Buzzfeed, Native Advertising and Death of the Free Press: Media Vaccine Defenses aren’t Merely a Case of Pliancy to please Ad Sponsors. They are Ads.
Buzzfeed, Native Advertising and Death of the Free Press: Media vaccine defenses aren’t merely a case of pliancy to please ad sponsors. They are ads.
Advertising is the rattling of a stick in a swill bucket. ~George Orwell
A fellow contributing editor recently brought attention to yet another hit piece against Dr. Andrew Wakefield and Miranda Bailey’s film The Pathological Optimist in Buzzfeed titled The World’s Most Notorious Anti-Vaxxer Wants a Second Act.
The article was penned—or, you might say, grammatically assembled—by a science reporter named Azeen Ghorayshi who once studied fruit fly neurogenetics at UC Berkeley.
Readers are free to review the article themselves but a quick summary is that it’s like listening to pigeons cooing in an echo chamber without a single humanizing word about the severely disabled individuals at the center of the controversy or the harrowing rise in autism.
Coo coo coo Brian Deer quote. Coo coo coo Paul Offit quote.
Because that’s what journalists from the mainstream media and pseudo-alternative media like Buzzfeed represent: carrier pigeons, or stenographers or all of the other derisive names (hack, shill) used for reporters who simply repeat the party line.
And where’s the party? It’s in the pants of multiple industries—especially the pharmaceutical industry— their shareholders and corrupted regulators where the fidgety hands of complicit journalists are lodged in the delusion they’re reviving the fourth estate, the death throes of which are accelerating because of something called “Native Advertising” or “Sponsored Content.”
Native advertising is when ads or other forms of commercial promotion or defense are disguised as news content, supposedly to overcome consumers’ growing “banner blindness” and ability to ignore obvious ads. Since its advent, native advertising has been like a progressive disease toppling one press giant after another and advancing from promos so blatant that they could hardly be accused of stealth to promotions so subtly entwined in “regular content” that it would be impossible for viewers or readers to distinguish without actually seeing the contract.
Imagine opening the New York Times one day and reading coverage of, say, the catastrophic effects of a category 5 hurricane on an island nation that’s been fighting back against the oil industry’s attempts to control offshore drilling and having no idea that descriptions of looting, misappropriation of charitable donations, and the general fecklessness and compensation fraud among islanders has been brought to you courtesy of Shell Oil because dead men floating face down in flood waters don’t picket.
Engineering public approval for the victimization or abandonment of certain populations or even certain sectors of our own society is not new and is the theme of Manufacturing Consent by political media analysts Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman. In an interview for Byline, Chomsky states, “This [native advertising… in Buzzfeed and Vice] is exaggerating and intensifying a problem that is serious and shouldn’t even exist in the first place. The reliance of a journal on advertisers shapes and controls and substantially determines what is presented to the public.”
That which should not exist in the first place has already been happening for a long time in terms of vaccine injury coverage. Especially in Buzzfeed. The public has long become numb to distortions but native advertising represents another lurch down and our boiling frog status doesn’t make the prospect any less terrifying. The difference between advertisers traditionally “influencing” or issuing flak to control coverage or, as in the case of native ads, directing and essentially writing coverage on issues of global impact save for a few flourishes, may not be huge but it’s essential, particularly in terms of what a career in journalism now represents and the kind of reporters it attracts. For aspiring journalists, it’s like the difference between, say, signing up with a modeling agency or signing up with the Bunny Ranch in Las Vegas. For the former, fresh recruits understand their bread and butter work may involve a lot of synthetic crap, mutant editing and cleavage though they may dream of high end editorial. For the latter, they enter with the knowledge they’ll have their hands perpetually shoved down clients’ pants by contractual obligation.
In any case, I have no idea why otherwise well-informed people aren’t screaming about one of the worst threats to freedom of the press in the US since HUAC, but now might be a good time to bring up the subject using Buzzfeed as Exhibit A.
