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A Milestone Year for Media
January 14, 2013 7:43 PM   Subscribe

On the heels of a recent announcement that it will experiment with online pay models, The Atlantic featured sponsored content today from The Church of Scientology, a post entitled "David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year."
posted by Apropos of Something (252 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, no. Really? That was the first thing they did, in their experiment with new ad models? Jesus.
posted by Diablevert at 7:45 PM on January 14, 2013 [26 favorites]


The photos are funny - they are all the same shot, just in different places. They look super-staged.
posted by awfurby at 7:46 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


We're talking about this over in the MeFi Google+ community. I was wondering aloud there: why? Does they actually think this fools anyone?
posted by JHarris at 7:47 PM on January 14, 2013


Here's the comment I was trying to post at that article:

My husband brought himself to scientology classes after reading the overwhelmingly positive Amazon reviews. Last night he his knewly acquired skills because it was chilly outside. As we were buying movie tickets, the ticket girl glanced up at him and said, "I like your thetans. I see the wolf peeking out there." My husband, who is normally very reserved, glanced down at his shirt and realized only one partial thetan was showing. He then looked deeply into her eyes and responded, "There's actually three of them" all the while unzipping his cardigan slowly. Now, we have been married for 15 years and I have never seen him flirt with another woman. I was shocked, not only by the power of scientology, but by the change that has come over my husband. I'm thinking of having him surveilled. Haven't decided yet. If Mr. Miscavidge is reading this, this really happened. I blame you.

(yes, it's a rip off of an Amazon review of the 3 Wolf Moon shirt)
posted by ocschwar at 7:51 PM on January 14, 2013 [16 favorites]


So The Atlantic should be considered forever Pepsi Blue from here on out, right?
posted by Talez at 7:52 PM on January 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm so happy the Atlantic did this. First, because this is the kind of unintentional comedy that makes life worth living laughing at. Second, because all of us who work in the Digital Content world can relax for a while. All sponsored content is going to look reasonable by comparison, at least for a few more months.
posted by kenlayne at 7:53 PM on January 14, 2013 [25 favorites]


Laughable.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:53 PM on January 14, 2013


The photos are funny - they are all the same shot, just in different places.


And if by "funny" you mean "unsettling" and/or "subtly nightmarish" then yes, they are very funny.

It probably would have been wise to not place them all in the same article. The aggregate effect really emphasizes the plastic strangeness.
posted by louche mustachio at 7:53 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am accepting contributions to buy space in The Atlantic for a photo essay wherein I dig up and fuck the corpse of James Russell Lowell.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:54 PM on January 14, 2013 [43 favorites]


That would at least not be an advertisement for a dangerous cult...unless you've got some ideas beyond that photo essay. Hmm. Memail me.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:56 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Funnily enough, no mention of this on James Bennet's Twitter feed.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:57 PM on January 14, 2013


WTF.
posted by Fnarf at 7:59 PM on January 14, 2013


Ha ha ha ha oh my Xenu, worst advertorial ever.

Honestly, the Celebrity Centre needs to broaden their horizons and recruit some competent copywriters!
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:59 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


kenlayne: AHHAHA I KNOW. I have been privy to people ripping their hair out over the possibility that readers might find it editorially compromising for a media property to be close to endorsing delicious coffee. I can't even imagine how writers for the Atlantic must feel--oh wait, yes I do, I know some of them and have been taunting them mercilessly all evening. ^_^
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:00 PM on January 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


This is a great account of the great developments happening in the Church of Scientology today. More and more people are learning about the great benefits of the practical technology in Scientology - this is also a wonderful testament to religious freedom flourishing in the current era. David Miscavige has certainly played an important role in bringing Scientology to various geographical areas and making sure that interested people have access to it.
posted by Flashman at 8:02 PM on January 14, 2013 [13 favorites]


Greatly enjoying the comments:

adamcroft croft • 7 hours ago
Nice pictures. So festive and grand. Scientology does so much good in the realm of drug and human rights education and it is only right that more places be reached and more people be helped. People need to know that illegal drugs are not worth it and that we should fight for each and every individual's human rights.
4^ 166v •Share

Matthew Duhamel • 3 hours ago
Wut
210^ 3v


(Wasn't sure how to graphically represent upvotes and downvotes, but you get the idea.)
posted by HeroZero at 8:02 PM on January 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


On preview: Flashman beat me to it. Or he is a Scientolobot.
posted by HeroZero at 8:02 PM on January 14, 2013


They've taken over some nice premises for their fake churches. Looks like they've just bought themselves some nice online real estate too.
posted by arcticseal at 8:03 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


And Lowell's grave is right near my house, so you're all invited for cocoa after the corpse-fucking! Don't forget to piss on Thomas Wentworth Higginson's grave on your way; it's in the next cemetery over.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:03 PM on January 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


In some jurisdictions, committing miscavige is a class II felony.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:03 PM on January 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


[This space can be yours for just $150 in USD please]
posted by infini at 8:03 PM on January 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


I really love it when terrible ideas fail so furiously.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:04 PM on January 14, 2013 [12 favorites]


A travesty of journalism! A Miscavige of justice!
posted by Mister_A at 8:04 PM on January 14, 2013 [39 favorites]


Yay! Cocoa!
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:04 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, let me get this straight: users get to pay the Atlantic to read articles that someone else paid to post? Is there some kind of anti-Pulitzer prize, by any chance?
posted by trunk muffins at 8:04 PM on January 14, 2013 [14 favorites]


BitterOldPunk: "Yay! Cocoa!"

What!? Where?!?!
posted by Mister_A at 8:05 PM on January 14, 2013


This year's Aspen Ideas Festival is going to be awkward.
posted by Cash4Lead at 8:06 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is a revolting drop in standards for what I once considered a reputable publication. Now The Atlantic joins Forbes.com, LiveStrong.com, and other examples of trashy content farms that I won't bother reading any more. Too bad; they've published some good stuff. Between this and the CBS/cnet fiasco it's been a bad week for New Journalism.

Via Andre Torrez, here's a search for other Atllantic sponsored content.

Note also the comments; the sponsored post have a separate Disqus account from ordinary comments. The comments so far are, um, remarkably positive.
posted by Nelson at 8:06 PM on January 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Huge scoop by the Atlantic given this week's lush 2 page spread in the Times op ed section by The Devil.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:09 PM on January 14, 2013 [12 favorites]




This seems like one really elaborate ad for The Master
posted by hellojed at 8:11 PM on January 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


Surely this is the editorial people's way of demonstrating to the money people how good the idea of "sponsored content" is? Either that or the dirty money they were wired from Sea Org is the only thing stopping them from trading insolvent this month.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 8:11 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


[This space can be yours for just $150 in USD please]

Act now because this offer is only valid for five, (5), yes FIVE minutes!
posted by Talez at 8:14 PM on January 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Maybe their business model is to become the mouthpiece for this booming new demographic. There are billions of them by now, right?
posted by basicchannel at 8:16 PM on January 14, 2013


For their part, Atlantic staffers seem to be distancing themselves from the post by tweeting about Lawrence Wright's forthcoming Scientology exposé, Going Clear:

...and yet, the same magazine publishes both. Cake and eating!
posted by Miko at 8:16 PM on January 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


"David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year."

Advisory from editorial staff: This should have read "David Miscavige Leads Atlantic to Millstone Year."
posted by Space_Lady at 8:17 PM on January 14, 2013 [18 favorites]


Hey I tell ya, nothin' makes you seem like you're not a cult more than sticking a goddamn golden pyramid on the stage in the photo for your advertorial in The Atlantic.
posted by Mister_A at 8:18 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well jeez Miko, let them eat cake, OK?
posted by Mister_A at 8:18 PM on January 14, 2013


Back on topic: I mean, if I went to an orthopedic surgeon to have my legs hacked off and replaced with metal, I'd be well reassured in his competence if he had a golden pyramid on the desk.
posted by Mister_A at 8:19 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pretty stoked at how ham-handed the article is. It's great to see old evils fail in the new media landscape.
posted by wemayfreeze at 8:20 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


For their part, Atlantic staffers seem to be distancing themselves from the post by tweeting about Lawrence Wright's forthcoming Scientology exposé, Going Clear:

...and yet, the same magazine publishes both. Cake and eating!
posted by Miko at 8:16 PM on January 14 [+] [!]


I honestly read this as "Lawrence Welk, cake, and eating," which sounded kind of nice.
posted by 4ster at 8:20 PM on January 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ah and also two triangles impaled by a fish hook. That shit screams reliability!
posted by Mister_A at 8:21 PM on January 14, 2013


But seriously, how scary IS IT that 2012 was Scientology's biggest growth year ever?
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:21 PM on January 14, 2013


But seriously, how scary IS IT that 2012 was Scientology's biggest growth year ever?

times 14.2.84 miniplenty malquoted chocolate rectify

"Statistics were just as much a fantasy in their original version as in their rectified version. A great deal of the time you were expected to make them up out of your head. For example, the Ministry of Plenty's forecast had estimated the output of boots for the quarter at one-hundred-and-forty-five million pairs. The actual output was given as sixty-two millions. Winston, however, in rewriting the forecast, marked the figure down to fifty-seven millions, so as to allow for the usual claim that the quota had been overfulfilled. In any case, sixty-two millions was no nearer the truth than fifty-seven millions, or than one-hundred-and-forty-five millions"
posted by Space_Lady at 8:23 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


arcticseal: "They've taken over some nice premises for their fake churches."

I'm no friend to Scientology, but their churches are no more fake than any others.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:23 PM on January 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


I bet for less money they could've gotten CNET to award the E-meter "Best of CES."
posted by enn at 8:25 PM on January 14, 2013 [28 favorites]


This is no worse than when the Catholic Church bought space in Highlights.
posted by Mister_A at 8:25 PM on January 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


I believe these are called "advertorials". Nothing new, print media has been doing it for ages.
posted by Brocktoon at 8:25 PM on January 14, 2013


All right, I concede. There are indeed the end times. Enjoy human society while it lasts.
posted by GuyZero at 8:26 PM on January 14, 2013


Every single one of those Scientology buildings looks like it belongs in North Korea.
posted by fleetmouse at 8:26 PM on January 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


What is really bothersome about this? That the Atlantic is publishing advertorials (see: every other media outfit), or that they're giving Scientology a platform? I know most of us have a knee-jerk reaction when it comes to anything related to Scientology, but perhaps we should feel similar levels of umbrage when the likes of ExxonMobil or the governments of China or Kazakhstan get similar treatment?
posted by Cash4Lead at 8:29 PM on January 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


What do they mean, "experiment"? Megan McArdle's been churning out sponsored content in The Atlantic for years now.
posted by indubitable at 8:30 PM on January 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


What is really bothersome about this? That the Atlantic is publishing advertorials (see: every other media outfit), or that they're giving Scientology a platform?

I have to admit that I would respect them a lot more if they'd had a full length article about the amazingness of Shamwow, but slightly less if they'd had the same on how the KKK are very misunderstood. YMMV.
posted by Space_Lady at 8:31 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is no worse than when the Catholic Church bought space in Highlights.

