How much of the news you consume is paid content? If you have no idea, don’t worry – the vast majority of us are in the dark too.
The Financial Times has published an article that shows that there is much more ‘sponsored content’ or paid news than we realise. The article showed that, while the print industry is in rapid decline, newspapers are scrambling to generate as much advertising revenue as they can. In the United States alone, $800 million was spent on sponsored news content. BI Intelligence believes the relatively new phenomenon is likely to skyrocket in the coming years, estimating a growth rate of 33 per cent, leading to a paid news spend of $3.4 billion in 2018.
While advertising revenue is essential to sustaining the lives of the papers, a number of commentators have foreseen some problems that the industry may face in the coming years. Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP, the world’s biggest advertising group, has said that it’s dangerous to mislead the consumer. There will be a strong chance of consumer backlash when the line between news and advertising content is eventually blurred.
Surely you can identify a paid piece of content, right? Although consumers are now much more aware of the tactics contemporary advertisers employ, it may be pretty difficult to sort the news from the paid content.
The Financial Times uses the example of an article that appeared on the Mail Online website. Here is the headline: Beaten and starved, 40-year-old man kept as a slave in ‘concentration camp’ conditions FINALLY sees his captors brought to justice. Although a newsworthy article and perhaps a frightening story of terror met with staunch human resolve, the story was in fact only published because it was paid for.
The words Sponsored by Home Office accompanied the article, highlighting the fact that the story was in fact paid for by the British Government. Why? To raise awareness about modern examples of slavery.
The territories of journalism and advertising have always been separate, known in the industry as the “separation of church and state”. What this investigation conducted by the Financial Times illustrates is that although sponsored content may be largely made up of sound news at this point in time, the large publishers of the world may well be teetering on the edge of a very slippery slope.