Instead, many a media outlet is opting to sell “branded content”. Also referred to as “native ads”, this form of advertising not only threatens a publication’s editorial independence, it also harms its relationship with readers. And while they’re at it, one journalism site after another is killing the comments section, locking out readers’ voices instead of investing in building a community of contributing readers and journalists. Damaging the ties with your audience is the last thing one should do, yet it seems to be every publisher’s strategy at the moment.
Our times call for a dramatic change in media business models. We should choose to empower journalists and restore the trust of readers by adopting a subscription model.
Why some publishers love ‘the Donald’
In his book Trust me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, marketer Ryan Holiday describes how online journalism is broken. His diagnosis? Most online media outlets make money by selling ads. In general, the more traffic they have, the more ads they sell. But this makes online journalists prisoners of a system that expects them to generate traffic. They are victims of the trade, paid to write articles that create clicks.
Marketers and ‘media manipulators’ like Holiday supply journalists with everything they need to create clickable content, while meanwhile continuing to serve their own marketing agendas. In the book’s opening pages, Holiday shares an example of how he does this:
He designs a controversial billboard for a client and makes sure it gets a good spot in L.A.
- He buys a spray can and defaces his own billboard.
- Holiday drives by and snaps a photo of the defaced billboard, which he sends to a blogger, who gladly posts it.
- Bigger blogs pick up the news. Uproar follows. Box office soars.
The billboard example is quite innocent. But what happens when a news outlet begins to follow presidential candidates just to generate more traffic on their site, to boost sales? The CEO of CBS recently told investors that Donald Trump’s bigotry is “phenomenal” for advertising revenue, and he hopes Trump keeps escalating. “Go Donald”:
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