And yet somehow - despite the seeming impossibility of the task - less elegant than evangelical Christianity's conquest of Archie Comics.
posted by gompa at 8:31 PM on January 14, 2013 [27 favorites]


Fuckin' A. I'm fucking gobsmacked, gompa.
posted by Mister_A at 8:33 PM on January 14, 2013


What is really bothersome about this? That the Atlantic is publishing advertorials (see: every other media outfit)

The Atlantic's peers are Harper's, The New Yorker, The Economist, Foreign Policy and suchlike. Show me one of those that published a Scientology advertorial in their distinctive house style.
posted by gompa at 8:35 PM on January 14, 2013 [18 favorites]


less elegant than evangelical Christianity's conquest of Archie Comics.

That was more to do with the Al Hartley connection: a new client called from "out of the blue" to offer him work, something that had never happened to him before. It was the editor of Archie Comics, and Hartley started drawing for that publishing house, feeling confident that "God had sent them."

Thanks to a neighborhood kid whose evangelical parents forbade him from watching tv or listening to Jimi Hendrix, I read a lot of Hartley's Spire Comics as a kid. They weren't particularly more interesting or influential than regular Archie comics.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:39 PM on January 14, 2013


gompa...that is a treasure.

Show me one of those that published a Scientology advertorial in their distinctive house style.

Yeah, I'm a diehard New Yorker reader and I've been slyly tricked into reading some Norwegian Cruise Lines traveltorial content from time to time. But at least once I pull my head out of my ass I can still appreciate their discriminating taste in selecting quality shill.
posted by Miko at 8:40 PM on January 14, 2013


Taken down, it seems.
posted by jcking77 at 8:41 PM on January 14, 2013


What is really bothersome about this? That the Atlantic is publishing advertorials (see: every other media outfit)

The Atlantic's peers are Harper's, The New Yorker, The Economist, Foreign Policy and suchlike. Show me one of those that published a Scientology advertorial in their distinctive house style.


Not only that, but the marker that this is sponsored content was* miniscule; it's much easier to identify the bogus content in print editions than online. I think @poniewozik had the right idea about this:

Problem with Atlantic Scientology advertorial is same as all advertorial: it's only harmless if advertiser is totally wasting its $$$

ie, the defense is "anyone can tell it's sponsored"; but no reason to buy advertorial except in belief it will be mistaken for editorial


--
* It's down now, yes? "We have temporarily suspended this advertising campaign pending a review of our policies that govern sponsor content and subsequent comment threads."
posted by gerryblog at 8:43 PM on January 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm still hung up on evangelical Archie. Few things I've read lately have made me laugh out loud, but

Think about that when you're buying your prom dress, Veronica Lodge.

posted by Miko at 8:44 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I do like the implication that it's the COMMENTS that were the problem.
posted by gerryblog at 8:44 PM on January 14, 2013


Did they remove the comments or am I just failing to see them?
posted by Sparx at 8:44 PM on January 14, 2013


"We have temporarily suspended this advertising campaign pending a review of our policies that govern sponsor content and subsequent comment threads."

Weeeeeeeeak.

Come on. Did they really think no one would notice?
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:45 PM on January 14, 2013


Did they remove the comments or am I just failing to see them?

They may had removed just the comments before pulling the whole thing. When this was first blowing up on Twitter they were selectively deleting negative comments while leaving the pro-Scientology astroturf intact.
posted by gerryblog at 8:46 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, whole thing is gone now. So clear its invisible!
posted by Sparx at 8:47 PM on January 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


I believe they had removed the comments around 20 minutes or so before removing the whole thing.

Anybody got a google cache of it?
posted by chris88 at 8:48 PM on January 14, 2013


I'm still hung up on evangelical Archie. Few things I've read lately have made me laugh out loud, but

Think about that when you're buying your prom dress, Veronica Lodge.


I'm amazed you got past "Applesauce!!! What does she know???" I reckon I could spend most of this year trying to come up with the best set-up for that punchline.
posted by gompa at 8:49 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Boing Boing sells out too: Dread Cthulhu Leads His Cult to Milestone Year.
posted by gerryblog at 8:54 PM on January 14, 2013 [20 favorites]


I only wish that were followed by 8 or 10 other nearly identical pictures of Cthulhu worship palaces.
posted by Miko at 8:56 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


What is really bothersome about this?

When I was fifteen years old, I picked up an issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly on the shelf at the local Waldenbooks. I wondered at how the magazine was so thick compared to the others. Then I took a closer look and noted that the tiny words ADVERTISER CONTENT were printed along the boarders of blocks of 32 pages each.

Even at 15, I knew that was bullshit. Even when it says Sponsored Content at the top and bottom of the page, some people are going to overlook that notice. The appropriate thing would have been to put a thick yellow border on the whole window with the words SPONSORED CONTENT in large, black letters.

Or better yet, don't take advertising from the Church of Scientology at all.
posted by JHarris at 8:59 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, it's not like you have to have a non-discrimination policy in advertising. You don't. Most media outlets have a definite idea about advertising they actually want, and advertising they would never run. There's a basic "service to readers" aspect to developing a good stable of advertisers. It's supposed to be a mutually beneficial relationship, ideally.

You know this wouldn't have gotten even this far without a lot of conversations - and I wouldn't want to show up to work tomorrow morning if I was the one that OK'd this one.
posted by Miko at 9:03 PM on January 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Joakim Ziegler: "I'm no friend to Scientology, but their churches are no more fake than any others."

Yeah? Give me a call when the Lutherans or the Methodists start talking about taking people away from their families, or starting a religion to make money.
posted by Apropos of Something at 9:07 PM on January 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Anybody got a google cache of it?

I saved a copy, apparently it didn't save the comments though those were in their own iframe or something. MeMail me with your email address. (If I put this up on Dropbox I have this feeling my account would get mysteriously shut down before too long.)
posted by JHarris at 9:10 PM on January 14, 2013


Apropos of Something: The game. You just lost it.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:11 PM on January 14, 2013


Serious question: Can anybody give me any good reason to continue trusting news & analysis outlets anymore? Is it only safe to read Mother Jones and Pro Publica now?
posted by Apropos of Something at 9:12 PM on January 14, 2013


archive version : http://archive.is/vca4i
posted by radiosilents at 9:13 PM on January 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


They got the comments too! Excellent.
posted by JHarris at 9:19 PM on January 14, 2013


"I know most of us have a knee-jerk reaction when it comes to anything related to Scientology, but perhaps we should feel similar levels of umbrage when the likes of ExxonMobil or the governments of China or Kazakhstan get similar treatment?"

Most of us do have that reaction. Advertorial is scummy.
posted by klangklangston at 9:20 PM on January 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


Can anybody give me any good reason to continue trusting news & analysis outlets anymore?

Anymore? It was never safe. The only way is to pull and read as much info as you can, from diverse (political and geographic) sources, and synthesize them.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:22 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I love watching a carcrash in action on social media.
posted by Mezentian at 9:28 PM on January 14, 2013


Former SO here (messenger, other posts at variously initialed orgs.) I'm pretty tickled by this. Someone is getting a commendation for this marketing plan without the awareness that it's most visible via the internet tear-downs of its absurdity.

And on viewing, The Atlantic has already pulled the advertorial. So that Marketing person may not be have a good 6+ months. I'm suddenly less tickled.
posted by EmptyK at 9:30 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, I guess this is relevant:
In new Scientology tell-all book, Tom Cruise explains his “special powers”
He wasn't just a movie star. He was a transformational leader in a church that claims 8 million members globally, a religious figure with true moral authority and the power to save the planet. Cruise came to believe he had special powers, that he was more equipped to helping a woman suffering postpartum depression than the medical establishment, that addicts would be better off consulting him than in rehab.

It's quite possibly a shill for a book, and probably nothing that hasn't been mentioned before, but it's a good refresher.
posted by Mezentian at 9:32 PM on January 14, 2013


There is something very creepy about Scientology cultvertisement which seems very different than ads for Catholic parishes or Christian churches or organizations. There is far more importance placed on this cult of personality, Miscavige, than any of the 'tenets' or spiritual components of this so-called religion itself (because Pope aside, it would still be blasphemous to treat the Pope as a sort of be-all, end-all, which is how Miscavige presents himself, while paying lip service to Hubbard). It is also so incredibly materialistic and consumerist. It does not read as a religious publication/advertisement to me at all. The focus is on the guy, and the amount of buildings he's been able to construct thanks to all of the millions Scientology pulls in. The people also appear in some cases to be photoshopped in...

Does the Catholic Church for example even advertise? I'm not talking about Catholic organizations, but the Church itself. What about other denominations? Do they have advertisements like this, or do they stick to posting flyers, notices, and the like for individual parishes, charities, affiliated organizations, archdioceses, etc?

I think that the people saying Scientology presents itself in a way that is not pretty markedly different from most 'traditional' (or even non-traditional, say Unitarian, Wicca, Mysticism...) religions are being disingenuous. Where is the spiritualism? Where is the appeal to some sort of higher something or other? All I am reading is "David Miscavige is amazing, and has great hair, and he is building beautiful Ideal Orgs around the world and amassing followers faster than he knows what to do with 'em!" The focus seems on Miscavige. I guess that's where my discomfort lies.

Sorry for that long, rambling comment. I am an agnostic, fwiw, but was raised as a Catholic, and I am far more comfortable with the practitioners of that religion and most others, than I am with what I see as brainwashing with the aim of profiteering.
posted by nonmerci at 9:32 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


At least you can vote for the pope.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:36 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can vote for Tom Cruise ... by seeing his movies.
posted by Mezentian at 9:38 PM on January 14, 2013


Hey, you can say a lot of things about Scientology, but they collect some damn fine historic buildings, and they keep 'em up, too.
posted by Scram at 9:42 PM on January 14, 2013


I saw this about four hours ago. There were ten comments, nine of them glowingly positive about the article, and one that mocked Co$ and the Atlantic. I posted a comment of my own (snark about journalistic integrity and the condition of Miscavige's wife), because I was curious whether the Atlantic or Co$ had the keys to the moderation board.

And then something weird happened.

The lone negative comment was upvoted. At first, I thought it was because of the ensuing Twitter shitstorm, and then the number starts shooting up. Within thirty minutes, there were a thousand upvotes and climbing. There was also a passel of LOLZly comments, all of whose upvotes began to climb. Scripts? Bored Anonymous? I'm not sure, because by the time I'd finished dinner, the 1000+ comment was gone, as were mine and a few others.

This whole thing is weird. And I hope some heads are rolling in the Atlantic's office tonight.
posted by RakDaddy at 9:42 PM on January 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


ohhhh my gawd. This is just so sad. The "article" (it IS meant to masquerade as journalism) is such obvious cultish, messianic/straight out-of-a-bad-science-fiction-novel shit, it's just sad to think that vulnerable people are taken in by this shite.

I don't think I'll be picking up the occasion copy of the Atlantic anymore. Not even from the library.

Thanks for the archived version, radiosilents
posted by beau jackson at 9:44 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I didn't post a comment because it required registration, but I too noticed that phenomenon, RakDaddy. The major negative comment was up in the 400 upvotes and climbing, and the shill comments were mostly at upwards of 100+ downvotes.
posted by JHarris at 9:46 PM on January 14, 2013




But seriously, how scary IS IT that 2012 was Scientology's biggest growth year ever?

It's not. All their puff pieces are about how much they're growing, all the great new buildings they're putting up and more people joining than ever before, every year is their biggest yet. It's propaganda.
posted by DecemberBoy at 9:47 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


In The Atlantic's defence, it was clearly branded sponsored content, and the journos themselves seem to have been promoting the Scientology book I linked above.