BuzzFeed’s Future Depends On Convincing Us Ads Aren’t Ads
BuzzFeed makes the majority of its money on ads that pretend to be content, but can it keep up this charade? Or, is the Starbucks-sponsored “10 Summer Emojis That Should Definitely Exist” no charade at all, but actually the future of media that we should just smile and accept? These are the questions that popped out to me from the news that Andreessen Horowitz invested $50 million in BuzzFeed at an $850 million valuation.
What was missing from the announcement (and much of the news coverage) is that the deal inked in April would not have been for display advertisements – the industry term for ads, like those seen on the Guardian’s website, that appear on a webpage’s margins or inside an article. BuzzFeed doesn’t run display ads at all: the advertising it solicits, accepts and places on its site and promotes on social media is native advertising, sometimes known as sponsored content, and includes sponsored videos. In 2015, two marketing companies calculated that the minimum buy-in for a native advertising campaign at BuzzFeed was $100,000; that gives some sense of the potential scale of the now-scuttled RNC campaign.
Buzzing towards victory with native
To seamlessly deliver social, content-driven ads to more than 100 million monthly unique visitors, BuzzFeed needed a customized and robust infrastructure that could reliably serve ads across platforms. It turned to Google’s DoubleClick for Publishers platform as a trusted solution for ad serving and inventory management. “Ad serving is one of the few things we outsource, because Google’s DoubleClick for Publishers does it well,” says Eric. “DoubleClick for Publishers provides the scalability and reliability that enables us to focus on what we do best, and it gives us the credibility that comes with working with the industry leader.”
Demand for native campaigns and content has never been higher. Thousands of advertisers are purchasing native ads each month, many for the first time. As native adoption and demand have exploded, formats have also broadened – from native “editorial” to programmatic native and beyond.With so much complexity in this area, how are today’s top publishers defining and committing to native? That internal definition guides their strategies and approaches to working with partners, brands and agencies. It also helps shape the content they feature within their publications.My company, MediaRadar, recently hosted a panel discussion bringing together some of the top experts in digital media to talk about native’s future. Senior advertising executives from BuzzFeed, The New York Times, The Atlantic, Hearst Digital and Quartz were featured.
Journalists in the U.S. don’t have guns to their heads forcing them to report only news which fits official or commercial doctrine. Excluding the admittedly dangerous category of American war correspondents abroad, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, among 1,253 journalists murdered around the world, only 7 were North Americans killed on US soil and the confirmed motives had nothing to do with corporate payback.
Even if it could be argued that “military industrial” assassination rumors of reporters like Gary Webb and Michael Hastings cause a chill among mainstream journalists, these are the same journalists prone to dismissing corporate conspiracy theories. Journalists in the US don’t even face fines and jail time like Spanish journalists under the repressive and valiantly protested 2015 Ley de la Mordaza. Instead, the threat facing journalists in the United States—if you could call it a threat—is what Noam Chomsky calls the “filters” of the mass media: ownership, advertising, sourcing, flak and ideology.
In short, the most potent threat to journalists who wander astray of doctrine in the US is that they will be filtered, i.e., won’t have a viable, paid career in journalism. No one is making them do what they do. Even if some reporters kid themselves that they’re making worthy tradeoffs in adulterating certain stories to be able to report on others which they may deem more important or more impactful, what precise principles or boundaries do they think content-sponsoring corporations or their publishing companies adhere to in preventing an all-out descent to the ninth ring of hell if not journalistic principles which have already been sold? Do they think the “free market” will put on the brakes? And even if one of the issues driving the cowardice is that a generation of young professionals are essentially student loan serfs (Ghorayshi’s alma mater, for instance, is among the most expensive public universities in the country even for residents and is ranked as the most expensive college town in the US), why didn’t they just opt for careers in hedge fund management or cocaine trafficking instead of stinking up a professional principle that, in other eras and other countries, journalists have risked or are risking torture and murder to uphold? Quite aside from the tragic role the media has played in allowing the worst medical disaster in history to escalate unchecked, I think this makes our current breed of mainstream reporters among the most spineless, gutless wonders in the history of journalism.
Adriana Gamondes is a contributing editor at Age of Autism and one of the blog’s social media administrators.