Sony writes salon article
December 2, 2002 10:54 PM   Subscribe

Sony writes 'article' for Salon. In an effort to find new revenue streams, Salon has published an ad/article written by Sony Corp. National Geographic and Parent Soup have also published ad/articles, though the New York Times said no. While the articles do not directly reference Sony products, the feature people who do fascinating things with technology... technology which, it just so happens, is advertised conveniently right next to the technology featuring passage. Is this sort of thing ever ethical? If so, what sort of disclosures are necessary. Clearly the ad/articles are intended to appear to be regular content.
posted by 4easypayments (29 comments total)
Well, magazines do this crap all the time, although usualy the formatting is a bit diffrent. Whatever keeps salon afloat, I guess.
posted by delmoi at 11:05 PM on December 2, 2002

Both the title of the HTML page and the header for the story say "feature by Sony advertising series." Isn't that a clue that it's advertainment? I wouldn't agree that it's 'clearly intended to appear to be regular content.'
posted by kfury at 11:06 PM on December 2, 2002

Also worth noting that upon leaving the page, the reader is presented with a popup that says "Feature by Sony: Thank you for taking the time to read our article" and goes on to invite the user to take a survey.

While I dislike popups as much as the next guy, this is more evidence that sony is being up-front, even intrusively so, that they penned the article.
posted by kfury at 11:09 PM on December 2, 2002

I wouldn't agree that it's 'clearly intended to appear to be regular content.'

While it is indicated that the article is part of the "feature by Sony advertising series", it is presented as an article, presented in the same format as usual content.
posted by 4easypayments at 11:16 PM on December 2, 2002

salon sucks anyway. it used to be cool and then it became all right wing republican. and then they asked you to pay to read their incendiary biased articles.

does anyone know of a good internet magazine alternative to salon?
posted by twentynine at 11:16 PM on December 2, 2002

I hate the fact that the line between editorial and paid content becomes blurrier all the time, but as delmoi pointed out, Salon is hardly unique, this practice of imitating the editorial format is legion. Salon and Sony seem more scrupulous in identifying it as such than many that I've seen. You do have to be an alert consumer today though.

I wonder if these advertorials are even the worst offenses - NYT (and other media) may feel pure by rejecting these, but I would say pure as the driven slush. When it comes to giant media conglomerates, does anyone really think that their news coverage and feature stories aren't being influenced by advertisers and corporate keepers? The strings that are yanking our chains may be thin in these advertorials, but at least we can see them if we look. Not the case with the nightly news though.
posted by madamjujujive at 11:25 PM on December 2, 2002

I used to write a regular column for the Age newspaper in Melbourne, Australia. It was about stuff, anything I felt like really, and I decided to write an article about why flatter was better in TVs. So I went to the Sony shop and checked out the then new Wega Trinitrons.
And I thought well, if I tell them that I'm planning to write a full-page article about their TVs on page 2 of the Saturday Extra, I could get a discount, because I wanted one...but you know where that sort of thinking leads.
So I bought the TV, and only then did I tell them why I was there. And a couple of months later Sony started running a new TV commercial in Australia, advertising the Wega model, and which ripped off my article.
But what can I say? It's still a damn fine TV.
posted by chrisgregory at 11:26 PM on December 2, 2002

This sort of thing happens all the time in newspapers, especially the smaller ones. I know because I worked for a smaller newspaper and had to write "features" about the jackasses that had bought ads and, now that they had bought their way into being interviewed for "features" would growl things at me like "I'm the customer" when I asked questiong they didn't like.

Yes, it happens all the time. Yet every new instance of it makes it not one tiny degree less nauseating.
posted by argybarg at 11:32 PM on December 2, 2002

Do we get a new FPP every time Salon tries a new ad strategy?

Incidentally, it was explicitly labelled as sponsored by Sony, so I didn't think it was unethical when I ran into it this morning. Also, the idea that Salon is right-wing republican made me snarf me coffee -- any Salon-related Metafilter thread will clearly include 15-20% "Salon sucks anyway" comments, but that was just funny.
posted by blissbat at 11:49 PM on December 2, 2002

All news publications are kept afloat by advertising revenue. Advertisers choose where to put their dollars based on audience. Audience exists only for as long as: a) the news product is interesting and b) the news source is trustworthy.