Don't let the pointyheads in advertising and marketing ruin the entire Atlantic for you.
posted by Mezentian at 9:48 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


"clearly branded sponsored content" may well be true enough, but honestly if your "advertisement" follows the same formatting as the non-advertisement articles it's really a pretty disingenuous point that's easily avoided by simply not allowing ads to mimic your stylesheets.
posted by radiosilents at 9:51 PM on January 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


Former SO here (messenger, other posts at variously initialed orgs.)

No shit? Messenger as in, you were actually on the boat with L. Ron and young Dave Miscavige? I want to hear more about that, if you're up to it.
posted by DecemberBoy at 9:51 PM on January 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Needs more slack.
posted by Joey Michaels at 9:51 PM on January 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


It's really a pretty disingenuous point that's easily avoided by simply not allowing ads to mimic your stylesheets.

Good point. I had foolishly hoped they had followed something different. I guess not.

This is the future (well, it's actually the present and much of the recent past) of traditional media.
The stalwarts who would have fought tooth'n'nail against this are retired or retiring, and the balance of power in newsrooms is shifting rapidly towards monetisation, especially now the streams of gold have dried out and there is so much competition in the media space.

Every new generation of graduate journalists now walks into newsrooms where small management victories over the years have progressive killed journalistic independence, and that begins to carry through from smaller newsrooms towards the bigger publications.

I doubt it's ever going to go away.
posted by Mezentian at 9:56 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Former SO here (messenger, other posts at variously initialed orgs.)

No shit? Messenger as in, you were actually on the boat with L. Ron and young Dave Miscavige? I want to hear more about that, if you're up to it.


Not that old I'm afraid. I was a youngster when LRH died. There's still a number of CMOs (Commodore's Messenger Organizations) that serve the purpose they did when he was alive: coming into the middle of things yelling and giving orders and such. Ultimately reporting to Miscavige, like everything else. I was in that for awhile in my teens.
posted by EmptyK at 10:05 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Can you give an example of a type of situation the CMOs would deal with? Do you mean like counter-protesting or something else?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:16 PM on January 14, 2013


In defense of the Spire Archies, Al Hartley could draw women so hot that they made Dan DeCarlo girls all look like Miss Grundy. Which may or may not have been what he intended, but young horribly repressed me certainly appreciated it.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:22 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Can you give an example of a type of situation the CMOs would deal with? Do you mean like counter-protesting or something else?

Nah, nothing exterior like that, that I know of. Internal issues. I was once send into an org because they weren't submitting stats on time. You're supposed to grumble/yell and make things happen faster. Kinda works with scared people.
posted by EmptyK at 10:24 PM on January 14, 2013


Huh and my subscription to the Atlantic expired this month. Good timing maybe.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:26 PM on January 14, 2013


Last link:

"We have temporarily suspended this advertising campaign pending a review of our policies that govern sponsor content and subsequent comment threads. "
posted by Xoebe at 10:33 PM on January 14, 2013


Al Hartley could draw women so hot that they made Dan DeCarlo girls all look like Miss Grundy.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:36 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


But seriously, how scary IS IT that 2012 was Scientology's biggest growth year ever?

Miscavige describes it succinctly as "new churches looming on the near horizon".

And to get a taste of the excitement, there's a host of near cookie cutter videos of grand openings on that channel (with surprisingly low viewing numbers for such a rapidly growing org). The general formula seems to be: sunshine, giant ribbon, local community leaders offering a puffed up award of recognition, drugs rant and then a rally cry by Miscavige about non-specific issues that can be conquered with non-specific accomplishments.

The Cincinnati one is quite glorious in it's infomerciality. Those Ohioans truly are upstats!
posted by rh at 11:13 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


What really bugs me about the way they've "suspended this advertising campaign" is that they make it sound a lot like they don't give a crap about the broadly negative reaction to it around the web. "Sponsor content and subsequent comment threads" makes it sound like they pulled it because Miscavige called them and demanded to know why comments were enabled at the bottom of the advertorial.

Which, let's be clear here, even if you're pro-advertorial, even if you believe this kind of cash cow is the only way media will survive, isn't allowing comments on an advertorial about Scientology really the stupidest thing you can think of doing? Comments on ads aren't a great idea on principle - Facebook doesn't allow them at all, because they would devolve into people talking about how dumb the advertised products are. Toss in the internet's raging hate (entirely justified, granted) for Scientology, and...

Well, who the hell thought that any part of this was a good idea?
posted by koeselitz at 11:15 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


HA

Should have read the comments first. Priceless - I should have known they'd be manufactured.

Then I amend my reading of their "suspension." Sounds like the straw that broke the Atlantic's back was having entirely fake "comments" posted on that entirely fake "news story." Can't say I blame them for being especially galled at that bit.
posted by koeselitz at 11:19 PM on January 14, 2013


It'll be interesting to see if they think they can just pull it and let people forget about it, or if they'll feel the need to come out and address it.

I could generally just forget about reading anything from The Atlantic later than, say, 2004, but they have got some good bloggers. Especially from the funky name perspective:
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates - Funky name, great writer.
  • Jennie Rothenberg Gritz - Is this the funkiest name?
  • Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg - No, this is.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:25 PM on January 14, 2013 [19 favorites]


This reminds me of when I thought I was watching a documentary about pulp sci-fi that slowly turned into propaganda for L Ron Hubbard's books and then Scientology. I'll still read The Atlantic if it has good stuff.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 11:39 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not sure what's going on, but the Scientology ads are down and their space redirects to a page that says:

"We have temporarily suspended this advertising campaign pending a review of our policies that govern sponsor content and subsequent comment threads."
posted by mephron at 11:40 PM on January 14, 2013


Anybody got a google cache of it?

NYUD coral cache and screenshot. No comment thread in either.
posted by rh at 11:41 PM on January 14, 2013


I'll still read The Atlantic if it has good stuff.

The way I approach it is

- Will I still read The Atlantic if it has bad stuff in it?
- Will I be able to tell the difference between the bad stuff and the good stuff?
posted by benito.strauss at 11:51 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Bing cache with comments and screenshot.
posted by rh at 11:53 PM on January 14, 2013


radiosilents already linked to a fuller cache with more comments up above.
posted by koeselitz at 11:55 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fallows and TNC should go to work at Harper's or New Yorker so I can totally avoid the Atlantic site.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 12:02 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Here is how messed up this was: though it's already deleted, I searched for Scientology using the Atlantic's standard search tool, and it showed up just like legit articles.

How many ads show up in the search function?
posted by msalt at 12:05 AM on January 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


There's going to be fallout from this. Putting it up and then taking it down again? That's just flat-out unprofessional. I mean, the magazine's been around for 156 years. Shocking. I want to hear James Fallows describe what happened.
posted by Fnarf at 12:06 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow, msalt! That ad showing up in the search results is very creepy.

It also made me realize why it's extra bad that it's Scientology that is the advertiser editorial content provider involved. They are an organization that is famous for presenting themselves falsely, "Want to take a personality test?". So all the questions about "Can I trust what these folks are saying?" that are immediately raised when interacting with Scientologists are now raised about The Atlantic. msalt's result says the answer is no.

If Sorkin was writing this story, there would be a meeting at The Atlantic where the just-about-to-retire editor says "You thought we were just getting advertising dollars from Scientology. Turns out we also got some of their disrepute."
posted by benito.strauss at 12:24 AM on January 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


Wow, looking at the photos in that cached article...fleetmouse's description of the Scientology buildings all looking totally at home in North Korea is bang-on. And it does look like a propaganda piece put out by North Korea about Dear Leader.

Creepy as hell, and no it doesn't look any different, format and style-wise, from a regular non-advertising article in The Atlantic. And it shows/showed up in the site's internal search for "Scientology," like a regular article? Ugh. Ill-advised and just bad form.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:46 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Reading the farticle itself I noticed that they were 'opening' the Fraiser Mansion again. It shows a picture from a sham rededication, that was itself I think four or five years ago, and presenting it as them now opening a beautiful old building they've infested since the mid 90s.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:07 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wonder how James Fallows and Ta Nehisi Coates feel about this. Groan.
posted by C.A.S. at 1:31 AM on January 15, 2013


My favorite Atlantic writer is Rebecca J. Rosen. It would be a shame to lose the ability to link to her articles if the website's credibility slips.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:40 AM on January 15, 2013


We're talking about this over in the MeFi Google+ community. I was wondering aloud there: why? Does they actually think this fools anyone?

The last time I had my hair cut, my hairdresser started talking about how she's getting really interested in joining Scientology because so many celebrities are involved. She was a little doubtful about the religion though, not because of the crazy factor, but because she was afraid that they might be too exclusive to let her in.

Even when it says Sponsored Content at the top and bottom of the page, some people are going to overlook that notice. The appropriate thing would have been to put a thick yellow border on the whole window with the words SPONSORED CONTENT in large, black letters.

I was reading Aaron Schwartz's weblog today (side note, it's beautifully well written) and came across his description of fundamental attribution error. The takeaway is that even when you know it's sponsored content, it's still incredibly difficult not to be swayed by it in some subconscious way.

I'm really glad when I see the internet come together as a massive community to outrage over things like this. Every individual comment on this thread, all the other small bits and pieces of good information against Scientology out there on the web, they all turn into something too large for even Scientology's coffers to quash. Keep up the good work.
posted by sunnichka at 1:52 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Flashman: "This is a great account of the great developments happening in the Church of Scientology today. More and more people are learning about the great benefits of the practical technology in Scientology - this is also a wonderful testament to religious freedom flourishing in the current era. David Miscavige has certainly played an important role in bringing Scientology to various geographical areas and making sure that interested people have access to it."

Religion Blue often?

(laughs and ducks)
posted by Samizdata at 3:04 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


This seems like a pretty boneheaded move on Scientology's part.

To risk sullying their good reputation by polluting their brand with The Atlantic brand.

It'll be hard to trust Scientology's judgement after this mishap.
posted by el io at 3:56 AM on January 15, 2013


The last time I had my hair cut, my hairdresser started talking about how she's getting really interested in joining Scientology because so many celebrities are involved.

Whenever I find out an actor is a Scientologist, I start to slightly dislike them and their work.
posted by jeather at 4:53 AM on January 15, 2013 [15 favorites]


Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg

The unholy result of a teleporter accident involving a Klingon opera star and a Prussian mad scientist.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:12 AM on January 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm no friend to Scientology, but their churches are no more fake than any others.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:23 AM on January 15 [3 favorites +] [!]

This is no worse than when the Catholic Church bought space in Highlights.
posted by Mister_A at 4:25 AM on January 15 [4 favorites +] [!]


Most churches offer to send you a free bible, quran or what have you. The CoS sent a pamphlet to a friend the other day shilling 30-ish products each costing 20-30 pounds with "recommended introductory lines" costing 80 and 125 pounds or so. I'd give exact numbers but he binned it. They misrepresent themselves with 'personality tests', charge handsomely to reveal the tenets of CoS and then there's the matter of disconnection.
posted by ersatz at 5:23 AM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Advertorials aren't new, but its the way the comments were moderated that make this really creepy
posted by memebake at 5:39 AM on January 15, 2013


It was a sponsored ad in Omni magazine that led me to buy a BoneFone around 1981, and I'm pretty sure that it was that same BoneFone that infected me with the Thetans.
posted by malocchio at 6:55 AM on January 15, 2013


Whenever I find out an actor is a Scientologist, I start to slightly dislike them and their work.

