We’ve all seen it—a newscaster interviewing a “guest” about his/her corporate business. Turns out the interview is a commercial dressed up as news. The practice has become so prevalent, it’s been given a name: native advertising. Why native advertising? Because news stations, news websites, newspapers, and news magazines need funding. In growing numbers, journalists are drawn toward the siren song of businesses with the bucks to rent them by the hour.
The pitch? Give us your credibility and we’ll give you a fat check. I’ve seen everything from home security systems to windows to grocery stores to plastic-surgery services hawked by reporters.
Professional Ethics: But there’s an obvious problem here; what if these “interviewees” become news? Will not the station that recently promoted their product/service be compromised in its reporting? Even if the newscaster possesses the professional ethics to report an unbiased story, I’ll still question everything that comes out of her mouth.
Lobbying: Second, the news-interview format gives interviewees’ statements credibility and, thus, draws business to their firm. Well, that’s the point, right—for the interviewee, at least. But news strives for objectivity—lobbying has no place in the news room. Those businesses that choose to give native advertising a miss lose out.
Plastics: My last concern proceeds from the prior one. Being interviewed by a newscaster renders the business itself not only credible but necessary. When newspersons hawk a particular grocery story, it’s one thing: we all need to eat. When they’re pushing plastic surgery, that’s another thing entirely. One interviewee—a plastic surgeon who clearly practiced what she preaches—pronounced the need for plastic surgery after every childbirth. “And if the mother nurses, those breasts are bye-bye” she said through Botoxed pouty lips. So now every woman who has birthed and nursed a child and not gotten herself nipped and tucked gets to feel flabby and ugly. The news said so.
What is the answer to native advertising? I wish I knew. Perhaps we can look at Consumer Report’s model, or perhaps you have an idea. This I do know: a strong, impenetrable line needs to be drawn between news reporting and the promotion of private business. Commercializing the news is dangerous. It’s unjust. And it needs to end. Period.