Principled Profit: The Good Business Blog

Musings on the world-wide movement for ethical business, frugal marketing, and how honesty, integrity, and quality combine with deep relationship building to create business success. By the originator of the Ethical Business Pledge campaign and award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and five other books

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

First of Two Disturbing Trends: Paid News Placement

First of Two Disturbing Trends: Paid News Placement

Within 12 hours, I read two newsletters with deeply disturbing stories--one about the media, and the other in the retail world. Both of them made me want to jump out with a big protest sign that says "Ethics are Important...Ethics are Profitable!"--but in both cases, I'd have rather too many targets to picket effectively.

Joan Stewart, in her excellent weekly e-zine, The Publicity Hound, writes that more and more media are taking the old concept of paid product placement (to which I'm not particularly opposed on the entertainment side) and extending news stories. Unfortunately, I can't find it on her site or on her blog.

Whoa, pardner! If people have to pay in order to get covered in the news, it's not news anymore. And it means that what is news may be bounced in favor of the advertorial stuff. Not good! And yet it's happening, and not just in small markets. her article cites examples of TV stations in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

KRON-TV Channel 4 in San Francisco, for example, once a well-respected
news operation, now offers "product integration fees" to people who want
to be included in news stories. In February, the station broadcast an
11-part "Spa Spectacular," in which each featured spa paid a fee and
bought advertising. Anchors offered viewers a chance to buy half-price spa
certificates at the end of each segment.

Of course, this ties in with the related bad idea of airing Video News Releases (VNRs) and pretending they are the original work of the station. And the other important story about consolidation of print media, dismissal of long-time and highly competent reporters, etc., all around the country.

Time to get the bean counters out of media management, I say! Yes, a true news department is expensive--but it can be subsidized by the highly profitable mindless fluff that's cheap to produce--or perhaps by small cuts in the outrageous compensation of media execs and on-air personalities. We don't need personalities; we need news. News--do I really have to verbalize this?...
  • Keeps the politicians and corporations honest
  • Creates an informed citizenry that can bring public pressure for change
  • Generates a historical record that will show future historians a contemporaneous account of earth-shaking events as they unfold

    It's bad enough that the news has been so dumbed down that for the most part, it's doing a very poor job. Switching to a paid model will be the nail in the coffin, and we'll have to get all our news from bloggers. Don't get me wrong--bloggers are great. But there's also an important, even crucial, role for the professional journalist. (See the post I just made on the Pulitzers.)

    Let's reverse this trend!

    PS: If you believe as I do that ethics are not only important but contribute to profitabillity, I invite you to sign the Business Ethics Pledge.


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