It totally ruins Odelay.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:28 AM on January 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


I know. My rhyming Becktionary seems like it only has made up words in it now. Bzooty? Whiskeyclone? What the fuck was I on?
posted by Talez at 7:32 AM on January 15, 2013


Elaborate performance art. They'll reveal it for what it was soon, right?
posted by stoneweaver at 7:35 AM on January 15, 2013


The Atlantic's peers are Harper's, The New Yorker, The Economist, Foreign Policy and suchlike

Well, they were...
posted by ook at 7:37 AM on January 15, 2013 [9 favorites]


My rhyming Becktionary seems like it only has made up words in it now. Bzooty? Whiskeyclone?

Oh, Watson, have I got something for you to read...
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:39 AM on January 15, 2013


This is the equivalent of getting drunk at your mother in law's party and dancing on the dining table while conducting a strip tease. You will never recover your original pristine reputation.
posted by infini at 8:18 AM on January 15, 2013




They've been reading MetaFilter's How to manual. (a good thing imho)
posted by infini at 9:16 AM on January 15, 2013


The Atlantic's statement about the ad.

You have to wonder what sort of drugs the people in charge were on when they okay'ed a Scientology ad.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:16 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm glad they made a statement, but I don't understand what they actually admitted to. "We screwed up". Well, yes. But do you think you screwed up because you took an ad for a dangerous cult? Or because you're consistently blurring the line between editorial and advertisement and diminishing your journalism? Or because you have an inconsistent and deceptive comment editing policy? There's a lot of screwups, but I fear all The Atlantic really thinks is "oh we got caught!"

I linked this way up above, but The Atlantic has been running ads disguised as content for at least a year. I think the only reason this one got caught is Scientology is so over the top.
posted by Nelson at 9:19 AM on January 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


Hmm. I think people tend to be too receptive to PR spin control efforts overall. If they weren't as sure they could genuflect themselves out of these situations afterward, then maybe they wouldn't be so willing to do amazingly boneheaded things in the first place.

Because I'm having a hard time thinking how they could have done a stupider thing. I guess they could have left off the small notice of SPONSORED CONTENT....
posted by JHarris at 9:22 AM on January 15, 2013


The Atlantic is in deep doo doo. Not because of this. This is a sign of what a desparate situation they are in. Fallows and the other talent all need to be looking for a backup plan right now.
posted by bukvich at 9:27 AM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


The Cincinnati one is quite glorious in it's infomerciality. Those Ohioans truly are upstats!

None of those people are who they say they are, they're all actors. I worked with the Freedom Center and that man is not the Chairman.
posted by Mick at 9:42 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


As a long-time print subscriber (who still gives them money solely to keep their great online operation afloat), I think this is about the worst. Then again, they did already offer a mea culpa, so I will give them a chance to close that loop with an announcement admitting that taking a cult's money and disguising such spam as a real article was a major mistake.

It looks like Bob Cohn is the guy who should be taking the beating as he is "...the editor of Atlantic Digital. He oversees editorial affairs for TheAtlantic.com, The Atlantic Wire, The Atlantic Cities, and The Atlantic's mobile platforms."

Hey, Fallows, go down to the mail room and get some paper boxes for Bob, wouldja?
posted by wenestvedt at 9:55 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does the Catholic Church for example even advertise? I'm not talking about Catholic organizations, but the Church itself. What about other denominations?

It's pretty normal for churches to advertise, but not like this. First, churches are welcome to run listings for their services and activities for free in most local newspapers and online news sites. But they also do occasionally take out ads in local magazines. Billboards aren't uncommon at all, either. This sort of ad, though, is super expensive, and most churches with the exception of maybe the LDS or a few megachurches would not invest in it even if they thought it was a good idea.

Don't let the pointyheads in advertising and marketing ruin the entire Atlantic for you.

That could work for me if the pointyheads in editorial weren't ruining it for me with one after another shallow fake-sociology piece on affluent white American women and their travails. The Atlantic aims high in terms of relevant, intellectual content, but it always seems to fall just a little short. It ends up reading like an enhanced, slightly better Time or maybe Slate instead of a slightly worse New Yorker or Harper's.

they have got some good bloggers

Saying this as a lover of print, the best things about the Atlantic right now are the Atlantic Wire and Atlantic Cities. Great content, smart writers, good topics, well edited. If this were all the mag were anymore I'd be a happy customer.

Comments on ads aren't a great idea on principle - Facebook doesn't allow them at all, because they would devolve into people talking about how dumb the advertised products are.

They allow them on "sponsored stories," though, which can be a lot of fun.

we have decided to withdraw the ad until we figure all of this out

That statement is...cringe-ingly pathetic. The folksy tone, the stench of desperation, the admission of really total cluelessness and failure to think through something that was an obvious reputation risk...well. And it's not even like they were trying to do something amazingly innovated and just fell on their face. I mean, sponsored content is nothing new, on print or on the web, and it's not like there isn't already a century's worth of accepted practice where that's concerned. This was just a greed-fueled sales-office fuckup, not an incidence of flying too close to the sun in an attempt to revolutionize advertising for the digital age.
posted by Miko at 10:00 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, on its sister website Quartz, the Atlantic is running sponsored content from Chevron, virtually indistinguishable from its regular content, about "Will the US Permit an Energy Renaissance?"
posted by Cash4Lead at 10:01 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


http://shortformblog.com/post/40608565484/the-atlantic-scientology-apology
We screwed up. It shouldn’t have taken a wave of constructive criticism — but it has — to alert us that we’ve made a mistake, possibly several mistakes. We now realize that as we explored new forms of digital advertising, we failed to update the policies that must govern the decisions we make along the way. It’s safe to say that we are thinking a lot more about these policies after running this ad than we did beforehand. In the meantime, we have decided to withdraw the ad until we figure all of this out. We remain committed to and enthusiastic about innovation in digital advertising, but acknowledge—sheepishly—that that we got ahead of ourselves. We are sorry, and we’re working very hard to put things right
posted by anazgnos at 10:01 AM on January 15, 2013


The Atlantic's statement about the ad.
"We screwed up. It shouldn't have taken a wave of constructive criticism — but it has — to alert us that we've made a mistake, possibly several mistakes. We now realize that as we explored new forms of digital advertising, we failed to update the policies that must govern the decisions we make along the way. It's safe to say that we are thinking a lot more about these policies after running this ad than we did beforehand. In the meantime, we have decided to withdraw the ad until we figure all of this out. ... "
Maybe you should have run the idea about this type of advertorial in front of a panel of your readers -- an astute and informed group -- before 'exploring' and essentially 'experimenting.'
posted by ericb at 10:02 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


That Atlantic statement reads just as cleanly as an apology to advertisers for allowing comments on paid advertisement. Or for that matter an apology for not tinting the page enough so it looked "different" from real content. It could mean anything. "We screwed up" is pretty vague.
posted by gerryblog at 10:06 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


And that Chevron ad might actually be worse.
posted by gerryblog at 10:08 AM on January 15, 2013


The Washington Post: The Atlantic’s Scientology problem, start to finish.
posted by ericb at 10:08 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Quartz likes Chevron; The Atlantic prefers to run ads masquerading as content from Shell: June 2012 and undated.

Their labeling of these advertisement is really inconsistent. This ad from Boeing (April 2012) just says "CONTENT PROVIDED BY BOEING" as if the neighborhood friendly industrialist just wrote a nice little article for them. And all these ads are formatted exactly like editorial content, with just a tiny little red box to delineate them. So deceptive.

It's not a new problem at The Atlantic. I'm glad we at least know about it now.
posted by Nelson at 10:25 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


If I was really unhappy with the direction my industry was taking re: sponsored advertorial content and thought people weren't noticing it happen all over the place these days, I'd approve an obvious shill for Scientology (or something equally despised) in a minute. Shine an incredibly bright shitty light on the darkness and all that.

I'm not at all giving anybody at The Atlantic that much credit. But it's such a ridiculous error in judgment it almost seems more realistic than the truth.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:26 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Still kind of mysterious as to whether it was the Atlantic staff moderating the comments for pro-church slant, or the church itself...?
posted by anazgnos at 10:32 AM on January 15, 2013


I don't think the church could possibly have monitored the comments - they wouldn't have had access.

My read on it is that a shit-ton and a half of Scientologists were assigned to start populating the comments with positive remarks (the similarity suggests a talking points script) as soon as it went live, and to upvote each others' comments. The Atlantic moderators probably weren't prepared for that. there might have been some automated upvoting - but even if not automated, quite certainly coordinated.
posted by Miko at 10:34 AM on January 15, 2013


anazgnos: "Still kind of mysterious as to whether it was the Atlantic staff moderating the comments for pro-church slant, or the church itself...?"

The WaPo blow-by-blow suggests it was Atlantic staff.
In the case of the Scientology post, says Raabe, “Our marketing team was monitoring some of the comments.”
posted by tonycpsu at 10:35 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's pretty normal for churches to advertise, but not like this.

In addition to MIko's examples, I have seen a couple more prominent ones. For example, the Catholic diocese in Washington, DC will often take out subway ads during Lent advertising extra confession time or additional services. The United Methodist Church has what seems to be a pretty big ad buy on national television in the form of a commercial encouraging people to come to church and experience some dimension of spiritual peace, etc. I don't think I've ever seen anything like "Pope Benedict XVI Oversees Banner Year of Growth for Catholic Church" as an ad, advertorial or otherwise.
posted by Apropos of Something at 10:39 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


The aggregate effect really emphasizes the plastic strangeness.

mmmmmmm....plastic strangeness
posted by sexyrobot at 10:42 AM on January 15, 2013


But it's such a ridiculous error in judgment it almost seems more realistic than the truth.

You'd hope. But I think people in positions of power sometimes aren't great at estimating the cost/benefit stuff here, especially in These Tough Times where they have mandates to bring in cash and there's just less to go around. Projecting maybe, but I feel bad for all the writers/bloggers who had to see their stuff go up alongside crap like this. The IBM-sponsored stuff was one thing (and was in a slightly different "sponsored" format than the Scientology stuff) but this is basically like an ad for smoking or for handguns. So strange.
posted by jessamyn at 11:02 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


i was struck with how much the pictures at least looked like internal "advertising" in the LDS church - "growing all the time!" "new temples opened up in domestic and international locales! missionary work flourishing in countries generally negatively portrayed in the news!" but that's to jazz up the base. externally it's usually "families are important" "request a book of mormon" etc.
posted by nadawi at 11:02 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


one after another shallow fake-sociology piece on affluent white American women and their travails.

I can't help but notice how often Mefites criticize The Atlantic for writing articles of interest to women. Is that a problem somehow? Seems like progress to me, when leading opinion journals do that.

As for affluent and white, everyone loves the New Yorker; are you going to defend them against appealing to an affluent, white audience?
posted by msalt at 11:31 AM on January 15, 2013


I love reporting about women. Big fan. I think the Atlantic's semi-opinion 'trend piece' approach tends to pander, which is why I don't like it. In the past couple of years there have been at least three really egregious examples, and this seems like an intentional strategy to sensationalize and create a stir through shallow position-taking. I hate it.

everyone loves the New Yorker; are you going to defend them against appealing to an affluent, white audience?

