Critical Thinking: Are Native Ads a Smart Way to Engage Readers, Or Do They Conflict With Journalism Ethics?
Posted: 1/15/2014 | By: Nu Yang
As the popularity of native advertising grows online, some publishers
and agencies say native ads should look more like editorial, not less. Do you
think this is a smart way to engage readers with online ads or does it conflict
with journalism ethics?
Emily White, 21, senior,
Roger Williams University (Bristol, R.I.)
White is majoring
in journalism and legal studies with a minor in graphic design. She plans to
apply to law schools this fall. White is currently employed at the online
business management firm, Persona-Mill, as video editor, social media
coordinator and copywriter. She is also the vice-president for the Roger
Williams University’s chapter of Society of Professional Journalists.
They are everywhere you click. Native ads. The increasingly
prevalent form of advertisement designed to look like editorial content, verges
on crossing the boundaries of journalistic ethics. In order for native
advertisement to engage readers, it is disguised to look like editorial content.
This practice breaches the public trust. Journalists are meant to be the
watchdogs of society. Their job is to inform the public, not endorse consumer
products. It is the job of the news media to report on industry news, among
other things. It is a clear violation of the code of ethics to brand for
When advertisements begin to look like editorials, the
public will perceive them as such, as a product the news organization supports.
Readers respect editorials, especially from well-known news organizations
like The New York Times. The audience who values the opinion of these
trusted news organizations takes editorials to heart. Native ads made to look
like editorials abuse that trust. The news media honor First Amendment freedoms
and rights when they search for the truth. Along with these rights, come
responsibilities to openly disclose sponsored advertisements in their
Interacting on the web is part of everyday life, and
native ads are part of the experience. They allow the consumer culture in
America to creep into another aspect of daily life. Consumerism is taking over
and it is important news organizations protect themselves from this. The public
needs to be able to differentiate between an ad and the news, and this is the
news organization job. Journalists need to search for the truth, not promote
consumerism. They need to watch the corporate companies and protect the public
if need be. Native ads are not going away, but to become more like editorials,
this is a violation of the code of ethics.
Crittendon, 47, advertising director, The Daily Herald (Roanoke Rapids,
Crittendon began her career 17 years ago as a recruitment
sales executive with the King County Journal Newspapers group in Bellevue, Wash.
She graduated in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communications
from the University of Northern Colorado. Her portfolio includes a media mix of
classified, retail, magazines, targeted publications and digital media
I believe native advertising, for a respected publishing
company, will eventually cause readers to question the veracity of the
publisher’s unpaid editorial content. If a company is willing to let paid
advertising masquerade as unbiased copy written by the publication’s staff, the
readers will leave that publication in search of the truth that isn’t ad copy
dressed up in an editorial overcoat.
Yes, native advertising that
looks like editorial content conflicts with journalism ethics. I fully support
the freedom of the press to publish content in any manner we wish, but I also
vote with my dollars and can refuse to shop with any advertiser or read any
publication or website that accepts advertising masquerading as editorial
content. I don’t think we’re at a point where we want to lose readers in favor
of advertising dollars. We create a worse problem if readers leave in search of
As an advertising professional, I want to fiercely protect
the most valuable commodity my company has to offer. That commodity is news
written by a staff charged with setting aside their personal views and writing
the best representation of the story possible. I don’t want them to step aside
in favor of the story written by the PR team at Coca-Cola.
conclusion might be for publishers to throw their hands in the air, fire all
editorial staff and let their “news” be “sold” to the highest bidder. If our top
“story” today is about Chrysler being the best car company ever, but tomorrow
the top “story” switches the spotlight to Ford, readers will no longer trust us.
The choice to accept native advertising may seem innocuous now, but if
the gold mine goes away with the readers, there really was no point in accepting
the native advertising in the first place.