If you’re going to advertorialize, do it right

Last summer, the Globe and Mail sought to join the ranks of newspapers that have turned to advertorials for funding.

The outlet wanted to task its editorial staff with the responsibility of writing and editing advertorials — advertisements written like a regular news article. Unwilling to sacrifice their integrity, unionized Globe staff voted to strike instead.

It’s in the very name of advertorials to dangerously blur the line between the editorial and business sides of a newspaper, placing impartial reporting at risk of financial influence.

Advertorials are meant to deceive readers by appearing to be legitimate, impartial content. This deception counters the fundamentals of journalistic ethics and integrity.

Between the public’s increased unwillingness to pay for news content and the rising competition within the journalism industry, premier publications like the Globe, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have turned to advertorials as a seemingly necessary evil.

Ideally, no one would publish advertorials, but financial pressures are pushing newspapers between a rock and a hard place. If outlets don’t diversify their revenue streams, there won’t be a paper to release every morning.

If news outlets are going to turn to advertorials, they need to be implemented in a manner that doesn’t completely compromise the public’s trust, the integrity of the publication and the reputation of its journalists.

Obvious visual and written distinctions need to be made between native advertisements and news articles online and in print, to mitigate any potential confusion.

Advertorials should be produced by an organization external to a newspaper — but if producing advertorials internally generates substantially more revenue, then news outlets need to draw clear boundaries to avoid cross-contamination between financial and editorial considerations.

No editorial staff members should write advertorials. Instead, outlets should create entire separate departments under the business side.

The Globe should never have asked its reporters to produce advertorials. Unions aren’t the solution to every problem, but they played an important role in this case, by ensuring that journalists — who already lack job security — weren’t forced to choose between quitting and sacrificing their integrity.

Journal Editorial Board

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