Better “Sponsor Content”

May 30 2013 @ 11:48am

Since I’ve bashed the concept as blurring the line between editorial and advertizing, it’s good to see that publishers are beginning to be clearer about the difference. Atlantic Media’s Quartz does a much better job than its predecessors. Take the headline first:

Screen shot 2013-05-30 at 10.22.34 AM

That’s impossible to miss. Better still, the following simple sentence at the end of the piece:

This article is written by Boeing and not by the Quartz editorial staff.

I remain queasy about bringing an ad agency essentially in-house – because Quartz’s marketing department works with corporations to write, conceive and presumably edit their ad copy, which comes perilously close to editorial work. But as long as there is no overlap between the two staffs, marketing and editorial, and there are no lateral moves from one to the other, the perception of corporate control of journalism is mitigated. Not eliminated – I refuse to buy the propaganda that these are simply “better ads” – but mitigated.

Meanwhile, the Grey Lady has done something actually quite interesting and innovative on this front. It already has an app for navigating this bewildering, dense, rude, urine-baked tunnel-warren of a city.

And they could easily have incorporated the new Citibike guide on their app without Citibank actually paying for it. But they got the money from the sponsor and provided a service to local readers on top. I agree with Joshua Benton on this:

It’s a callback to the classic news advertising idea — we assemble the audience, you provide the content, we make a match — in a mobile, apped-up world… And it’s a match that can go both ways: The Times says that Citi Bike’s own iOS and Android apps will be updated this summer to feature … The Scoop’s listings of restaurants, coffee shops, and the like.

The difference, it seems to me, is that this content isn’t really journalism as such. It’s data you could get elsewhere (which bikes are available where, etc.) and, combined with the NYT’s version of Yelp, it’s obviously useful – unlike an editorial from some executive at IBM.