I'm not thinking about the magazine's audience but about the subject of the editorial material, which in the case of the New Yorker does not place exclusive focus on affluent white people. Much the contrary.
posted by Miko at 11:43 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


My read on it is that a shit-ton and a half of Scientologists were assigned to start populating the comments with positive remarks (the similarity suggests a talking points script) as soon as it went live, and to upvote each others' comments. The Atlantic moderators probably weren't prepared for that. there might have been some automated upvoting - but even if not automated, quite certainly coordinated.

OK, that makes more sense. Initially it sounded more like it was almost top-down moderation by The Atlantic that explicitly took the sponsor's position, which would be insanely wrong and creepy.
posted by anazgnos at 11:44 AM on January 15, 2013


I don't think the church could possibly have monitored the comments - they wouldn't have had access.

Not necessarily; granting some CoS media liaison moderation privileges over a one-off Disqus account dedicated to this specific ad campaign would be technically very easy and would cleanly firewall that little bit of direct control from any other Atlantic CMS stuff.

Whether that's actually what was happening, or whether the comments were being moderated instead by an Atlantic staffer, would be good to know; either way the comments were very clearly being moderated specifically to the benefit of CoS, so the question of how or by whom is more a detail than anything in this case.
posted by cortex at 11:52 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


What struck me about the ad was the way they touted their buildings.
Located at Domstrasse 9, it stands in a landmark square of renowned churches at the spiritual heart of the old city The Church building, the former Ramona Hotel, is a historic landmark located between Old Town Sacramento and California's State Capitol. city officials who celebrated the opening of the 50,000-square-foot Church, which stands on a three-acre campus. The Church's new landmark home, located in the city of Santa Ana, is listed on city, state and national registers of historic places. 44,000-square-foot facility that stands one block from Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies

Basically this is a business showing off their real estate holdings, but the buildings are creepy looking even if they are "standing just miles from Anaheim famed "Magic Kingdom." Why is it that everything and everyone surrounding Scientology comes across in a very unnatural, plastic way? For example the Mormon Temples that I've seen always appear beautiful and enticing, almost worth becoming a Mormon so you could go inside. These buildings look efficient and bureaucratic as though you would need I.D. papers and once inside you would be processed.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 12:14 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Initially it sounded more like it was almost top-down moderation by The Atlantic that explicitly took the sponsor's position

whoever did it - that's what happened - comments were deleted that spoke against COS, leaving astroturf comments in support.
posted by nadawi at 12:19 PM on January 15, 2013


would be technically very easy

But is that an existing model at major media websites? I guess nothing here should surprise me, but letting an outside org have control of content that appears on the site - especially comments - seems like something a sane magazine would never do.
posted by Miko at 12:21 PM on January 15, 2013


No idea, and I'd be curious as well and a little surprised if that's the case. I was just trying to address the "couldn't", not any notional shouldn't.
posted by cortex at 12:23 PM on January 15, 2013


seems like something a sane magazine would never do.

My understanding is that even major media organizations who are not "new media" [i.e. born on the internet] have such half-assed back end moderation that this sort of thing is not very unlikely at all. Even the people I know who are top of their game in this business find themselves hampered by terrible tools with very little to work with. Since the content is sponsored a very good argument could be made that the comments themselves are not user-generated content but part of the article. I am very very curious about how that part of it all worked. From what I saw the puff comments stayed and the negative comments that didn't seem to break the guidelines went which was very curious to me.
posted by jessamyn at 12:29 PM on January 15, 2013


"Basically this is a business showing off their real estate holdings, but the buildings are creepy looking even if they are "standing just miles from Anaheim famed "Magic Kingdom." Why is it that everything and everyone surrounding Scientology comes across in a very unnatural, plastic way?"

I think it's mainly the way the buildings are photographed (and probably Photoshopped) for the advertisement that makes them look surreal. That, plus the identical crowds pressing around each one. Every picture taken at a similar moment during the ceremony, when balloons are rising into the air or confetti falling down. We instinctively know that different locations photographed at different times shouldn't look so alike.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:35 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am very very curious about how that part of it all worked.

Yeah, me too. The fact that the puff comments stayed, though could definitely just indicate the schism (not unusual) between the content and sales side. The sales side could have easily panicked that the audience wasn't responding well and nuked the negative comments just to protect the deal - indeed, this would be my first instinct as to what happened, since it's not unusual for the business side to want to kill content unfavorable to advertisers. But I agree, I would really love to know how this was put together on the inside. Maybe someone will tell all.
posted by Miko at 12:37 PM on January 15, 2013


The Onion wins the Internet.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:45 PM on January 15, 2013 [17 favorites]


Usually the sales side wouldn't have any access at all to the comments in the first place. I've emailed a friend of mine who writes for The Atlantic to see if he knows any specifics that he could share off the record.
posted by jessamyn at 12:50 PM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


tonycpsu beat me to it. OMG, that Onion article.
posted by offalark at 12:56 PM on January 15, 2013


NYT: The Atlantic Apologizes for Scientology Ad
posted by msalt at 1:09 PM on January 15, 2013


I think it's mainly the way the buildings are photographed (and probably Photoshopped) for the advertisement that makes them look surreal.

But this is what I mean about Scientologists always coming across as unnatural. Someone was in charge of putting that ad together. Did it never occur to them that it looked off-putting? Or are they so programmed that running a page full of business buildings dressed up in enormous bows seemed like a good way to attract new members?

Think about the sort of pictures you might expect to see if it was an ad for any other religion. Happy families. Children playing. Alters, choirs, weddings, baptisms. I realize that COS is handicapped because they don't have any rituals that can be photographed, but then that is another problem with their "religion," apparently the only celebrations they can photograph are the openings of new buildings.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 1:13 PM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


The key paragraph from that NYT article: " A spokeswoman for The Atlantic said that the comments were moderated by its marketing team, not by the editorial team that moderates comments on normal articles."

Also funny: "[The article] was noticed by reporters at other news organizations on Monday evening and was stripped from The Atlantic’s site by midnight." Sure, it was just professional reporters, not bloggers or regular people reading it.
posted by msalt at 1:14 PM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Thanks, Miko. I didn't mean to call you out personally, just to note a tendency I see on Metafilter. One person's "critique of pandering" can be another's "forcing women to be like men."

I think it's a subtlety of gender issues, one I've stumbled on myself. As in, years ago I was arguing that this new song "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" was sexist, demeaning to women, reductive, written by a guy, etc. which was all great until I noticed everyone I was arguing with was female. And they wanted me to shut up so they could continue to enjoy the song.
posted by msalt at 1:26 PM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


In The Atlantic's defence, it was clearly branded sponsored content, and the journos themselves seem to have been promoting the Scientology book I linked above.

Belatedly, "sponsored content" is not clear branding. "Ad" is clear branding. "Sponsored content" can be misinterpreted to mean "content we would have run anyway, but we have one company backing it." When, for instance, Roma Wines sponsored the radio show Suspense, that was sponsored content. Suspense was a crime radio show, and remained the same crime radio show through a series of sponsors. Had suspense turned into a show about how excellent Roma Wines was, that would have been an ad.

Advertorial, as somebody uppage pointed out, only has value if the reader thinks it might be an actual article they are reading. It's meant to look like a regular news piece. And using the weaselly term "sponsored content" is part of the deception.

When I edited a newspaper, the sales side tried to pull this shit all the time. I'd see the ads, and there would be one that looked like regular newspaper content, and was laid out to look exactly like a news article. Same fonts and everything. We had to make a rule that this sorts of things had to be labeled "ad," have a border around it segregating it from the rest of the content, and could not use any of the design elements that were used for news in the rest of the paper. Even still, ad people tried to sneak it through. It was always sleazy.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:31 PM on January 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


Miko: "I don't think the church could possibly have monitored the comments - they wouldn't have had access.

My read on it is that a shit-ton and a half of Scientologists were assigned to start populating the comments with positive remarks (the similarity suggests a talking points script) as soon as it went live, and to upvote each others' comments. The Atlantic moderators probably weren't prepared for that. there might have been some automated upvoting - but even if not automated, quite certainly coordinated.
"

Huh.

So, possibly sort of an anti-Anon manuever then?
posted by Samizdata at 1:34 PM on January 15, 2013


Usually the sales side wouldn't have any access at all to the comments in the first place

They don't need access to them (from a technical standpoint) to monitor and kill comments, though. They just need the organizational power to nix them. But the note that msalt pulled from the NYT about marketing moderating marketing pages sort of hints that they might actually oversee comments associated with advertorial.

What Bunny Ultramod describes at newspapers definitely matches my experience at a newspaper with the sales/editorial relationship.

One person's "critique of pandering" can be another's "forcing women to be like men."

I am a woman and I really like the New Yorker and really don't like some prominent editorial choices in the Atlantic and I don't think either magazine is forcing me to be like a man.

possibly sort of an anti-Anon manuever then?

I don't see why Anon would even have to enter into it. The church itself would know that it would be awesome for them to get hundreds of positive comments and spike the pageviews. I don't perceive a shadowy battle here, just an attempt by the church to gain comments, with the complicity of the sales team probably.
posted by Miko at 1:35 PM on January 15, 2013


Oh guys. You don't have to bring up those silly religion validity arguments here. We have an entirely different reason to hate Scientology this time.
posted by JHarris at 2:22 PM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Insofar as it's a question of running a media outlet, it doesn't matter whether the religion is considered legitimate by somebody or not. It's whether it's going to be a hot button with your readership and whether it conflicts with your general editorial and market approach overall.

In other words, it's not whether CoS fits the category "church" that's an issue, and doesn't reveal any special hypocrisy about that one way or another. It's whether the particular presentation of them in an ad is likely to raise the hackles of the audience. The New Yorker regularly runs sort of weird little small ads for woo-woo retreat centers and religious websites that answer all your questions about life! and are probably pretty freaky, but nobody cares that they're advertising there. They're just little ads - readers know they're ads and can ignore them. If they ran them as advertorial, it would start to get complainy. If they ran them looking exactly like an article, it would definitely get complainy.

Advertorial, as a bunch of folks have noted, is pretty much always irritating. But when it's irritating, sneakily designed to match actual content, framed like actual content, and your readers generally hate that particular advertiser with a extreme prejudice and they're gaming the comments, it starts to become un-overlook-able. Scientology is probably a spectacularly bad fit for the Atlantic's "I like to be smart and skeptical" audience, and the choice to run it framed and presented as they did is what created the flap. Not that it is [or isn't] a [real] church or that [only real] churches should [not] be allowed to advertise in magazines.
posted by Miko at 2:37 PM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Looking at some of the other sponsored content the Atlantic has run, there's a clear tonal mismatch with the Scientology ad. It looks like most of the other pieces are more successful at pretending to be articles, and are written in a newsy style where they answer questions about wine or tell you how to save money with cloud computing. The Scientology piece is all about the glory of David Miscavige, and the powerful, triumphant organization he runs, hence the North Korea comparisons. If the Atlantic had run an earlier sponsored piece about "Shell's Ass Kickin' Year" with a big picture of the CEO at the top, they probably would have inspired outrage a lot sooner.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:48 PM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, on its sister website Quartz, the Atlantic is running sponsored content from Chevron, virtually indistinguishable from its regular content, about "Will the US Permit an Energy Renaissance?"

