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The cost of journalism
August 4, 2014 6:39 PM   Subscribe


 
This post sponsored by HBO.
posted by miyabo at 6:47 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]




Oliver's doing fantastic, teeth-to-the-throat work, and he's funny as hell too. He's eclipsed both Jon Stewart and Colbert for me these days, maybe just because he's the new kid on the social-criticism-as-comedy-news-block and the other guys, much as I love them, are maybe more constrained by the corporate structure they're stuck in. Or they're just tired. I couldn't begrudge them that.

I've actually noticed Jon Stewart showing his teeth a bit more these days, and wondered if the longer-form stuff John Oliver's been doing has inspired him to push a bit harder.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:06 PM on August 4 [12 favorites]


man this fpp is so timely. I was just haranguing my partner over how much anguish i feel over not knowing if I can trust, and therefore not being able to trust, this waaaay too helpful review on amazon.

Amazon review fraud seems like, if sellers aren't doing it, what the hell is wrong with them? I can't conceive of a 2014 where online review fraud is 95% of all reviews.
posted by rebent at 7:10 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]


I wish I had phrased that differently, I didn't mean it to sound so jerky.There have been quite a few John Oliver posts lately and it's easy to miss the corresponding content over on FanFare, which, again, is totally awesome. Carry on!
posted by Lorin at 7:13 PM on August 4


Someone hook rebent up with the post about full time amazon product reviewers who receive tons and tons of free swag in exchange for reviews.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 7:21 PM on August 4


I think Oliver's argument is misguided and sanctimonious. There's been advertorial content since the days of Pulitzer.

Plus, he's wrong that people can't tell what's sponsored. They can, actually. If you check out the number of clicks or shares on any piece on a sponsored Buzzfeed, Gawker, Business Insider, Atlantic, Vice article, fewer people are clicking on it than almost any half-assed blog post, and people don't tend to share those posts as a rule.
posted by Michael Pemulis at 7:23 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]


Plus, he's wrong that people can't tell what's sponsored. They can, actually. If you check out the number of clicks or shares on any piece on a sponsored Buzzfeed, Gawker, Business Insider, Atlantic, Vice article, fewer people are clicking on it than almost any half-assed blog post, and people don't tend to share those posts as a rule.

I would love to live in that universe, but I feel like that's absolutely the opposite of true. Clickbait and advertisement "news" are all over social networks and shared like CRAZY. I don't know if you're looking at stats for one specific site or something, but every one of my friends is seeing this stuff absolutely cover their feeds on just about everything they use. The only people I know who even discern whether something is "real" content or this kind of crap are hardcore geeks or people who actually work in advertising.
posted by trackofalljades at 7:38 PM on August 4 [22 favorites]


So is there a firefox plugin I can use to block or hide sponsored content?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:46 PM on August 4 [7 favorites]


I think Oliver's argument is misguided and sanctimonious. There's been advertorial content since the days of Pulitzer.

And it's been a problem throughout! The show itself mentions that and gives a telling example, the "Camel News Caravan" on NBC in the 50s.

Plus, he's wrong that people can't tell what's sponsored.

RARG ARGH RRGAH GRAH HRGAG

(er, ahem)

The first thing I hate about this sentence is something I've noticed a whole lot of over the years: using a plural as a sneaky way to imply everyone, when it actually technically means only more than one.

That is to say, it's easy to make blanket comments about "people" that are strictly true, while using that statement to imply a vast majority. People often don't know it's not sponsored (you don't even need to fool half the people to have a sizable, and basically dishonest, effect!), and the fact that people can, by looking carefully, see the little SPONSORED CONTENT notice doesn't mean they're going to, not when there's a wide internet to read and not a lot of time to take it in.

They can, actually. If you check out the number of clicks or shares on any piece on a sponsored Buzzfeed, Gawker, Business Insider, Atlantic, Vice article, fewer people are clicking on it than almost any half-assed blog post, and people don't tend to share those posts as a rule.

