Sun/Province: real stories or paid-for propaganda?
How do you tell the difference between journalism today and prostitution? Hmmm…
Sorry: it’s not a joke; there is no punchline; it’s only a question I’ve been asking myself since reading the ”major” Vancouver newspapers last weekend.
Saturday Aug. 28 on page A-16 in The Vancouver Sun there were two captivating stories: the first, topped by a full page headline entitled “A new revolution in home entertainment”; and, the second, another piece entitled “Impact of PVRs on commercial TV expected to grow as time-shifting increases”.
Both stories dealt with PVR technology for home television and both were what seemed to me as quite ”positive” to the technology . But since I have a PVR and enjoy it, nothing seemed amiss to me … even when I noticed there was also a large ad for Telus’s PVR services filling out the rest of the page.
There was nothing to indicate the stories, written by a Terrence Belford “for Postmedia News”, were part of an “advertorial” or “Special advertising feature” etc. The ad and the stories side by side, filling the entire page, looked like just a coincidence or even very clever legitimate page makeup , I concluded.
Until the next day, Sunday.
There in the Province,on page A-25, were the same two articles, written by the same reporter from “Postmedia News”: one now titled “Rising tide of PVRs to transform TV” and the other headlined “They’ll put power in hands of viewers, says media prof”.
The only differences were that the story at the top of the page in the Sun was at the bottom of the page in The Province and the story at the bottom of the page in The Sun was now at the top of the page in The Province. And the stories were shortened in the Province, I assume because its tabloid-style pages are smaller.
BUT again, right beside the two … filling out the rest of the page the EXACT SAME Telus ad, promoting its PVR service.
Now that’s quite a coincidence, I thought, if another completely independent page editor at The Province had the same brilliant placement idea as his “competition” at The Sun… put the two PVR stories next to the Telus PVR ad.
Or is it all part of an Advertorial or Special Advertising Features in both papers, I wondered?
Try as I might, I could not see anything on either page in either paper that would identify these stories as part of any paid advertising. That concerns me.
Our major newspapers, I believe, long ago sold off part of their independence by publishing those special sections on Homes and Cars etc. But they are usually set apart from the rest of the newspaper and can be easily discarded by readers who aren’t interested in either subject or don’t want to be subjected to promotional puff pieces that pander to advertisers.
So those sections have not really bothered me … much. The newspapers do need the money, and the sections are easily identifiable for what they are.
The possible Telus/news stories relationship, outlined above, troubles me more. Much more.
Both in The Sun and The Province they all appeared together in the “A” section of the paper. That, to me, is the news section–the real news section–and a reader should be able to trust that ALL stories run in that part of the paper are true, independent news stories or features conjured up or taken from news wires by the papers’ news and assignment editors–not the sales department!
To run anything but that in the “A” section is bad enough; to run advertising or promo pap in the “A” section AND NOT INDICATE IN ANY WAY that it is advertising related is insulting to the reader and a danger to real journalism!
I had no idea, when I saw the duplication in the papers, what was going on. Maybe it WAS just an incredible coincidence? But it bothered me.
were Sun and Provinces readers fed paid-for propaganda disguised as news stories? Did anyone else notice what was going on? How are we to know whether what we are reading is indeed truly assigned by real news editors and not orderded up by the promotion department?
If ad-supported stories are being mixed in with legitimate news, and not CLEARLY identified, I believe it injures the integrity of the newspaper and even the credibility of all reporters whose bylines appear on pages facing or anywhere near the phony copy. How are we to know which reporter’s stories are genuine and which are paid-for promos?
Of course, as I’ve noted on this blog before , I am retired and although I love commenting on issues, I no longer do a lot of investigative inquiries or research. But this was too important to let pass: the public have a right to know whether what they are reading is advertising-linked. And the newspapers themselves deserve a chance to explain and assure us all that advertorials or stories specifically linked to ads are clearly identifed as such.
So I contacted them both.
Next blog: the reaction from The Sun and The Province to my inquiries about those two peculiar pages! You’ll be amazed!
This column originally appeared in Mr. Oberfeld’s blog, Keeping it Real. Reprinted with his kind permission.