Every now and again you come across a quote that tells you everything you need to know about what’s going in journalism. It’s from the New York Times’ pioneer of native advertising/sponsored content/brand journalism, Meredith Kopit Levien. Her blather about deceiving readers into believing they’re reading journalism when they’re actually reading advertising was brilliantly skewered by John Oliver over the summer. Now over to Joe Pompeo:
Levien watched the clip for the first time the next day with Times publisher and chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who encouraged her to have a good laugh over it.
“I think John Oliver is hilarious, and I think he did the most clever take one could have on the risks and downsides of native,” Levien told me a month later during an interview in her glass-enclosed 19th-floor office with enviable Hudson River views, though she admitted: “It was my first experience with random people tweeting negative things at me.”
Her rebuttal? “The best way to preserve editorially independent, high quality journalism is to preserve the business model. And I think the idea of branded content that shares a form factor with editorial is a great first step.”
Let’s look at that quote a little more closely, shall we?
The best way to preserve editorially independent, high quality journalism is to preserve the business model.
But the NYT is not “preserving” the business model. If it were, Ms Levien would not have a job. The NYT would be relying on advertising as it always has – and clearly distinct from its editorial side. She was brought in explicitly to change the business model, by fusing advertising and editorial so that it becomes increasingly hard to tell the difference between the two, and thereby to get higher rates from advertisers. She was brought in to sell the newspaper’s core integrity for revenues. Then this:
I think the idea of branded content that shares a form factor with editorial is a great first step.
How does a person who speaks English translate that? “Branded content” is what we once called advertising. “Shares a form factor with editorial” means an advertisement designed to look as much like editorial as possible. So let’s put this in English:
The best way to preserve expensive journalism is to change the business model so that corporations will buy advertisements at higher rates because we promise to disguise them as editorial.
And that, one realizes with a shudder, is just a “great first step.” I wonder what the second one will be, don’t you?