I've already said what I had to say about people, but the fact that the number is non-zero is, itself, telling. If everyone could immediately tell that all "native advertising" was paid sponsorship, then why on earth would anyone bother to do it?
posted by JHarris at 7:48 PM on August 4 [41 favorites]


As a small data point, in the world I currently inhabit (gaming), sponsored posts intermixed with real news on the sites I frequent are constantly hawked as a product to advertise with. The sales people readily admit that the traffic with those stories is much, much lower than real news, but point out that the clicks are still much higher than other ads on their site (banner ads, skyscrapers, etc).

So at least on those sites, people by and large can tell the difference between ad stories and real stories, and avoid the ads.
posted by shen1138 at 7:49 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]


shen1138: "So at least on those sites, people by and large can tell the difference between ad stories and real stories, and avoid the ads."

Wouldn't the proper measure be if people clicked on ad stories at the same rate as banner ads?
posted by pwnguin at 7:52 PM on August 4 [3 favorites]


Plus, he's wrong that people can't tell what's sponsored.

So it's obvious to you whether that helpful Amazon review by rebent linked is legit or not?
posted by straight at 7:52 PM on August 4


But compare those "native ad" stories to the stories on the same sites exposing the scandalous practices of the advertisers... IF YOU EVER FIND ANY.

In the segment, Oliver said (quoted in jharris' FanFare post) "So if I want to say that, for instance, Cadbury Creme Eggs are filled with dolphin sperm, or that Old Navy clothing makes you look like a tacky murderer, or that Snickers only satisfies you for about eight minutes and makes you hate yourself for the rest of the day, I can! I can do all of those things! It's because of HBO's business model, which no one has been able to adequately explain to me yet."

Actually, HBO's business model is explained in this post from yesterday (although I disagree with the linked article's contention that the Music Industry should try to adopt the same thing). But it's nice to know that The HBO Model makes John Oliver's show possible (and in its weekly dosage, even better than The Daily Show right now), in addition to supporting the weekly bloodhsed and boobs on The Sopranos and Game of Thrones. Which takes us back to Blue Beetle's Law (as seen on my chest right now) and why MetaFilter will never be as successful or important as Buzzfeed. Now, if, instead of the Projects Page, Matt allowed self-links and charged for them... [DELETE DELETE DELETE DELETE ALL RECORDS OF ONESWELLFOOP ON SITE]
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:57 PM on August 4


I would love to live in that universe, but I feel like that's absolutely the opposite of true. Clickbait and advertisement "news" are all over social networks and shared like CRAZY.

Agreed. If I found a bottle that said "Share a Coke with MYRON", you can darn well bet I'd get that sucker on Facebook. Even savvy cynics like myself can be stupid sometimes.
posted by themanwho at 8:00 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]


Plus, he's wrong that people can't tell what's sponsored.

Huh?! I'm a pretty devoted Times reader and I was gobsmacked when I saw in Oliver's piece that the NYT piece on women in prison was an advertorial. I really had no idea.
posted by faux ami at 8:19 PM on August 4 [7 favorites]


I just wish there were an easier way to tell the clickbait stories from the real ones before clicking. I often will click on a seemingly innocent headline only to realize as soon as it loads that it's sponsored so I close it. But by that time the click was already registered and marketers count it as a success. The company gets nothing because I forget who they were or more often actively hate them for shady practices, but the asshole marketer boosts its numbers to attract the next desperate company.
posted by downtohisturtles at 8:28 PM on August 4 [4 favorites]


The small-font disclaimer is plausible deniability. The publisher can plausibly deny responsibility for fooling the reader. I don't know if its ever been challenged in court but imagine the FCC or BBB has had something to say.
posted by stbalbach at 8:35 PM on August 4 [3 favorites]


Plus, he's wrong that people can't tell what's sponsored.

Really? Got a cite for that? I would be interested to read it.

Wouldn't the proper measure be if people clicked on ad stories at the same rate as banner ads?

