The Inside Truth About "Journalistic Integrity"

A large chunk of my career (16 years) was spent in the world of advertising. I worked for various advertising agencies planning and negotiating and recommending the placement of media for many top advertisers. Basically I spent money, but since it was other people’s money I had to make sure the money was being spent in the right places and my clients were getting the best possible deal. That “best possible deal” involved more than getting the best costs, but also getting the best editorial coverage.

Magazine editors and Television news people who talk about journalistic or editorial integrity always make me laugh. In most cases there is no such thing. One of my first projects in advertising was working for a pet food company. We negotiated with CNN to run pet care segments just to put adjacent to our advertising. Years later working for a major toy advertiser, I negotiated with magazines to run stories on toys from said advertiser, though their readers expected a different editorial selection. When Bayer Aspirin started its campaign about aspirin and heart attacks, to get our ads, magazines ran stories about heart care to run opposite our advertising. News magazines such as Time and Newsweek would run special food sections just to accommodate my food advertisers, Forbes created an FYI section (which eventually became a stand-alone magazine) solely to be able to entice electronics advertisers.


Those giant Coke cups you see the American Idol judges with are simply another type of advertising paid for by Coke. Product placement in movies and TV shows were a frequent strategy I also employed. If you like game shows, well, sometimes the prizes used are actually paid placements by advertisers, even the famous “life time supply of Rice-a-roni.”

It works the other way around also. Trade publications are notorious for reminding advertisers that the best way to receive positive press is to throw them a few ads. Clients of mine have run trade ads precisely for that reason.

And it still goes on, take a look at an entertainment magazine, count the movie ads from each movie studio and compare it to the coverage that studio’s movies receive. While I have never worked on a cosmetics or fashion account, I have sat next to people who have and seen them issue reports to major fashion magazines such as Vogue detailing the coverage their products have received and threatening to pull all advertising if that coverage wasn’t increased. You better believe that the editors threw away “journalistic integrity” to maintain multi-million dollar accounts.

After leaving the ad agency side of the business I switched to the magazine side and was able to see the process from this other side. There is supposed to be a wall of separation between the advertising and editorial staff of the business, but that wall does not exist. For example, as marketing director for a magazine group, I would once a year take the projected ad schedule for the following year and sit down with the editor’s to negotiate what kind of editorial we would need to make those advertisers happy the next year. As publisher of a different magazine, I directed my marketing staff to write articles about advertisers and we would run them in the book next to their ads, with a little slug at the top saying advertisement (in the ad business it they are called advertorials). The trick was to make the advertorials look just like the regular articles in the magazine.

There are two reasons why this is important information in today’s political world.

First, if the advertising sales part of a media company, even with its traditional strict separation from the editorial side, can influence the stories a magazine will publish, just imagine what the influence of a bias that originates from the editorial department. Editors who toss off their “journalistic integrity” so a different department can make money, will easily toss it off to accommodate their own political bias.

The other reason behind this stories importance has to do with some of the criticism against conservative stances. In many cases when a study is published which refutes a liberal stance, the liberal counter attack is never about the facts or the methodology of the study, its usually some big evil corporate group gave grants to the organization who commissioned the study. Sometimes they even point to studies/articles in magazines that agree with the liberal stances as support for their position.

What they don’t tell you is that those same magazines they used as support may be running advertising from sponsors who are demanding those stories be published, just as I did as a media director — or those same “evil corporations” who provided the grants for conservative study may be running advertising in the news sources that oppose the study. In other words, the corporations that the progressives deem as evil, are actually supporting both sides of the argument.

I ran across this on the Heartland site in an article called, Media Matters Lies About The Heartland Institute — Again:

….Wrote Shauna Theel for Media Matters:

The Heartland Institute is a libertarian think tank that hosts regular conferences disputing mainstream climate science and received $676,500 from ExxonMobil between 1998 and 2006, including $90,000 specifically for “General Operating Support — Climate Change.”

Media Matters, and other critics of Heartland, have been beating the dead horse named “they get money from ExxonMobil” for years. Indeed, it’s the same tired “argument” the left uses against any group that questions anthropogenic global warming. But consider this: You can’t read the science journal Nature without being bombarded by ads by from oil companies. Is Nature bought and paid for by “Big Oil”? Is Media Matters tracking gifts from wind and solar companies to environmental advocacy groups? Why not? (That’s a rhetorical question. We all know the answer.)

….Doesn’t journalistic ethics require that these facts be acknowledged whenever the charge of undue corporate influence is made? Of course, journalistic ethics and Media Matters aren’t exactly frequent dance partners.

Truth be told, journalist ethics is an oxymoron not just for media matters but for most of the sources we approach for information. Whether it is AARP articles supporting Obamacare because they stand to make millions of dollars from sales of its licensed insurance products with the bill’s passage or Al Gore’s potential billions from his “green” investments should people actually believe what he pushes in his movie An”Inconvenient Truth.” The only thing you should trust implicitly is the advice given during each episode of the “X-Files” Trust No One and make your own decisions.

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