Reading The Times online today, my eye was caught by an article about faster trans-European rail travel being enabled from next January as a result of the EU’s meddling (sorry, of course I really meant ‘passing of worthy legislation that will benefit all citizens in it’s tireless mission to bring harmony to Europe’).
It was only after reading most of the article that I spotted numerous references to Railteam, followed by the realisation that the banner ads were all for the same company.
The rest of the articles in the section bore a similar level of endorsement of Railteams’ member companies, who are several of Europe’s train operators, so unless I’m very much mistaken, I was reading an advertorial, or ‘sponsored feature’ in the online Times.
Of course Mr. Murdoch and other publishers have been doing this sort of thing since Guttenberg. Indeed I used to do it in my days at Reed, but the disturbing thing about this set of articles is that there was absolutely no way that this content was differentiated form the mainstream editorial.
The PPA has quite firm rules about advertising masquerading as editorial, the broadcast authorities prevent newsreaders from doing voice overs in the programmes they are broadcasting, but the web has absolutely no such control imposed upon it.
This raises a number of issues about credibility and trust in publishers’ web output. Not the least of these is the potential threat to the editorial authority of mainstream publishers whose content, at least for now, is broadly believed to be authoritative, (a) because of its freedom from financial pressure from advertisers, and (b) because of the power of their hard copy publications’ brands.
The thin end of this particular wedge, if driven on, could ultimately reduce the major publishers’ authority to an equal level with Joe Blogger. At which point it would be very hard for any of us to justify paying Mr. M for his content, or even to believe a word he publishes.
I’m almost tempted to thank Heaven for the BBC.
Comments as ever most welcome.