By allowing Sony to subvert the independence of its reporting, Salon is casting its trustworthiness into doubt. The side-effect: if these advertorials continue to appear on Salon, readers' trust in non-advertorial editorial content will fade, the audience will diminish, and the advertising dollars will dry up. Meanwhile, Sony will have accomplished its goal of getting consumer eyeballs and the company will turn its ad dollars somewhere new.

Reporters who believe in journalistic integrity ought to shudder at the thought of their integrity being available for a dime, too. I know a lot of small time papers do this kind of thing. I'm lucky to work somewhere that gives us freedom not to kowtow to the big advertisers. But it's the national media that set the stage for the rest of us.

This is not a good example. The New York Times made the right call.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:56 PM on December 2, 2002

does anyone know of a good internet magazine alternative to salon?

It's not cool to say so around here, but I really like Slate. Especially the Supreme Court Dispatches, Whopper of the Week, and Explainer columns. I miss Randy Cohen's News Quiz, though.
posted by Vidiot at 12:04 AM on December 3, 2002

Hey I'll bet they'll try anything to get relisted.
posted by PenDevil at 12:12 AM on December 3, 2002

When will you people quit linking Salon premium articles?!?!?

Thanks for wasting my time.
posted by crasspastor at 12:56 AM on December 3, 2002

crasspastor: it's not a premium article.
posted by 4easypayments at 1:03 AM on December 3, 2002

Given that the Sony piece is a blatant piece of advertorial and is clearly and intrusively labelled as such, I don't see what the problem is.

Save your concern for instances of true duplicity, such as celebrities being paid to pitch products on talkshows, or actors being hired to spread "viral" buzz among unsuspecting members of the public. (Sorry, I'm too lazy to dig up the links.)

In fact, the ideal of "journalistic integrity" is always a matter of debate. Even with the most ostensibly independent of media outlets, there is always open for manipulation by skilful lobbyists. The entire public-relations industry is built around this fact.
posted by plenty at 1:36 AM on December 3, 2002

Ack. for open, read room.
posted by plenty at 1:38 AM on December 3, 2002

Wired are doing the same thing with Sony at the moment. If you're not looking carefully, you read it as one of Wired's 'ain't technology soooper?' features rather than a 'Sony advertising feature'.
posted by humuhumu at 1:41 AM on December 3, 2002

and b) the news source is trustworthy

...that explains the popularity of tabloids and gossip mags, then.

Imagine if the product placement in every film since the concept was invented had to be subtitled. This is merely product placement in a written article- Salon is the boring movie.

The most "harm" done is that someone buys one or two units- being good for both Salon, Sony, and consumer. I doubt this will reflect poorly on Salon's credibility considering the brand power Sony has over the internet-utilising population.

I for one like being informed about what new toys are out there- whether i read the critique of a journalist (with its own prejudices), or the press release of the company.
posted by elphTeq at 2:13 AM on December 3, 2002

no-one's commented on just how goddam-awful the article is. two yuppies "sell all their posessions" and then, poor things, jet around the world with expensive digital technology toys playing at saving the planet...
posted by andrew cooke at 3:24 AM on December 3, 2002

all your content are belong to us. eventually, there will be no distinction:

"Gerry, what a terrible day here at the World Trade Center! As you probably know, most of those crushed firemen were wearing NOMEX OMEGA Firefighting Suits, comprised of a Tunic with torch loop, radio loop and 2 internal pockets and chest-height trousers with braces, padded knees & 2 external side pockets!"

"That's right, Phil! And until all communications collapsed just like the towers, those firemen were using Motorola's new top of the line XTS 5000 portable radio! Ready and equipped to meet the needs of demanding environments, it's the most interoperable radio of its class! It's Motorola's newest maximum performance two-way radio that is equipped to meet your demands as well as provide a piece of mind with secure communications, at least until buildings fall on them. Back to you, Gerry!"

posted by quonsar at 4:53 AM on December 3, 2002

quonsar: Haven't you been paying attention? Think back to when the Xbox or Playstation2 was released.