I think so. Virtually nobody clicks on banners ads. Oliver's stat was fewer than 0.2% of banner ads served are clicked. This link says it's even lower than that.

Many people hate ads. They avoid them where possible. It's plausible, if not exceedingly likely, that the click rate on advertorials is a product of deliberate deception. Or else how do you explain the discrepancy in the click rates?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:37 PM on August 4 [3 favorites]


Plus, he's wrong that people can't tell what's sponsored.

That's just it - I'm not a moron, and even I've been duped. Halfway into a reading an article, I get the "hmm, they sure mention CorpA a lot. And it is never, ever even halfway negative. Oh, look, there it is, on the bottom of the next page 'paid advertisement'" and then, I want 4 minutes of my life back.

And the thing is - like murderers and bank robbers - you only ever hear about the ones that were caught. And that is because they screwed up somehow. If the advertisers have done everything correctly, they never get caught. So, yeah, some - most - will, but some won't and who will it be ?

Man, I need to go watch They Live again.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:48 PM on August 4 [15 favorites]


Plus, he's wrong that people can't tell what's sponsored.

I now have a source to counter this contention. Apparently the findings of a forthcoming study by Professor David J Franklyn (McCarthy Institute for Intellectual Property and Technology Law at the University of San Francisco School of Law) address the issue. From a recent panel event:
Consumers skip over labels, and even when they see them, many don’t understand what the labels mean, said David J. Franklyn, professor and director at the McCarthy Institute for Intellectual Property and Technology Law at the University of San Francisco School of Law, where he researches consumer knowledge of native and search advertisements.

“When people are presented with a story that looks like a story, they think it’s a story,” said Franklyn, who presented a study that surveyed 10,000 people both in the US and abroad. “What we’ve found is that there is deep confusion about the difference between paid and unpaid content.”
This article, reporting on the same event, has some more detailed figures.
Respondents to his study “didn’t remember seeing ‘sponsored by’ posts when asked to read a web page and the majority (over 50 percent) also didn’t know what the word ‘sponsored’ actually meant.

These results augment more preliminary findings from the study which stated that sometimes people don’t understand what the word ”ad” means, and even with disclosure, as much as 35 percent of people when asked to identify the type of content they were viewing, said that it was not an ad.

What this study sheds light on is that we do not have a homogenous group of consumers in terms of knowledge and expectations. People struggle with differentiating paid from unpaid ads. The bottom line? Context matters more than labels.
So, Oliver's not wrong.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:59 PM on August 4 [19 favorites]


It's John, not Jon.
posted by John Cohen at 10:02 PM on August 4 [4 favorites]


More or less appropriate / classic: David Lynch on Product Placement
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 10:06 PM on August 4 [7 favorites]


Well, now I feel guilty for not signing up for Slate Plus.
posted by middlethird at 10:26 PM on August 4 [3 favorites]


It's not illegal to not disclose a conflict of interest or run a paid content story without labeling it as such, right? I feel like the point is it's only a matter of time before that becomes standard practice.
posted by phaedon at 10:41 PM on August 4


For a lot of outlets I can shrug and sign up for the necessary evil argument. Just keep it the fuck away from my films, books, and rick & morty.
posted by pwally at 10:41 PM on August 4


TIME magazine, which has been slowly and gently fading since about 1975, is now officially done, over, finished, dead. RIP 1923-2014
posted by benito.strauss at 11:02 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]


There's been advertorial content since the days of Pulitzer.

