Well, it seems pretty clear where the editorial staff stands. Goldblog touts Lawrence Wright’s new book on the subject (which, if it is anything like as good as his past work, will indeed be a must-read); Fallows tweets diplomatically but obviously with some concern. To its credit, the magazine pulled the pro-scientology propaganda advertorial pronto (if you call 11 hours pronto). Eric Wemple has a good summary here. My immediate thought was that this was overblown, and then I saw the sheer extent of the piece:
Look, these are extremely tough days for magazines and what David Bradley and Justin Smith have done to resurrect this pillar of American letters is quite something: a tour de force financially. James Bennet’s editorship has been a model for others. But advertorials in the Atlantic? For cults? What I’d like to know is how extensive the use of advertorials now is at my former beloved home. Maybe this was a one-off, quickly ended. Or maybe it wasn’t. But the integrity of a great magazine needs defending. Wemple ominously notes from his reporting:
Natalie Raabe, a spokeswoman for the Atlantic, says that such “native ads” are making their way onto TheAtlantic.com on a “regular basis,” though figures weren’t immediately available. Native ads are critical to The Atlantic’s livelihood. They are one element of digital advertising revenue, which in 2012 accounted for a striking 59 percent of the brand’s overall advertising revenue haul. Unclear just how much of the digital advertising revenue stems from sponsor content. We’re working on that.
The heart sinks.