I have never heard of Quartz before, but that's just vile. I can't see any branding/warning at all.

Belatedly, "sponsored content" is not clear branding. "Ad" is clear branding. "Sponsored content" can be misinterpreted to mean "content we would have run anyway, but we have one company backing it."

I disagree, in the sense that I've never considered "sponsored content" to mean anything other than advertorial, but that might be a result of advertorial mission creep over the years.

We had to make a rule that this sorts of things had to be labeled "ad," have a border around it segregating it from the rest of the content, and could not use any of the design elements that were used for news in the rest of the paper.

In my experience management tend to dislike that sort of thing because "it reduces the value of the free editorial". I suppose it depends on the publication/business. I know that that particular battle has been lost in trade press and smaller publications since the '80s.
posted by Mezentian at 3:57 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]




Paraphrased response from my friend who writes for The Atlantic, mostly says things we know, but

We deals with comments blog by blog.

Some people moderate a lot and some don't moderate at all. Most of us are more or less hands off but we've messed with some stuff. In general, moderation is done by the writers and editors of the pieces themselves.

I assume someone in the marketing department was doing the moderation but I don't really know. I think one thing with the sponsored posts is that they are really and truly ads, so the editing team have no idea what happens with them.


So yeah having the content moderated by the marketing team and not in line with any existing moderation policy [and without clear indications that was what they were doing] is one of a series of missteps that seemed to come from this "Let's be innovative in advertising!" push.
posted by jessamyn at 5:37 PM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Erin Kissane has written a piece on this and i think she provides an excellent summary on what went on with the comments.
posted by goshling at 6:01 PM on January 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


i wonder if anyone has seen that taliban link from the onion...
posted by nadawi at 7:03 PM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Hey, look! There's a whole thread up here with a bunch of links and stuff to read!

From goshling's piece: the maddening thing is that this is the sort of thing we figured out years ago.

Yeah. And not only on the web, but in print. The sudden amnesia about well-evolved print practices - what they were and why they got that way - and the failure to translate them to the web just keeps on giving. It's weird and results in part from a failure of confidence on the part of editorial people who should know what they're doing, but are usettled and imagine the web is different in ways that it's not (and not different in ways that it is).
posted by Miko at 7:19 PM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


From Kissane's article:
The magazine would doubtless like for this to be the end of the discussion, and it probably will be. Most readers will forget it happened, except the ones who already hated the magazine.

I didn't hate The Atlantic going into this. Despite the oft-reminded fact that it's owned by a neo-con, something I've considered more than once when reading an article there, I've still been surprised by how fair the magazine can be despite that possible source of bias. And then this happened.

I don't know what to think about The Atlantic right now, but I know I won't forget this, any less than I forgot about Gamespot's firing of Gerstmann, and I consider The Atlantic to have taken a much larger credibility hit, if just because it had so much more to lose. This is shattering.
posted by JHarris at 9:34 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Atlantic was once near the pinnacle of American popular literature and politics. It has a very long distance that it can fall before it crashes. It seems to be accelerating.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:06 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does anyone else suspect a long game? I'll bet it was the work of someone sick of thinly-veiled corporate boosterism, someone seeking to poison the very idea of advertorials.
posted by whuppy at 5:57 AM on January 16, 2013


Seems far-fetched to me - too many unknowns.
posted by Miko at 6:35 AM on January 16, 2013


Yeah, probably just my own little pet conspiracy theory to try and make sense of it.
posted by whuppy at 6:41 AM on January 16, 2013


I dunno, to me it seems not hard to explain. I come from a journalism-oriented family where both my grandmother and mom were reporters and newspaper editors and the first few years of my working life were spent at a major regional daily. And this sort of story, apart from the "its all online now and has realtime commenting" angle, is as old as the hills. That's why I guessed a sales/editorial dichotomy would explain it. The decision to take advertorial from a controversial and poorly aligned client, to allow active commenting on advertorial in general, and to manage that from the sales department, is where the online strategy failed - but the conception of the idea and the sometimes-catastrophic results of a content/sales schism isn't a new thing really.

It's one of those "expect horses" things. In journalism, the business side necessarily is tasked bringing in the cash in any way they can work it (that's what supports the outlet, after all), and they often feel hampered by pesky ethics and editorial policies, and so they come up with hybrid 'it almost looks like an article' things like what Bunny Ultramod described, which you can find even in the NYT and the best outlets in the world (Docs report, emu oil cures arthritis!).

I agree with those saying it's sort of a failure of both digital and editorial strategy not to have said, at some point, "hey, we historically have had this issue of advertisers wanting to mimic the look of news content, and also an issue of advertising that's a bad fit for readership. So as we move online, let's look at how we will handle the internet version of those pretty predictable issues."

It would be interesting to know more about how this was proposed, if it was, to whom, how the deal was set up and all that - the internal mechanics of who knew what when - but we may never get the skinny on that. I kind of hope so, though. I'll be keeping an eye on the Columbia Journalism Review and On the Media next week to see what discussion of this pops up - the best thing to come out of it is that it's a good cautionary tale.

Oh hey, CJR already has a discussion of the issue posted ("L'Affaire Atlantic/Scientology"). On the Media has the "we screwed up" quote on the front page - bodes well for coverage this weekend, I'd think.
posted by Miko at 7:49 AM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I hadn't really been familiar the term "native advertising" before, and I'm still trying to figure out whether I think it's handwavy marketing-speak for just a sneakier form of advertorial, or an actual new approach to content - which if the latter, is problematic. The important thing about journalism is transparency - is this content independent? How might it have been influenced? Information that doesn't result from that process is some kind of information, but not journalism. And people don't like their tea swapped out for coffee. It needs to be pretty clear which is which, I think. I do understand that people are becoming much less able to tell the difference, in part because there's so much of this stuff on the web and it starts to seem normal.
posted by Miko at 7:57 AM on January 16, 2013


Is Scientology Self-Destructing?
Scientology leader David Miscavige has been trumpeting his church's “milestone year,” but the mysterious religion is alienating scores of its most faithful followers with what they call a real estate scam. With anger mounting and defectors fleeing, this may be more than a fleeting crisis; it may be a symptom of an institution in decline.
posted by ericb at 10:37 AM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Native advertising"sounds like radio talk show hosts who seamlessly flow into talking about how a mattress or medicated powder has changed their life, without any flag that it's an ad.
posted by msalt at 12:31 PM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


ericb's article is really interesting. It sounds like Scientology is shrinking, and the church's response to this decline in membership is to extract ever larger donations from the existing faithful for new building projects. That's what the "Ideal Orgs" in the Atlantic advertisement are about: they're showing the members where all that money went.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:39 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


With anger mounting and defectors fleeing, this may be more than a fleeting crisis; it may be a symptom of an institution in decline.

I feel much better now (and as for the current members being increasingly fleeced, I have to say "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, fool me monthly, I'm beyond shame")
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:06 PM on January 16, 2013


Yep, it sounds like they're "eating the seed corn," if your desperate fundraising cannibalizes followers. Hypothesis: Miscavige knows the gig is up, and is extracting every last penny from members (probably legally) as quickly as possible before the Church et. al. collapses. I'll bet he has purchased a mansion in Florida, where there is no limit on the homestead exemption.
posted by msalt at 2:25 PM on January 16, 2013




Meet Your Match, another paid Atlantic advertisement masquerading as an article. They ran it yesterday, after the Scientology apology. I guess the apology wasn't for deceiving their readers.
posted by Nelson at 7:01 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Quartz had an article. The first comment in this thread throws light on something interesting embedded in the introduction.
posted by infini at 7:07 PM on January 16, 2013


Well, they learned something - no comments enabled on "Meet Your Match."

It's a good example of sponsored content that looks like a real article (which is still shitty by my lights) but is at least in alignment with Atlantic readers (on the whole they are probably OK with wine).
posted by Miko at 7:12 PM on January 16, 2013


They also learned to put the "Sponsor Content Presented by the Capital Grille" in 40% grey.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:40 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this is actually less identifiable as sponsored content! At least the Scientology article had that little yellow graphic!
posted by JHarris at 10:41 PM on January 16, 2013


At least the Meet Your Match has a handy twitter address to heckle the advertiser with. I mean, unless you need @thewineexpert to tell you to pair reds with red meat, whites with white meat. Oh, and Pinots apparently can switch. He also likes Malbecs with meat, which makes sense, because they're red.
posted by klangklangston at 11:05 PM on January 16, 2013


The info in ericb's link ("15 Scientology Revelations") is really chilling.
After the war, Hubbard abandoned [his wife] Polly, and wedded 21-year-old Sara Northrup while still married to his first wife. He beat her often. Once while she was sleeping he hit her across the face with his pistol because she was smiling in her sleep—and therefore must have been thinking about someone else. He frequently threatened suicide. Then, in 1949, Hubbard finished his book Dianetics. One of the original self-help books, it shot up the bestsellers’ list, and made him rich and famous. Hubbard’s view of women in the book “betrays a kind of horror,” as he seemed to reserve the worst circle of hell for “attempted abortions done by some sex-blocked mother to whom children are a curse, not a blessing of God.” (His eldest son often charged his father of attempting two abortions on his mother, one being his premature birth. Sara says Hubbard, while he was writing Dianetics, kicked her stomach several times to attempt to cause a miscarriage. Hubbard also once told a lover that he himself was born from an attempted abortion.)

When Sara wanted to leave him, Hubbard and a man who might have carried a gun abducted their baby daughter, Alexis. Then they kidnapped Sara. He told her that if she tried to leave him, he’d kill Alexis, then later claimed he had killed the baby already—“cut her into little pieces and dropped the pieces in a river,” Sara said. In 1951, she filed for divorce, claiming Hubbard to be “hopelessly insane.” [His first wife] Polly wrote a letter of support, saying, “Ron is not normal.” Hubbard took the baby to Cuba and kept her in a crib with wire over the top of it. Later, Sara was able to trick Hubbard to get her child back, and she walked out of his life on “the happiest day of my life.”
Holy shit. I wonder if anyone in the Atlantic marketing department knew all that stuff about the founder of Scientology before giving the advertorial the thumbs-up. Or if they actually knew what it says in Dianetics.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:30 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


When did facts get in the way of a great storyline?
posted by infini at 11:39 PM on January 16, 2013


Wow, I never knew that stuff. My impression of Scientology, based on reading a few articles and, of course, the general mockery, was of a loopy, stupid sci-fi cosmology preying on the weak-minded and needy, not the world-controlling expression of a monster.
posted by Miko at 6:48 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


And author of Battlefield Earth.
posted by infini at 7:21 AM on January 17, 2013


BTW -- Rock Center’s two-part report on Scientology airs tonight, Jan. 17 at 10pm/9CDT on NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams.

Excerpts:
EXCLUSIVE: Director Paul Haggis speaks out about Scientology in first television interview (w/video).

Scientology creates 'atmosphere of fear,' says 'Going Clear' author Lawrence Wright (w/video).
posted by ericb at 10:50 AM on January 17, 2013






Romenesko: Memo: The Atlantic president explains Scientology advertorial 'screw-up'. A couple of quotes:
we did not adequately work with the advertiser to create a content program that was in line with our brand. In addition, because we had not fully thought through the issues around commenting on Sponsor Content, we made some mistakes trying to moderate the commenting thread. The general media climate also played a role here.

we did not have clearly established digital advertising guidelines and policies in place, and when you’re innovating in a new territory without standardized guidelines (we’re not alone in the industry on this issue, by the way), mistakes can happen.
posted by Nelson at 6:14 PM on January 19, 2013


Still a little stuck.

