Advertising as content in Washington Post

So, I was on the computer today when my mom showed me this insert from The Washington Post:

"China Daily", an occasional advertising "section" of WaPo that essentially fails to declare itself advertising.

I was initially concerned, and it’s still a little unsettling. After flipping through this little advertising number — including articles with a positive slant about the U.S.-China trade war, the World Trade Organization, global innovation — I almost wanted to gag. I mean, I’m sorry, but it’s kind of disappointing. I understand strategic communications and that innovation is necessary to keep the attention of consumers and readers, but I feel like this fails in being advertising as it pretends to be news. Ad agencies know that consumers can easily get confused about what is news and what is not, particularly now that the definition of news is changing. But blatantly using the news format as a way to subversively portray an image that may not be accurate—and let’s be real, China has a tendency to do this — is just downright bad.

Here’s the link to the “blog” on The Post’s website. Thankfully this “blog” declares itself a paid addition to the website, but it’s still just very uncomfortable to me. Now, it’d be unreasonable to jump to some conclusion that The Post and the People’s Republic are in cahoots, but this intentional blurring of the line between what is news and what is not is very concerning. Especially when it comes to international relations.

It’s good that they at least manage to squeeze in “AN ADVERTISING SUPPLEMENT TO THE WASHINGTON POST” in a tiny margin on the top of the insert. I understand that a huge declaration of advertising would ruin the whole idea behind something like this. But the question, in my mind, really boils down to why a publication like The Washington Post would allow something like this. I know that advertising keeps this industry afloat…but really?

Thanks for clearing that up.

I’m not hounding The Post for their advertising strategies, because newspapers have to do what they have to do to keep advertisers on board and keep revenue up. But this just seems like a last-ditch effort to me.

The Nieman Lab did a study on this blog, and essentially asked the question, “Is it worth it to subvert traditional news journalism by using it as a format for advertising?” I know that the ever-feared ethical debate is so unappealing, but I really think this is ethically compromised. It’s disappointing.

There’s also a paid supplement for Russia in The Post, called “Russia Now”. Apparently it’s been there since 2007. I certainly am late on this news.

As journalism changes, I’ve become more open to expanding definitions of news and how it’s presented. But that doesn’t mean it should be compromised or compromise itself. If I’m going to pursue a profession where accountability is key, I expect my superiors to be pursuing the same goals. And this makes me doubtful.


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