It’s pretty much accepted that standards of journalism in Australia have fallen in recent decades. A prime example is the proliferation of advertorial in all areas of the media, much of it undisclosed. Witness the morning news shows whose weather segments are almost always brought to you from and by a tourist destination, interspersed with ads announcing cheap deals to those same destinations.
The economics of publishing and broadcasting in Australia are the same at all levels of the media (except for little old web sites like this one). There are big costs involved in manufacturing and distributing content and it appears the whole industry has accepted that content should be pre-bought and paid for by advertisers.
I recall being told by an executive of Channelvision, Canberra’s barely visible cable channel, that if I was considering making any content for them, I had to make a commercial arrangement with somebody to fund the production and airtime.
Another example. I was asked to provide a column, for free, for The Word’s entertainment page. The Word is a free ‘community’ paper distributed like street press.
I was also told that if I could bring some advertisers to the page, I would receive 20% of the ongoing advertising income. I wrote my first column and it was accepted and published without demur. I also enquired with a few venues whether they’d be interested
in advertising on the page but, I have to admit, sales are not my strong point. One publican advised me that the piles of The News in their establishment never got any smaller and they were mainly put to use protecting the carpet in a refurb. Another expressed mild interest but didn’t return my emails. I gave up.
My second column, wherein I extolled the virtues of Canberra’s two longest established live original music venues, didn’t get published. I received no communication from them so eventually I enquired as to why the column hadn’t appeared. I was advised that they weren’t providing free advertorial to anyone and my article would only be published if both the pubs in question bought space on the page.
Our relationship ended there with a curt exchange of views.
What may once have been considered a fairly shameless exercise, a publication which exists solely to put its advertisers’ names in front of unsuspecting readers, has now become the norm in Australia’s media. There is no separation between content creators and advertising salesmen. They are, in fact, one and the same. The cart is no longer just in front of the horse. It has long ago bolted and was last seen heading towards a cliff.
The Word need not be ashamed when their business model is shared by much more august company. Everybody’s doing it, so why get upset about it (besides the fact that you’re a crappy salesman, and possibly writer, and can’t get a paying job in the media)?
Why object when your local street press will only write an article about your band or gig if you buy some advertising space? At least you know they’ll write something nice about you.
Let the reader beware.