As we previously surmised here, once the Elgin Courier-News embraced that slick new selling sponsored content as real news strategy, it wouldn’t be long before the entire Sun-Times Media Network followed suit.
And sure enough, the Aurora Beacon-News just switched to the same web format with riveting breaking news stories such as, “Avoiding heat stroke over the summer,” “Look your best all summer with these healthy skincare steps,” and my favorite, “How do volleyball lessons and clinics compare for player development?” scattered amongst the real news.
The issue isn’t that some stories are sponsored – those things have been around for ages – it’s that they’re no longer clearly marked. So unless a reader makes the extra effort to discern exactly what’s real and what’s not, they’ll simply assume it’s all on the up and up.
And that’s the whole point. Clearly, advertisers are willing to pay significantly more if, by virtue of placement, their propaganda looks just like legitimate content.
It was one thing for the Courier-News to do it because, with the exception of one reporter, who insists upon dabbling in the email equivalent of drunk dialing, they never took themselves too seriously. Their fatalistic approach to being held hostage to those swiftly declining newspaper fortunes and the ever shifting downtown management winds was actually kind of refreshing.
But the Beacon-News is another story.
Right down to the reporters, they’re the kind of group who’d gather at the Friday evening watering hole to lament and curse the cruel fates as they patted themselves on the back for being the only ones who dared to stick to those “tried and true” journalistic standards.
And they weren’t shy about sharing their self-anointed place in the pantheon of few brave souls who do uphold truth, justice and the American way either.
So you’d think that, in light of this clear compromise of canon, those same folks would be quitting en masse to protest this moral outrage and uphold their self-imposed high ethical standards.
Apparently their willingness to take a journalistic stand stops right about where their paycheck begins. And thus, they once again prove that the only standard to which the vast majority of newspaper folk are willing to adhere are the ones that come doubled.
The problem is, both Elgin and Aurora desperately need a newspaper in some form, so the point isn’t to point a finger and laugh as the Courier and Beacon slowly fade away.
The point is to point out that some serious self-examination might just lead to the kind of insights that can turn your slumping fortunes around. Readers still want content, just not the content you’re currently providing and the fact you believe the readers are wrong is the real problem.
Because even if sneaky sponsored content is the key to your survival, it ain’t worth it.