When Journalism Fuses With Advertising

I’m a broken record, but here’s a new development in the surrender of journalism to public relations and pap: “Collectively.” It appears as a new news site that seeks to emphasize the positive in the world:

Today’s media is obsessed with fear-mongering tactics, and a pervasive pessimism that would have us all believing that “everything is f*cked, and it’s all our fault,” which has had the undesirable effect of making people feel alienated and ineffectual, unable to figure out what they can do to alter the current path we’re on. Collectively will break through that negativity and cynicism to help people learn how they can help. Take meaningful action. Choose to make a difference.

A sort of Upworthy with added Zoloft and a touch of Xanax – perfect for “sharing” on Facebook as an expression of your own personal virtue. And, of course, you keep waiting for the catch, the poll-tested euphemism that will tell you what this site is really about – because you can see no advertisements at all, and there are no subscribers … and … ah, yes … bend over, here it comes:

Collectively symbolizes a new synergy between industries, institutions, and people that moves beyond blame and fault to focus on positive change.

“A new synergy between industries, institutions, and people?” Has your bullshit detector gone off yet?

The founding partners – Unilever, The Coca-Cola Company, Marks and Spencer, BT Group and Carlsberg – wanted to help build a non-profit platform open to the voices and opinions of as many different organizations and individuals as possible. We’re ridiculously excited by the list of highly energized participants who are already on board, and this is just the beginning. VICE Media’s creative services division, VIRTUE, was selected by the founding group to create and curate Collectively with complete editorial independence.

So this is a site directly funded by major corporations to tout their own alleged virtues – and, as Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan notes, it’s a site “run with ‘complete editorial independence’—by an ad agency.” Which is to say Vice‘s. Nolan reports on all the corporations involved:

Vice, Diageo, Dow, Facebook, General Mills, Google, Havas, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Nestle, Nike, Omnicom, PepsiCo, Philips, SAB Miller, Twitter, and WPP, among others.

I’ve been warning for a while that when established journalistic outlets whore themselves out to corporate propaganda through “sponsored content”, they are playing a mug’s game. The only reason these companies are paying these media outlets to disguise their ads as editorial copy is because they can still trade on those outlets’ residual reputation. But as native advertising cumulatively undermines that reputation, magazines and newspapers will lose their luster. Instead, corporations will simply fund and create their own pseudo-journalism directly, and cut out the middleman altogether.

This isn’t some future specter; it’s already here.