The book Toxic Sludge is Good For You, while more on the PR / propaganda side (although what's the difference) covered this territory 20 years ago, which certainly predates the internet gutting of whatever journalism had going. It's still worth reading today.
posted by MillMan at 11:15 PM on August 4 [7 favorites]


Before he started doing the Evening News, Walter Cronkite hosted a Morning Show where part of the job was to do live, ad lib commercials... which ended for him after the first day. Here's why.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:28 PM on August 4 [5 favorites]


stavrosthewonderchicken: maybe just because he's the new kid on the social-criticism-as-comedy-news-block

Oh man, you've got about seven years worth of The Bugle podcast to happily wade through then. Right now John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman on summer break, but that just means you can hear old sketches from the radio show Political Animal, that they did together. Zaltzman and Oliver are funny enough that even their old stuff is still funny, even if the news they're satirizing is barely memorable. For the last seven years there hasn't been a more reliable indicator of future happiness than hearing the sound that's played at the start of The Bugle.

Content not paid for by The Bugle Podcast; I'm just a hopeless fanboy.
posted by Kattullus at 12:02 AM on August 5 [8 favorites]


Oh man, you've got about seven years worth of The Bugle podcast to happily wade through then.

No, I've been listening to and loving the Bugle for probably six of those seven years. I just meant on TV, specifically American TV, in that particular modern niche that Stewart and Colbert have pretty much created.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:46 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


True story: the magazine I work for accidentally received a mass e-mail sent by one of our competitors, presumably to potential sales clients (how we ended up CC'd I have no idea). The e-mail gave a short paragraph on the exciting advertising opportunities they had to offer, followed by a list of advertising options, going gradually up in scale. The fifth item on the list: writing an article about "your company or organization" that would be printed as a news piece. Just straight-up saying "Yes, Management of Said Company, we will actually write an ad for you, in news article format, that no one will ever know is an ad."*

This practice has gotten more insidious over the past few years alone. No, you cannot always tell when something is sponsored content. Because there is all kinds of sponsored content, including and not limited to ostensible news sites deliberately selling ads in "news" format to companies, with absolutely no intention of informing their readers that they're actually reading an ad; not the news.

*My boss, the EiC, replied, "CAN YOU SIGN US UP FOR #5?"
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 1:23 AM on August 5 [9 favorites]


I can't view the video, so I don't know whether Oliver bothers to explain what "Native Advertising" actually is, but the two links I followed from here didn't make it very clear to me. Wikipedia describes it in such a way that I struggle to see how it differs significantly from what used to be called "targeted advertising". Can anyone join the dots for me a bit?
posted by Decani at 3:27 AM on August 5


Okay, sorry to derail but I've kinda been away from TV for awhile and when I tried to watch the video I simply could not connect the voice and the face. Did Oliver have major facial work done? It's not just the hair. Dang.
posted by kinnakeet at 3:58 AM on August 5


Just straight-up saying "Yes, Management of Said Company, we will actually write an ad for you, in news article format, that no one will ever know is an ad."*

Sadly, this seems only a short walk from the practice of printing lightly-rephrased corporate press releases as news, a practice so ubiquitous that it's almost invisible now.
posted by murphy slaw at 4:16 AM on August 5 [7 favorites]


Did Oliver have major facial work done?

Looks very much as he always has, to me, just a bit older.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:26 AM on August 5


I can't view the video, so I don't know whether Oliver bothers to explain what "Native Advertising" actually is, but the two links I followed from here didn't make it very clear to me.

There's another phrase for it we've used in the past when talking about it here, but I can't remember what it's called. Remember a while back the Atlantic had this puff piece about David Miscavige and Scientology, all praise-singing and stuff, and it looked exactly like every other piece of content, but was labelled in teeny-tiny print 'this thing was paid for by LRon and his crew'.

That's a pretty canonical example there. Basically paid content, which is advertising, in print or other media, that is labelled as such in unobvious and possibly even obfuscatory ways.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:32 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Seems like not everyone agrees with John on this one. Also, as previously mentioned, The Bugle currently and previously, is well worth a listen.
posted by fullysic at 4:48 AM on August 5


Seems like not everyone agrees with John on this one.

That was pretty weak sauce, but it at least turns funny when you hit the byline: Richard Parker is managing partner at content marketing agency Edge.

