Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Newsonomics: On end games and end times
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
March 28, 2014, 5:16 p.m.

talking-points-memo-tpm-logoAndrew Sullivan, editor of The Dish, gave a lecture on behalf of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics last night in which he railed against the evils of sponsored content. Sullivan argues that content intended, on any level, to confuse your reader is a breach of trust and that any writing done in service of a product or brand is propaganda. His accusations were fired at a list of publishers that includes but is not limited to BuzzFeed, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Romenesko, Time, and, most recently, Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo.

Today, Marshall published a defense of his decision to start publishing sponsored content paid for by PhRMA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Marshall makes the familiar arguments about his intention to retain independence and to clearly label the sponsored content as such, as well as the necessity of revenue to any news organization. But he also makes an interesting case for a reason why an interest group would want to pay for content beyond ultimately duping his reader:

Why are these “Sponsored Messages” attractive to advertisers, particularly our advertisers? Because our advertisers are policy focused and thus tend to have more complex arguments. They’re not just selling soap or peanut butter. There’s only so much of those arguments you can fit into a picture box or a video. They want room to make fuller arguments, lengthier descriptions of who they are and what they do, as you would if you were writing an editorial — in text, going into detail. The opportunity to do that to an audience like TPM’s is of particular value because you’re people who care about policy and you read stuff. That’s an advantage we have as a publication, something that allows us to stay ahead of the curve and the downward ad price pressures that are affecting much of the rest of the publishing industry.

See also Henry Farrell’s complaint at Crooked Timber and Marshall’s response in the comments:

Just as has long been the case, virtually all our revenue comes from paid advertising, mainly from advertisers from pretty clear industry and political motives. These are the advertisers who want to advertise in political publications. Shoe manufacturers and clothiers are generally not interested. (Entertainment companies, interestingly, are)…

Our Polltracker section and app in 2012 was 100% sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, literally the Oil Lobby. That didn’t make it a ‘sponsored section’. API wanted to associate themselves with the content and run their ads next to it.

Show tags Show comments / Leave a comment
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Newsonomics: On end games and end times
Can publishers find a sustainable business model this new age of Facebook/Apple/Snapchat/Twitter/Google distributed content? And is local news destined to be left behind?
What Scribd’s growing pains mean for the future of digital content subscription models
It turns out that ebook subscription models don’t work very well when people read too much. So what happens next?
How research (and PowerPoints) became the backbone of National Journal’s membership program
“We no longer look at National Journal simply as a news source, but as a collection of resources, as well as a collection of experts we can turn to on occasion.”
What to read next
2843
tweets
A blow for mobile advertising: The next version of Safari will let users block ads on iPhones and iPads
Think making money on mobile advertising is hard now? Think how much more difficult it will be with a significant share of your audience is blocking all your ads — all with a simple download from the App Store.
1763For news organizations, this was the most important set of Apple announcements in years
A new Flipboard-clone with massive potential reach, R.I.P. Newsstand, and news stories embedded deeper inside iOS — it was a big day for news on iPhones and iPads.
762Newsonomics: 10 numbers that define the news business today
From video to social, from mobile to paywalls — these data points help define where we are in the “future of news” today, like it or not.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Fuego is our heat-seeking Twitter bot, tracking the links the future-of-journalism crowd is talking about most on Twitter.
Here are a few of the top links Fuego’s currently watching.   Get the full Fuego ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
The Boston Globe
Mozilla
O Globo
San Diego News Network
Seattle PostGlobe
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Ars Technica
The Blaze
DNAinfo
Franklin Center
Reddit
FiveThirtyEight