The last newsbite on most local television stations was about how everyone was lining up and getting ready to buy this new toy. It explained that everyone was hyped because of the super-duper graphics and the doodads and the whatchamacallits. They showed pictures of kids and parents lining up, had soundbites of "experts" exclaiming it's the "best console ever" and stories of how it "will probably sell out, so you have to get one soon before they are gone."

Then they cut back to the talking-heads in the studio who make inane comments like "that sure seems popular" or "I know my kid wants one".

That's nothing more than a paid time slot by Microsoft/Sony for the last 30 seconds of the show. The content is entirely created by the corporation and is then sent to the news station.

They do the same thing when a car company releases a new car, or a reality show is about to show their season finale, or a new piece of software is released to the public.
posted by grum@work at 5:39 AM on December 3, 2002

While it is indicated that the article is part of the "feature by Sony advertising series", it is presented as an article, presented in the same format as usual content.

Again, fairly common among magazines and newspapers. I live with a couple of girls (and, yes, I have found that life is a frolic and laughter is calling for me) and this is fairly common in women's magazines. While the format is similar, it carries a disclaimer at the top and bottom of the page saying "Special advertising section." Not the most desirable scenario (which would be, I suppose, advertising free content?) but far from anything new.
posted by mikrophon at 6:03 AM on December 3, 2002

No, not earthshakingly new -- and I think that both Salon and the NYT made the right decision. What's right for one venue may not be for another. There's plenty of precedent for advertorial content, as long as it's labeled. We should concentrate on the abuses when it isn't -- such as the video advertorials that (say) pharmaceutical companies send out to every local TV station in the country, pre-edited so the anchor or reporter can be dropped right in as they parrot the spiel, disguised as a "health feature". Some stations will point out the source, even add in independently-researched material, but many others run these straight to fill time.
posted by dhartung at 9:12 AM on December 3, 2002

You people who excuse this stuff with "it's nothing new, happens all the time, no big deal" amaze me. All kinds of bad things happen all the time. Yes, this isn't murder or armed robbery, but it's eroding whatever integrity is left in the media, and if people don't complain it will continue to do so until there's no such thing as news, just "paid content." Remember the story about the frog swimming around contentedly in the pot as the water is slowly heated to boiling? Say "ribbit," everyone!
posted by languagehat at 9:22 AM on December 3, 2002

salon, please just die already
posted by tsarfan at 9:35 AM on December 3, 2002

The fact that it's labelled as sponsor-generated content today does not mean that it will be tomorrow, or the day after, or ever again.

If no one enforces the truth in advertising laws, and advertising becomes editorial, then there will be no more truth in journalism as a rule. We're not far from that already (CNN muzzled this story about the protesters outside its own door/via Memory Hole).

Pandora's box has fallen off the slippery slope and is now open for business.
posted by skimble at 11:14 AM on December 3, 2002

It's a bit unfair to hype this as bowing down to advertisers. It's listed in at least three places in plain view "feature by Sony advertising series." Those types of articles are unethical if they're displayed as regular content. But this is not the case for Salon. Salon sucks but this complaint has little ground to support it. I have written for various publications and found that anyone will be quick to accuse you of whatever they can think of if something is not written to their exact specifications or in their view. It's easy to point that finger from the outside. There is such a huge divide between the editorial and advertising departments, even in small papers I've worked for. If there isn't and ethical lines are crossed as argybarg noted, find another employer.
posted by jtb102 at 11:37 AM on December 3, 2002

"This is not a good example. The New York Times made the right call."

doesn't that depend on what's best for the NYT's stockholders? i think if sony offered enough money, it would simply become the Sony New York Times.
posted by muppetboy at 11:57 AM on December 3, 2002

blissbat, all i can say is:
posted by twentynine at 7:40 PM on December 3, 2002

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