So, yeah, not everyone.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:57 AM on August 5 [17 favorites]


Amazon review fraud seems like, if sellers aren't doing it, what the hell is wrong with them?
posted by rebent at 9:10 PM on August 4


I run a small press, and I solicit reviews of course (send free copies of my books to reviewers) but I don't fake reviews or pay people to write them or pretend they're news or whatever because ew. For me, my integrity is worth more than that.

I recently had an argument with another small press publisher, who does what he calls "DIY marketing" (and also called "trolling" but then recanted that description when I challenged him on it, although it's probably accurate) which he described as "getting a bunch of people" to "descend" on a news site or the comment page of a magazine or wherever they think people are reading and having everybody talk about - and get into fights about - his books. To "create buzz."

I think this is contributing to the decline of honest communication and isn't ethical, and told him so, but he seems to be selling a ton of books. It makes me feel like a sucker for having ethics.
posted by joannemerriam at 5:25 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


joannemerriam I don't mean to imply that individual sellers are engaging in this kind of thing, but rather that the large, ubiquitous companies are doing so. The companies where you think you're buying from one company but you're actually buying from a parent company that makes all the competition as well.

like, oh wow, this bag, made in a different country and cost-cut down to the wire, has 3.6 stars while this other bag, made probably by the exact same company but under a different brand, has 2.9 stars but a really well written review. I just can't comprehend a system that allows customers to rate products that isn't eventually destroyed by companies where the money is more important than the integrity.
posted by rebent at 5:41 AM on August 5


It's John, not Jon.

I figure the inattentive are inadvertently trying to right the balance for a hundred thousand references to "John Stewart" online.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:53 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


So native advertising is just an organic outgrowth of sellout artists allowing their songs to be used in commercials (ohhh but musicians need to eat too!!!). We should all celebrate this as yet another convergence of artistry and commerce like we did when the chocolate accidentally got thrown into the peanut butter. American deserves nothing better than this. You all owe Bill Hicks an apology...
posted by any major dude at 6:07 AM on August 5


I can't view the video, so I don't know whether Oliver bothers to explain what "Native Advertising" actually is, but the two links I followed from here didn't make it very clear to me. Wikipedia describes it in such a way that I struggle to see how it differs significantly from what used to be called "targeted advertising".

Well, targeted advertising is knowing a demographic, finding it and feeding them the ad that corresponds with who you think would likely purchase your goods or services.

Native advertising is content that is created by a news organization that lays beside news content for the purpose of highlighting something the sponsor wants you to know. Native *can* be targeted, but it doesn't have to be.
posted by inturnaround at 6:30 AM on August 5


I was curious, so I found that Buzzfeed article which HBO sponsored for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:
10 Things More Informative Than The 24 Hour News Cycle

posted by cyberscythe at 6:33 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


I can't view the video, so I don't know whether Oliver bothers to explain what "Native Advertising" actually is, but the two links I followed from here didn't make it very clear to me.

From JHarris's excellent summary, linked above:
Part of the problem is that traditional banner ads are extremely ineffective. So they devised a new form of ad called native advertising, which New Yorker contributor Ken Auletta describes: "native advertising is basically saying to corporations who want to advertise, we will camoflauge your ads, to make them look like news stories. That's essentially it."
For a deliberately clear example, compare this regular ol' post on the The Awl with this one sponsored by National Geographic. When you're scrolling through on the main page, The Awl is decent enough to shade the background of sponsored posts differently from the rest, but otherwise their appearance is very much the same. Other sites (and other types of media) are not always so decent.
posted by psoas at 6:34 AM on August 5


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posted by dr_dank at 7:05 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


dr_dank is a man of renown

His love of Chesterfields is abound

If you're pregnant or a teenager

you'll like them, I wager

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Burma Shave
posted by Chitownfats at 7:59 AM on August 5 [5 favorites]


Sadly, this seems only a short walk from the practice of printing lightly-rephrased corporate press releases as news, a practice so ubiquitous that it's almost invisible now.

