The news media have a number of responsibilities and while it may come as a surprise to some, one of those responsibilities is telling the news. Long, long ago, it was decided that people needed to be kept informed about the world around. From town cryers to news papers to the Internet, the mechanisms used to report news have evolved to ensure greater accuracy and distribution. Along with this however was the recognition of how much money could be made through advertising and sponsorship.
Take for example any online news site that you may be using right now. Go ahead. Bring it up. I’ll wait.
Got it? Ok. If you scroll down the side of that screen and look at the stories popping up, you will find clear evidence of journalists tackling important issues like looming war with North Korea, Supreme Court debates and environmental crises. To balance these heavy topics, you may also see stories about small-town by-elections, someone’s 105th birthday and something called “Nipplegate”.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on if you are in the business of making money through the news media), some of the other headlines you will find talk about contests for trips to Hawaii and the latest top 10 bathroom reno ideas. This kind of native advertising (or sponsored content) is a little like an alligator hiding in the brush: it is essentially camouflaged to look like its surroundings so you can’t tell the difference but the onus is still on you to figure it all out.
This is where things started to go off the rails a little. While these items sometimes carry labels saying they are sponsored, they usually appear deceptively similar to real news. That can cause some measure of concern in a world where information overload can carry the side effect of dulling our a ability to sift the wheat from the chaff.
One study found that “while 40 percent of users believed they were using ad blockers on their computers, only one in four (26%) actually used the software on their PCs” and only “15 percent use them on their smartphones.” (iab, 2016)
Now, there is nothing with making money. In fact, money is the beginning of some very positive things that we all need like food and shelter, not to mention smart TVs and hot tubs. But, it can be challenging for any organization to stay focused on lofty goals like telling the truth or keeping the electorate informed when the very tangible goals of staying in business take over.
iab.com. (2016). Five Tactics Can Persuade Two-Thirds of Consumers Using Ad Blockers on Their Computers to Turn Them Off, According to IAB Study. Retrieved from https://www.iab.com/news/five-tactics-can-persuade-two-thirds-consumers-using-ad-blockers-turn-them-off-according-iab-study/