The NYT Follows Buzzfeed

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The pinnacle of American journalism is now hiring a Dell employee to write its “articles”:

“We wanted to start with someone who we thought really understood how to be a great storyteller,” said Meredith Kopit Levien, evp of advertising for the Times. “And [Dell global communications managing editor] Stephanie Losee was [a writer] at Fortune. She has deep journalistic chops herself. So this was a very deliberate choice to go with Dell.”

Let me get this straight: the New York Times is hiring a copy-writer as a pseudo-journalist because she used to work as a real journalist. Time Inc is now having its “editors” report directly to the business side and the NYT is opening its elegant blue-stocking legs as wide as it decently can to accommodate a computer company. This passage was particularly revealing:

Dell used its launch ad to spotlight stories on topics like millennials in the workplace, marketing tech and women entrepreneurs. The campaign, which is set to run for three months, contains a mix of content from its own newsroom, articles from the Times’ archives and original stories by Times-contracted freelancers on Dell-chosen topics.

My italics. So Dell is now a “newspaper” partnering with the New York Times. By which I mean that the New York Times will actually hire people to write Dell’s ad copy and make it look as close to the rest of the paper as possible. Then this:

After Dell, a handful of other clients whom the Times wouldn’t name have committed to using the product in the coming months. But the labor and cost of creating native ads is a hurdle, and the Times made it clear that it sees the product as suited to only a limited number of advertisers. It won’t come cheap for the Times, either, which is looking to hire a dozen or so people for a “content studio” to staff the effort.

Always follow Orwell to the language. Have you ever heard of a newspaper having a “content studio” before?

Note that the NYT is not simply taking Dell’s ad-copy and gussying it up to deceive casual readers into thinking this advertizing is editorial (with a firm disclosure as a fig leaf). They are creating an in-house team to write the fricking ad-copy and calling it “content”. So what is the rest of the paper? Non-content? What is a newsroom but a content-studio?

Yes, they will add a clear identifier – and better than most. But, as Adweek notes, since the whole point of native advertizing is to deceive the inattentive readers into reading it because it looks an awful lot like regular copy – this is a very wobbly and blurry distinction. And when viral pages get completely disconnected from the rest of a news-site, the clear contrast between ads and journalism is close to invisible.

So look: it’s time to congratulate Jonah Peretti. He sure is winning. The business of journalism is now indistinguishable from the business of public relations. The New York Times has a newsroom. And so does Dell. Dell has an advertizing department – and the New York Times helps staff it. In the future, most big companies will have their own newsrooms (read: propaganda/advertizing outlets) and independent journalistic institutions will just have competing newsrooms, increasingly dependent on the corporate in-house “content studios” and answerable to them. At some point, and certainly at the rate we’re seeing, the distinction will soon evaporate altogether.

We are all in public relations now. Thanks, Mr Sulzberger.