Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
The New York Times’ new Slack 2016 election bot sends readers’ questions straight to the newsroom
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.
The New York Times’ new Slack 2016 election bot sends readers’ questions straight to the newsroom
“Instead of asking you to come to us and be part of this massive room of people shouting over each other, you can bring us to you, and have us be, essentially, one more person in your conversation.”
The Conversation expands across the U.S., freshly funded by universities and foundations
The news site that uses academics as reporters and journalists as editors now boasts 19 paying member universities and is opening up posts in Atlanta (and maybe in the Bay Area).
A Boston public radio station is redesigning its site to make audio “a first-class citizen online”
But: “I’ve tried to be really disciplined about not calling this process just a redesign,” WBUR’s executive editor for digital Tiffany Campbell said. “We’ve built a brand new platform.”
What to read next
0
tweets
Newsonomics: Setting the news table for 2016
The news business hopes it won’t end up one sandwich short of a picnic as the new year’s big trends unfold.
0The sun never sets on The Times: How and why the British paper built its new weekly international app
“We’re pursuing the idea of editions everywhere. An edition is something that can be finished. When you’ve read it, you feel up-to-date; you’ve been told what you need to know for the day or the week.”
0Hot Pod: Is the next front in podcast innovation hardware?
Plus, 21st Century Fox invests in a new podcast network, and some thoughts on the second season of Serial.
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 Awl
BBC News
The Boston Globe
National Review
Gotham Gazette
St. Louis Beacon
Gawker Media
American Independent News Network
Craigslist
Fox News
USA Today
Conde Nast