Sometimes not even rephrasing them at all, let alone checking the veracity of the claims made in said press release. But that to me is "just" laziness. Hawking articles to companies for cash is just brazen greed, and patently deceptive.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 8:46 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


What with this and the apparently shocking revelations that Google reads your emails I can't work out if I turned into David Icke or everyone just turned gullible as shit.

It's all paid content ffs. How can people be surprised by this?
posted by fullerine at 8:52 AM on August 5


For a deliberately clear example, compare this regular ol' post on the The Awl with this one sponsored by National Geographic. When you're scrolling through on the main page, The Awl is decent enough to shade the background of sponsored posts differently from the rest, but otherwise their appearance is very much the same. Other sites (and other types of media) are not always so decent.

See, I don't have any problem with the way The Awl does this. Look: "advertorials" have been a part of the magazine business for time immemorial. I've received issues of The New Yorker that have devoted multiple glossy pages to the virtues of visiting/doing business in Costa Rica, or Pennsylvania, or wherever.

But advertorial content always looks very different from the rest of the magazine. The graphics are different, there's a banner at the top that says "paid advertising" or something like that, sometimes even the paper stock is different. Shading the background and putting a line at the top that says "sponsored content" is basically the web equivalent of this.

There are some sites - I think BuzzFeed is one of them - that deliberately make their native advertising disclaimers difficult to spot. This is unethical. But not all sites do it this way, and if you do it the right way, "native advertising" is no different from a paid magazine insert.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:54 AM on August 5


But advertorial content always looks very different from the rest of the magazine.

Except for when it doesn't.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 8:58 AM on August 5


My main complaint about reporting like this is that there isn't more of it.

Advertisers spend billions with the intent to influence culture in a way that they can profit from. And while every other cultural arena gets reviewed, analyzed and commented upon—to the point of tedium—there's little criticism of marketing practices per se to be found in mass media. For obvious reasons. John Oliver has probably done more of it since he went on the air than HBO has done in its entire history.
posted by Flexagon at 1:01 PM on August 5


so as an example of native content: How many brands can you recognize when you take the logo away?
posted by rebent at 1:16 PM on August 5


So native advertising is just an organic outgrowth of sellout artists allowing their songs to be used in commercials

Not really, no. Same genus, different species. but all looking like giant spiders
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:17 PM on August 5


In the not everyone agrees link, the Edge Content Marketing Director states...
" everyone hates advertising and marketing. It’s the way they just force us all to buy things we don’t want, right? Because without them we would all be happy eating shit food, driving cheap, shit cars, living in really ugly homes and wearing head-to-toe velour. "
...which is the BIGGEST LIE I've seen on the Internet this week (and that's something). Advertising is how 'they' get us to "be happy eating shit food, driving cheap, shit cars, living in really ugly homes and wearing head-to-toe velour (or its 'fashion of the week' equivalent)". Quality sells itself. Advertising sells shit. And this asshole knows it (in his heart, if he has one).
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:25 PM on August 5 [5 favorites]


stavrosthewonderchicken, I also noticed that Stewart has been doing longer pieces and using the correspondents less. Unfortunately, that's not his style, if it ever was, and those pieces fall well short of the standard that Oliver is setting.

I will admit I've been caught by native advertising. But John is right, I'm not willing to pay for the news. It's shitty, depressing, and misleading. I'd rather pay for HBO.
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 8:49 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]




Mo Rocca hasn't been on Daily Show for a very long time, and if memory serves most of his tenure was during the Craig Kilborn years.
posted by JHarris at 11:43 PM on August 5


No, Mo Rocca was there for five years, from 1998 until 2003. He started under Kilborn, but most of his time was during the Stewart era.
posted by Kattullus at 3:52 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Correction: Monsanto's public announcement was made before Rocca officially agreed to do the hosting gig... and he has refused. (Side note: you think a corporation that gets THAT wrong should be believed when they claim their products are 'perfectly safe and beneficial'?)
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:44 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


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