1. What kind of Scientology "content program" would align with the Atlantic's brand?

2. What about advertorial is the "innovation?"
posted by Miko at 9:50 PM on January 19, 2013


Ironically, my old professor used to say that an invention is not an innovation until adopted (or accepted) by the end users...
posted by infini at 10:24 PM on January 19, 2013


I'm totally stuck. Nowhere have we seen the Atlantic apologizing for their broad program of "sponsored content", advertisements masquerading as articles published completely in house style with only the tiniest of disclaimers attached. The entire publication is diminished by their willingness to deceive readers in order to pay the bills.
posted by Nelson at 7:49 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


of course they're only complaining about the scientology one - they've been doing sponsored content for a while with nary a dust up. they have no reason to believe their overall approach is bad, just this specific case. we'll see how that plays out, but i imagine short memories and business as usual within a few weeks.
posted by nadawi at 8:58 AM on January 20, 2013


I'm going to continue to be hung up on the idea that advertorial is an "innovation," though - we've talked about it in this thread, but it's as old as the hills in journalism. And there's already a simple, accepted best practice - make sure its style looks different from house style, and mark it so you can clearly read it.

I continue to think that all of this "native ad" crap is just a bunch of handwaving to cover up what's essentially a push to further blur the lines between independent and paid content.

This really shouldn't be that confusing for the Atlantic.It's not like they're wandering in some new, murky and indistinct zone because of their groundbreaking experimentation on the digital platform. This fuckup was simple, and due to alignment first and foremost - Atlantic readers are predictably hostile to Scientology - and then to the handling of the stylesheet and commenting issues. Had they kept the style such that the whole thing screamed AD AD AD it wouldn't have happened. And had they stuck to brands their readers like, it wouldn't have happened. I am not even convinced that readers didn't understand it was paid content - it was labelled that way, after all - they just really didn't like it and called the Atlantic on pushing "native ad" a bridge too far.
posted by Miko at 9:32 AM on January 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


My favorite part of it is the way they "rise and fall together" but the people who are writing the guidelines about this stuff are just pushing it out to the staff and not consulting with them about it. I think they think they're being innovative because they're doing stuff online, but I think they really should have not only thought this through more but also maybe thought about having someone less controversial than Scientology be one of their test-the-waters clients. Because that is a big part of this and a big part of the backlash. The errors in judgment are not just in how they decided to do this (which, I agree, are well-trod ground in a lot of ways) but the specific way in which they went about this, with an organization known for being creepy and secretive, which casts even more of a pall over the thread moderation.
posted by jessamyn at 9:51 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that aspect of it sorta makes you wonder. Why that much influence in this specific case? Why them and not, you know, Rolex?
posted by Miko at 11:43 AM on January 20, 2013


Had they kept the style such that the whole thing screamed AD AD AD it wouldn't have happened. And had they stuck to brands their readers like, it wouldn't have happened.

1. Actually it would have happened, just a lot more slowly and quietly at first. I'd already seen people complaining about the online Atlantic's tendency to make linkbait articles, and that's merely annoying. We've all had enough experience with web ads by now to know that frog boiling isn't a factor here. Reader outrage would have taken time to build up, but it would still have happened, and while it was building the Atlantic brand would be slowly, but surely, damaged all that time.

2. So really, the Scientology flap was kind of doing Atlantic a favor. It gave them a chance to do a sudden about-face, say "we messed up," and stop doing look-alike sponsored content all at once. But they didn't, and as a result we're all a lot more alert to that kind of thing coming from the Atlantic. They don't even get the benefit of that ad revenue now while the damage accrues. It's the worst possible world for them.

3. A suspicious person might consider that someone working in advertising for The Atlantic who is secretly against the new policy approved the Scientology ad on purpose, figuring it would go down this way, trying to force the magazine to change the policy. Because there was no way that article wasn't going to echo across the whole internet within a day of its going up.
posted by JHarris at 1:31 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


2. So really, the Scientology flap was kind of doing Atlantic a favor. It gave them a chance to do a sudden about-face, say "we messed up," and stop doing look-alike sponsored content all at once. But they didn't, and as a result we're all a lot more alert to that kind of thing coming from the Atlantic. They don't even get the benefit of that ad revenue now while the damage accrues. It's the worst possible world for them.

I would like to think that's how the world works, but I don't think it does. The Atlantic is one of the very, very few success stories of the print to web transition, and they'be been doing this shit for years -- such that it now accounts for half their digital ad revenue. (that article's from September; I think I saw more recent figures somewhere that suggested 59%.)

I think the lessons The Atlantic learned from this were "don't let Scientology run ads" and "keep the marketing team from having such a quick hand on the trigger finger when it comes to comments." They did not learn the lesson "prevent the ads from looking like the content" because allowing the ads to look like the content us the only thing keeping The Atlantic in the black, and it's far easier to for them to tell themselves that the web is a new place with new rules than to accept that, to paraphrase a well-worn anecdote, they've already established what kind of magazine they are, they're only haggling about the price.
posted by Diablevert at 5:17 PM on January 20, 2013


I should add, I wish I could hate them for it, but if it's a choice between whoring and starving, then whore, I guess.
posted by Diablevert at 5:19 PM on January 20, 2013


I disagree. Whoring in this case damages their reputation, and makes their journalism work, the entire reason anyone reads the Atlantic in the first place, less valuable. This may actually be WHY they're profitable, but it's a short-term proposition, while the ride the crest of their former reputation. There is a reason why other places, when asked to make a similar kind of decision, didn't choose" whore."
posted by JHarris at 5:47 PM on January 20, 2013


There is a reason why other places, when asked to make a similar kind of decision, didn't choose" whore."

What places are you thinking of?
posted by Diablevert at 5:59 PM on January 20, 2013


Every place that doesn't pose ad content as if it were journalism, DUH. Ranging from the New Yorker through to the Weekly World News.
posted by JHarris at 6:25 PM on January 20, 2013


Reader outrage would have taken time to build up, but it would still have happened

I don't really think so. There is a baseline annoyance level which everyone can tolerate, as the history of advertorial (over a century now) readily shows. A truce level, if you will: print your ad in a funny font, and I'll pretend it's not part of the magazine.

It was really the egregious misalignment that created the outrage, exacerbated by the monkeying with the comments. No, I really don't think that paid content presented with a different stylesheet, only about AIG investments rather than Scientology, would raise much ire except amongst the chronic complainers.
posted by Miko at 9:45 PM on January 20, 2013


Every place that doesn't pose ad content as if it were journalism, DUH. Ranging from the New Yorker through to the Weekly World News.

The New Yorker a) runs extensive advertorials and b) loses money, and has done pretty consistently for nearly 30 tears. The Weekly World News went under 5 years ago.

I'll grant you that the advertorials in the New Yorker don't have the same house style, for the most part. But even with an extremely well-off readership which attracts luxury brands, they're alive because of the sufferance of Si Newhouse, not because integrity makes money.

The New York Times, one of the best papers in the country, is barely hanging on and it's able to charge between $180 to $420 bucks a year for digital subscriptions. The cover price for a print Atlantic subscription is $70; you can get one on Amazon for $25. Or you can read it online for free. I'm not aware of any glossy besides the New Yorker that's had much luck with digital subscriptions.
And most general interest sites that start in the web --- The Awl, Buzzfeed, the Gawker Media suite --- have completely embraced this "native ad" bullshit.

I mean, I don't work in magazine or web ad sales; it could be that there's some publication out there which is making a go of it without pulling this crap. There are some other models which have seen success --- Politico, for example, subsidises its general site with extremely narrow band professional subscription services (everything you ever wanted to know about the house agriculture committee, all-day every day!) for like $3,000 a pop. Obviously that's not really widely applicable. ProPublica depends in part on donations.

But for the rest, my grim estimate is that it's time to put on the fishnets and head to the corner.
posted by Diablevert at 7:01 AM on January 21, 2013


I'll grant you that the advertorials in the New Yorker don't have the same house style, for the most part. But even with an extremely well-off readership which attracts luxury brands, they're alive because of the sufferance of Si Newhouse, not because integrity makes money.

To me, whether they balance the budget is a separate argument from the argument about what they should publish and why. They're all mission-driven organizations, for-profit though they are, and as you noted above, compromising on the mission means alienating the readership. In addition, it's not necessarily a bad business decision to run a low- or no-profit publication. The New Yorker is a significantly defining brand for Conde Nast and it's worth it to them to subsidize this critically and culturally important publication, probably the most important American periodical.

I think the overall message is that we were all sold a bill of goods when we were told 15ish years ago that publishing online for free (or subscription) would make everyone rich through ad sales and comprise the future of publishing. Web ads, no matter how dastardly, are worth an infintesimal fraction of what print ads are, and business models built on print will crash on the rocks of web ad models. No matter how slick they are. They won't work well, and we're seeing the reasons right here: to work well for the advertisers, they have to command subscriber eyeballs; and to command subscriber eyeballs, they have to look like interesting content; but if they look like interesting content, the reader eyes are going to look away rapidly.

Web advertising in support of independent journalistic content is basically an unworkable model - it actually never worked - and this kind of thing sure isn't going to solve it. That's why there are the ProPublica type experiments going on, but honestly, they don't scale, at least not yet. There is a lot of think-tank activity looking at all this, which is good. But "whoring" the publication ultimately is not a workable solution, because it erodes the basic value proposition of a news organization. That will not be the savior of independent journalism.
posted by Miko at 8:08 AM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Actually I wonder how many of the readers so up in arms about the Scientology piece are actually subscribers. I suspect less than a single digit.
posted by Miko at 8:10 AM on January 21, 2013


To me, whether they balance the budget is a separate argument from the argument about what they should publish and why. They're all mission-driven organizations, for-profit though they are, and as you noted above, compromising on the mission means alienating the readership.


That wasn't me, that was JHarris. Personally, I think they run the risk of alienating the readership, but only if they're so cack-handed as they were here. They've been trumpeting their success with "native ads" for years now, it took the utterly inept propaganda of David Miscavige for people to wake up and realise what they meant when they touted them. If they're not so negligent in future, I think they'll get away with running them no problem.

I do think that in this brave new, Kickstarter, DIY, shoestring-budget, like-begging future, that people are more comfortable with baldface shilling/begging.

In addition, it's not necessarily a bad business decision to run a low- or no-profit publication. The New Yorker is a significantly defining brand for Conde Nast and it's worth it to them to subsidize this critically and culturally important publication, probably the most important American periodical.

They can only subsidise it so long as they have something to subsidise it with, that is, so long as there's enough Versaces and Bennettons in the world dropping hundreds of thousands on Vogue spreads. That model is dying.

The New Yorker being The New Yorker, even if Conde goes down they may find some kindly billionaire or public fundraising drive that manages to keep them afloat. But I think there will only be one or two titles able to hang on through such means. Like right now if you had to take odds, I think the WSJ and the NY Times will make it, but we may see the Washington Post go down, to say nothing of hundreds of other regional papers.

Web advertising in support of independent journalistic content is basically an unworkable model...,"whoring" the publication ultimately is not a workable solution, because it erodes the basic value proposition of a news organization. That will not be the savior of independent journalism.

