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Before going into the discussion about the effect of native advertising on journalism, it is important to spell out few words about the concept of native advertising. As stated in one of the online articles of the guardian, native advertising is – “a subset of the catch-all content marketing, meaning, the practice of using content to build trust and engagement with would-be customers.” As based on content, you can find this form ofpromotional activities even in twitter, advertising the products or the brands just by few carefully crafted words. Though this content based advertising could be found anywhere, but the best place to surface such advertisement is the online or offline publications and newspapers, especially those, which enjoy a considerable reputation within the readers of a particular community, nation or the world at large. The empirical research shows that the concept of such native advertising in the form of newspaper articles or editorials in a publication, works really well to cast a significant positive impact on the minds of the customers, thereby influencing their buying behaviour.
In recent past, “...the advertisement has gone viral...” are couple of words that very often popped up in our everyday life. Whatever may be the advertisement, when it goes viral, that means it is being viewed by all over the world through the World Wide Web services. The content based native advertising is being so popular amongst the companies because this type of advertisement has the ability “to go viral” when it can create a buzz through the online publications, by posting some real catchy content to attract the readers or viewers of those publications.
What is the impact of such native advertising on journalism? This could well be addressed by a statement made by Ebele Wybenga, a Netherland based journalist –“the very clear wall, which should exist in between the editorial and advertising might have crumbled permanently”. Why there should be a clear wall in between the native advertising and news articles? The reason is simple. The newspapers and the publications meant for delivering news and information to the readers who believe in that news and this belief depends upon the brand equity of the publication. The more reputed the publication is, the more is the belief of the readers that the news, that is being presented in front of them in the form of articles or editorials, is impartial and they can rely on its accountability as well as authenticity. The role of the journalism and the role of advertising are clearly distinguishable. While the former works to bring about the real and authentic information of every happenings of the society before the world, where the former acts as the face before the society as someone to unearth the truth, where the former acts to bring about a change in the political, economic and social scenario by bringing to the light the truth behind the curtains, the advertising is meant for branding a company to increase its market share and reputation , to create customers for its products and services thereby increasing its profitability by increasing its sales revenue.
As put by Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor of The New York Times, at the International Journalism Festival in May 2014 in Perugia, Italy: “ Native advertising is short-hand for advertising that looks like editorial content. Is this intended to fool the reader? Well, no, you could never get anyone to say that, but it is intended to draw readers into the advertising in part because it does look like editorial content”. What it suggests that the native advertising just take the advantage of having the of editorial content, though the readers are aware of the fact that it is a content written because the news magazine or the newspaper is being paid for it by some corporation or any entity to promote its brand equity. But the effect of such advertising is not so simple to state. The reason is that, though no one claims that native advertising is to fool the readers, as demanded by Margaret Sullivan, the risk of losing the editorial integrity of the journalists cannot be ignored while native advertising is being indulged by the publishers in all over the world. The main challenge before the publishers, while resorting to native advertising for making huge money, is to keep the integrity of the published newspapers or the news magazines before the readers and to ensure that the readers can easily distinguish in between the advertised material and the news published.
Why the publishers then go for native advertising? The answer is simple, money. As has been once told by the Mr. Thompson, CEO of The Times that he is hoping for tens of millions of dollars from the advertising and native advertising, being the hottest choice of the advertisers, is obviously the hottest choice for the publishing houses to make money. Some paper like The Times has taken the approach of marking the native advertising by the words, “Paid Post”’ to enable their readers to distinguish in between the news and the native advertising in the form of editorial or news. According to Margaret Sullivan, the strategy has played well and the risk of misleading the readers has been eliminated in an effective manner. But there are concerns. Is it so simple to nullify the negative impact of native advertising on journalism and is it so easy to keep the integrity of the journalists intact? It may happen that the readers of the reputed newspapers have not yet raised any voice against the native journalism, but does that mean that there is no growing resentment to this money making policy of the publication houses, or the confidence of the common people on the impartiality of the news is not eroding? The true story is that, even if the renowned editors and publishers are echoing the voice that they have taken adequate measures to keep the integrity of the journalism and the reality of the news, published by them, unaffected by the native advertisement, they are also not sure about these measures. A good example is that even after taking the decision to mark the advertised articles as “Paid Post”, the CEO of The Times sent email to all its employees, at the time when the publishing house decided to embrace such advertisement, directing that everyone must be and should be clear as to the difference between what is advertising and what is journalism.
Why such email to the employees? Why they should be clear about the difference between the advertising and journalism? The reason is again simple. The publishers know that money in this world talks and a particular journalists could be bought to supply a biased news without marking it as something like “Paid Post”. Moreover, the amount sometimes is so high that even a single such biased post can make a fortune for one particular journalist. This “Paid Journalism” could really be the bane of the news world and some papers have already reflected such practice of publishing “paid news”.
The debate will go on, but some points I would like to mention in the conclusion. It is true that the reputed publishers are still capable of keeping the reputation of their publications intact, at least quantitatively, it is also true they have done so and is doing so even after embracing the native advertising but, it cannot be said that the confidence of the readers all over the world have not been eroded, so far as, fair and true journalism is concerned. It has been found in countries like India, that some newspapers reporting are biased to some of the political parties, and they find their readers amongst the followers of that political party. May be for product marketing the trend is not like that, but the people have started to believe that- not all the news are impartial because of the fact that a huge sum of money can distort the news and no publication house can claim that it has never happened in this world. Newspapers are the driver of social belief and in many times newspapers play a pivotal role in bringing about a revolution in a society and even in a country. In this world where money can purchase almost everything, the branded newspapers still enjoys the blind faith of the readers, not only in their own country but beyond the geographical boundary of that country. The newspapers and the news magazines have always proved that pen is the most powerful weapon to bring about a change in the society. So if native advertising cast a doubt on the integrity of the journalists, then it is of course a matter of concern for the journalism and should be addressed with utmost care.
1) The guardian. What is native advertising anyway? Available at:http://www.theguardian.com/media-network-outbrain-partner-zone/native-advertising-quality-scalability
2) World News Publishing Focus. Trends in Newsrooms #9: ‘Native’ advertising - the challenge to journalistic integrity. Available at:http://blog.wan-ifra.org/2014/08/20/trends-in-newsrooms-9-native-advertising-the-challenge-to-journalistic-integrity