WESTERN Australia’s media union is to campaign against the growing trend towards hidden advertorial as newspapers seek to survive in the highly competitive print market.
High on the list of concerns for the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance is the use of trainee journalists as writers of advertorial – stories that look like regular news reports but whose content is guided by a paying customer and often placed near an advertisement for the client’s product.
MEAA branch secretary Michael Sinclair-Jones said the issue existed throughout the newspaper market but was most prevalent in regional and suburban papers.
Mr Sinclair-Jones said the union was increasingly concerned with recent developments, including one regional newspaper’s decision to sack writers based in the advertising department and shift the workload to cadet journalists.
He said public faith in journalism was being undermined by the practice and publishers using such methods were failing in their duty to train young graduates.
“We want to campaign on it this year,” Mr Sinclair-Jones said.
“There has been an increasing tendency in some publications to compel journalists to write advertising copy. It is an abuse of training obligations.
“From a broader perspective it devalues journalism. It is an insidious encroachment on free speech because who is to know whether a story is published or omitted at the behest of an advertiser or some other commercial interest.”
Mr Sinclair-Jones said he was not opposed to advertising or clearly marked advertorial-style advertising but was most concerned when journalists were forced to write advertising that was disguised and readers could not immediately tell it was a paid plug or message.
The MEAA is to publish its concerns in this month’s edition of the journalists’ association’s journal Scoop.
Mr Sinclair-Jones said some publications had strongly resisted the trend towards advertorial, naming the Shenton Park-based Post News-papers publications, The Kalgoorlie Miner and WA Business News as examples.
He also said WA’s daily newspaper The West Australian had a long standing policy against journalists writing advertising content.
Post Newspapers owner Bret Christian said the practice had arrived in WA in the 1980s when the now defunct Western Mail introduced the tactic to win business in its struggle against The West.
Mr Christian said that had educated businesses and advertising agencies to demand it.
But he said he had successfully resisted this pressure, avoiding hidden advertorial and offering only infrequent features clearly identified as advertising.
“We run the odd feature and that is clearly marked, but as far as advertorial goes it is basically a con trick on your readers,” Mr Christian said.
“You are masquerading a commercial enterprise as news.”
He described the practice as a poor training ground for journalists because they were taught not to question what they were told and, in the end, it would kill a newspaper.
“I have a little speech I give advertisers and they understand it,” Mr Christian said.
“If you write them up, the paper would be full of stories about advertisers, then people would stop reading the paper and their ads wouldn’t work.
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