Big media companies, with deep connections to powerful corporations, are always looking for more ad dollars. They're also deathly afraid of existing ad dollars getting pulled. They routinely spike stories, distort coverage and re-purpose facts to ensure their advertisers are portrayed in the best light possible.
Basically they do the opposite of what we do at Americans.org.
But their current verbal acrobatics isn't enough, as media giant CNN announced on Tuesday the formation of a new unit that won't report the news but will instead take money from corporations and produce content that is confusingly similar to news but is actually PR for its clients.
The name of this slimy new unit? “Courageous.”
CNN‘s foray into “news-like content on behalf of advertisers” is the latest in a trend of “news companies from the New York Times to BuzzFeed to the Wall Street Journal having units that create advertiser content," according to the Wall Street Journal's own marketing blog.
The Journal‘s Steven Perlberg notes, “These undertakings often raise church-and-state questions about the divide between the editorial and business sides of a company."
We've dealt with this exact issue here at Americans.org. Native advertising, where sponsors present editorial content, is a great way for an operation like us to make money. But it can also be slimy, especially if we're the ones doing the writing.
Would you trust anything we ever said if we wrote both for Toyota and about Toyota air bag recalls?
CNN claims that advertisers will come to Courageous because of CNN‘s “trustworthiness” and unwillingness to “blur the lines.”
Yet this is a business strategy that only works if the similarity of marketing content outweighs the differentiation.
Which is why we have a policy that we will never write advertiser content. Ever.
We also won't sell ads directly to advertisers for native ads. We think that even having a direct relationship with an advertiser is enough to corrupt our editorial process and so we won't do it.
Instead we only run ads through third parties and never know which ad is biggest or best on our site. If an advertiser wants to show up on our site, they place their order with our third party. If they want to pull their ads, they do it with them.
Through this whole process we see nothing and know nothing.
We keep publishing our honest opinion of American and world news. You keep getting great, unbiased, coverage of what's important each day.
We label all our ads, so you know what is sponsored and what is news coverage.
If we ever change this policy feel free to throw this article in our face. But we firmly believe in being as independent as possible from our advertisers and would never pull a big media company move like writing stories about advertisers.
You have our word.