whatever is taught from the textbooks. I don't think it's any kind of overarching conspiracy on the part of the government or anything like that, but just a lot of ov
  • by Anonymous Coward

    From the other side of this, as a startup founder, I get solicited weekly by media platforms interested in being paid to write a story or shoot a video focused on my company. Previously, I didn't see this as nefarious, but I am cheap, and generally waited until someone would write about us for free. I do pay a service to distribute press releases, which seems to be a very normal thing to do.

    The big exception in pay-for-publication space for me is scientific publication. I am a scientist, my company does re

  • If you think this practice is bad in "journalism', you really don't want to how enterprise researchers like Gartner work...
    • Gartner check if Forrester have already published anything on the same subject, and if they have they take the contrary position.

      Forrester's approach is completely different. Diametrically, you might say.

  • Propaganda reads like propaganda, no matter how much money is pissed into making it read like not propaganda.

    Here's a hint: people aren't as stupid as you think they are. They can generally tell when you're reporting as truth something they see with their own eyes is false, and vice-versa. That's why journalism gets no respect these days. Everything reads like propaganda and the only people who think it doesn't are the bubble-dwellers in NY, SF, and DC who write it and hand out almost exclusively with othe
    • Competently done propaganda doesn't read like propaganda. If you think it does, you're falling for the competent stuff.

      People think they see a whole lot more with their own eyes than they actually do. If they're told about it, and it suits their prejudices, they'll often start to believe they've seen it with their own eyes. Journalism gets no respect from people who don't want to hear the truth. It's hardly perfect, but it gets a lot right.

  • The sky confirmed to be blue. More at 11...

    • This just in, what experts believed was the last honest person died last week in Salt Lake City, Utah. This makes it official that you can't believe anything you see or hear. And speaking of things you can't believe, here's Chip with the weather.
  • You know, the other day I was sitting in my La-Z-Boy recliner enjoying the lumbar heater while surfing the net on my high-performance MSI laptop. Just as I was cracking open a fresh Coke and salivating at the crisp 'fizzle' sound, I realized how much of the media I consume is filled with product placement.

    • Maybe it is just from growing up with grunge and other music that tried to eschew being commercial, but whenever I hear pop/country music I am shocked at the amount of product placement in it. Also shows where they used to use fake brands or turn the products away from the camera miraculously always have the logos pointed straight at the active camera. I had thought they filmed those simultaneously and cut it together from different angles in post but some poor bastard was making sure that beer bottle log
      • That's the obvious stuff. Listen carefully to celebrity interviews and you'll often hear them drop a brand name where they don't need to. Some of them are more subtle than others, but they're all getting paid every time that name passes their lips.

      • It's not necessarily product placement. Some artists believe that by referencing a real-life brand, their work will take on a patina of authenticity or 'grit.' Look at any William Gibson novel from the past 15 years.
  • Other than "Everything Trump Says"
  • This is nothing but product placement by another name. We laugh at Microsoft when we see them do it on TV shows. This is no different. People just have to learn to ignore such obvious attempts when they see them.

"I shall expect a chemical cure for psychopathic behavior by 10 A.M. tomorrow, or I'll have your guts for spaghetti." -- a comic panel by Cotham