I agree with you, basically, i'm just gloomier about the prospets. It's entirely possible that independent, integrity-having journalism as it we know it (or at least as we occassionally mythologize it) will simply die. Or survive like some endangered species, with rich benefactors setting up sanctuaries to coddle and protect the few remaining practicioners, with specialist hovering all round trying to figure out how to get them to mate.
posted by Diablevert at 12:08 PM on January 21, 2013


. If they're not so negligent in future, I think they'll get away with running them no problem.

I do too - that's what I've been saying all along. If they observe the historically evolved parameters of choosing likely partners and designing the ads with enough signals that they're paid, as they usually do, they won't get in much trouble.

i'm just gloomier about the prospets.

Oh, I'm horribly gloomy about the prospects - I just don't think any ad-revenue based model of any kind is going to stave off impending doom. I don't think there's that much point experimenting with it, or pushing the limits of it. It's on the way out.
posted by Miko at 12:17 PM on January 21, 2013


I do too - that's what I've been saying all along. If they observe the historically evolved parameters of choosing likely partners and designing the ads with enough signals that they're paid, as they usually do, they won't get in much trouble.

I think we disagree a bit there -- I think they can get away with completely removing the line between editorial and advertising without a peep from anybody, so long as they stay away from the nutty cults and stick to luxury brand blow jobs.
posted by Diablevert at 12:51 PM on January 21, 2013


I was reading a featured article in Slate today (a really interesting photo essay about the wildlife around Chernobyl), and it was only after finishing the article and clicking on the photos that I noticed it was part of a series called "The Big Questions: The Future of Science Brought To You By Statoil." It wasn't an obvious advertisement or anything, because it had nothing to do with oil. But the theme of "The Big Questions" seems to be the more unsavory aspects of nuclear power, so the whole series could be a sly way to make oil look better by pointing out the faults of a rival energy source. Very subtle.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:08 PM on January 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


The New Yorker a) runs extensive advertorials and b) loses money, and has done pretty consistently for nearly 30 tears. The Weekly World News went under 5 years ago.

On the New Yorker, you're gonna have to site an example, because I've read their magazine a lot and I don't remember them posting any outright fake articles. Unless you're being funny with the term advertorial -- because it's obvious that the problem with the Atlantic's treatment isn't that they accept large text ads, it's that they're so difficult to distinguish from content. If you were confusing the New Yorker's ads, which I can't even remember an example of what you're talking about, with what The Atlantic did with the Scientology and later pieces, I'd have to assume you were being disingenuous or something. (I have a friend who subscribes to the New Yorker who rips out all the ads from the magazine as she reads it. I'd be interested if you could point out these articles directly, because I could pass the knowledge on to her.) On the rest of your points I would respond, except that Miko has already done it for me, admirably.

The Weekly World News is intended as a humorous example of the type that spews forth naturally from my jokey stylistic tendencies, but they are not defunct; it is a section of The Sun now, and is the only reason to read that paper. Suffice to say, you aren't really attacking my point very well if you're honestly responding to that. Pick another magazine that prints Atlantic-style ads masquerading as content -- classic Electronic Gaming Monthly doesn't count.

On the death of newspapers and magazines: it is sad, yes. But each failure improves the situation for the survivors a slight bit, and it's possible that more than one will survive. Not that it wouldn't be good for a multitude of voices to remain in the space. Does anyone know, by the way, that the New Yorker isn't profitable? I thought I remember hearing somewhere that, with it available on both the Kindle and the Apple Store, that it was doing better than its competition. (Alas poor Harper's -- they seem constitutionally incapable of moving online.)

Miko: They won't work well, and we're seeing the reasons right here: to work well for the advertisers, they have to command subscriber eyeballs; and to command subscriber eyeballs, they have to look like interesting content; but if they look like interesting content, the reader eyes are going to look away rapidly.

Aaah, but this is actually because of something I've suspected for a long time -- advertising is grievously overrated. Like the big banks, everyone pretends it works "as advertised," heh, because so much of our media is built upon it.

Paper ads are only very slightly more intrusive than web ads -- and in fact there are lots of web ads now that are MORE intrusive than paper ones, the kinds that darken the rest of the page and slide around doing a seductive dance over the content, and you hope when you click the X button that you're not accidentally loading HOTHOTCASINONIGHTZ.COM, and afterwards you want to punch something (not a monkey).

The reason web ads are undervalued while paper ones are not is because advertisers have hard figures of the click-through rates of web ads, figures that are difficult or impossible to obtain for print ads, and they're assuming they get less of the other knock-on effects of advertising (brand prestige and recognition) from web advertising. Also, I notice (well, assume) that most of the big advertising companies still seem reluctant to make web ad buys for many of their products -- I don't recall seeing any banner ads for dishwashing detergent recently, for example. For all the problems print magazines have had, I still notice my local Books-A-Million has the entire back wall of the store still papered over with mags; that's all advertising money that could go into web ads.
posted by JHarris at 1:33 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


On the New Yorker, you're going to have to site an example

Okay. Here's a post from a photographer whose shot was used in a New Yorker advertorial on Mexico a few years back. The New York Times magazine also accepts them, as can be seen in their online media kit.

As I conceded above, the New Yorker ads don't use the New Yorkers (quite distinctive) house style. But they are "fake" content, written and laid out like magazine articles, taking up whole pages of the magazine. You implied that vast swathes of American journalism, from the heights of the New Yorker to the lows of the WWN, would never do what the Atlantic did. I'm saying they do it all the time, and some of the ones that don't, like the WWN, don't exist anymore. I do grant that the New Yorker may be slightly stingier with their style sheet. But just because they won't let the advertisers use the same font doesn't mean that they're not doing the same thing the Atlantic did --- tricking the reader into paying attention to an ad by dressing it up as content.

In other words, I'd say that the Atlantic was two shades further on the same continuum, not engaged in an entirely different set of practices that other mags would never stoop to. I do think those shades matter, however --- it seems clear to me that desperation is eroding the lines between ads and content to pretty much nothing. The difference is that I don't think most people will notice or care --- hell, I read that same Slate piece Kevin did and didn't notice the "sponsored by an oil company" bit at all.
posted by Diablevert at 2:06 PM on January 21, 2013


I work for a music website. We run no political or religious content besides whatever is in Billy Bragg or Christian rock groups blurbs. I just got an e-mail addressed to me by name and title, with this in the body and a 10 page PDF attached:

While the topic of Scientology continues to be discussed in the media, in light of some of the inaccuracies being repeated (unwittingly in some cases), we have produced an electronic version media guide which gives succinct answers to common questions about Scientology. I understand that the pressure to produce stories can shorten research time, so I hope this alleviates some of this.
We certainly appreciate balance in any stories about Scientology, especially when purported rumours become 'fact' because of a lack of balance or opportunity to respond. We are available for comment at any time for fact checking and this can be either by phone or email.
I also would like to offer to extend an offer to tour any journalists so that they can actually see in person a real Church of Scientology and what happens inside a Church. We have done numerous tours through our churches and are very happy to answer questions and de-mystify the often ludicrous allegations that circulate but has not factual basis.


I'm pretty creeped out.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:30 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


On the New Yorker, you're gonna have to site an example, because I've read their magazine a lot and I don't remember them posting any outright fake articles.

Online, they are actually extremely pure about this. In the print magazine, they do run a lot of advertorial, some of it multipage.

You may be right about advertising never having worked all that well, JHarris.

One thing is, though, that for subscriber-based publications, they actually have a ton more data on that household's income, spending habits, and education levels than you can glean from online clickthrough rates and other online behavior. And that degree of targeting clarity is important to marketers. Also, clickthroughs are one thing, but the main thing that isn't always demonstrated is that clickthroughs result in consumer action. Whereas you can draw that line somewhat well for print, with a higher response rate than web advertising.

Yes, magazines/newspaper advertisers could still be working partly on just the presumption that the advertising will interest the very clearly defined subscriber market, but most companies do of course compare ad results from outlet to outlet, so they can see which are more productive than the other. The Times, for instance, remains extremely productive for us, where I work. There is almost nothing we can do that's as valuable in terms of customer response as a Times insert or fullpage.
posted by Miko at 4:31 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty creeped out.

I'm creeped out at the concept of Scientology Rock.

I expect they just purchased your name as part of some PR hack's 'lifestyle/art/culture' list.
But it could be you are being targeted.
Maybe they want to build influence at the groundfloor.
Maybe they're coming for you.

But probably the former.
posted by Mezentian at 6:57 PM on January 21, 2013


I'm creeped out at the concept of Scientology Rock.

Beck's a bit quirky, but I wouldn't call him 'creepy'.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:08 PM on January 21, 2013


As an aficionado of the Weekly World News, I'll note that they regularly had advertorial copy and that it was often entirely indistinguishable from their regular content save for order forms.
posted by klangklangston at 10:20 PM on January 21, 2013


Also, clickthroughs are one thing, but the main thing that isn't always demonstrated is that clickthroughs result in consumer action.

But isn't it even worse in the case of print ads? So long as you set a cookie in the viewer's browser, you know almost exactly what percentage of clicks result in purchases, since the page the viewer clicks through to is usually where he orders from, where you don't know if it was a print, TV, or whatever ad resulted in a sale in any other medium.
posted by JHarris at 10:23 PM on January 21, 2013


As an aficionado of the Weekly World News, I'll note that they regularly had advertorial copy and that it was often entirely indistinguishable from their regular content save for order forms.

Awww, and I thought they were paragons of virtue. YOU BETRAYED ME WEEKLY WORLD NEWS! WHO WILL TURN TO FOR BREAKING NEWS OF BATBOY NOW?
posted by JHarris at 10:25 PM on January 21, 2013


But isn't it even worse in the case of print ads?

Well...you can isolate communities geographically and show the relationship by correlation, which is how it's done historically, or do forensic surveying to figure out what people have seen at the time they do take action. People don't run around clutching the print ads they've seen, it's true. I'd wager that the correlation method is at least as good as gathering click data, since very little else comes along with click data, usually, whereas in print you can so much more tightly target your appeal and know exactly whose eyes you're in front of.

But one big problem with web ads is that they work better not as "call to action" but as "exposure" or "brand awareness" ads. Sure you can tell whether someone's clicked on an ad, but the vast majority of the time that person does not make a purchase then and there. They may actually purchase the item from a different retailer on a different day, or at a brick and mortar location, after checking you out. This is one reason for the infinitesimally small response to web ads - how many impressions does it take to create an action, and when the action happens, who will benefit from the advertising? For many retailers, the one who gets the sale may not be the one who paid for the advertising.

The same is probably pretty much true for print ads. But in a business like mine, we can and do survey people who walk in the door about what they remember triggering their decision to visit us, and tracking the sources they mention to create an understanding of the relative efficacy of our advertising approaches. Print - paid ads, but also and perhaps even more, media mentions story placement, the work of our PR team - direct email to an affiliation list, and social media are by far the leaders.
posted by Miko at 5:42 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]




Apparently some lawyers have had an interaction with Scientiology.
posted by Mezentian at 6:44 AM on January 24, 2013




Lawsuit alleges purpose of Scientology is 'taking people's money'.

And lawyers don't like people cuttin' into their business!

*cymbal* I'll be here all week!
posted by Miko at 9:22 AM on January 26, 2013


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