Edvertorial: Back to the Future of Fake News!

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“Neologisms and the Knowledge Society: Functions of Language in the Era of Globalization.” Source: Telefónican Foundation (Spain). Content incompatible with non-Microsoft browser. Click to zoom.

Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. –Symes

Nihil sub sole novum –Ecclesiastes (Vulgate edition)

Cases in point to file under

For a modest fee, Advertorial.org promises to produce and distribute promotional copy that “suggests that someone else has endorsed your product or service.”

It is widely known that people give a lot more credibility to good editorial content than to paid advertisements. After all, anyone can claim that their own product is the best. But editorial content suggests that someone else has endorsed your product or service. Don’t waste valuable time or precious resources in trying to design your own advertorials when you can easily outsource them to Advertorial.org and get them rapidly and efficiently published on the Web.

Paid editorial, not disclosed and prominently labeled as such, and distinguished graphically from independently produced editorial content, is stealth advertorial, also known as “fake news.”

Stealth advertorial is a form of lying to the reader about the source of the message they are receiving.

Fox News affiliates have been caught practicing it in (stealth) partnership with Intel.

The NAACP broadside against the Montgomery city fathers in the early 1960s, which led to the landmark New York Times v. Sullivan case, was a paid editorial insert into the New York Times.

But it was not advertorial. It was clearly marked as paid editorial content, and the NAACP identified itself as the author responsible for the message it conveyed.

Sullivan, who ran the police department that the NAACP claimed “unleashed a wave of terror” against peaceful demonstrators, sued the Times for running it anyway.

Sullivan lost. (So did Westmoreland, in a sense, though the case was settled.)
Had the NAACP bribed the Times to publish the same claims under a Times byline, in the news section, without fact-checking them — some of the factual assertions in the NAACP piece were inaccurate — he might have had a better case to make.

One of the first American newspapers to ban the practice, reportedly, was the New York Herald, in 1848.

I cannot think of any self-respecting news organization that does not at least still pay lip service to this principle today. Except for people who claim to work for the BBC:

Still, if advertorial has gotten a bad name — as a synonym for “fake news” — an Indian innovation journalism venture thinks that if we call it something else, people will no longer mistake the same practice for the practice referred to by that other word, with the negative connotations it has acquired.

A word that, as intensive works with focus groups shows, tends to connote dishonesty and lack of editorial integrity.

In a flash of inspiration, they decide to call it, not “advertorial,” but “edvertorial.”

From the World Press Insitute, with sort of a sophomoric lede to it:

How many of us, when reading the morning newspaper, have to think about the accuracy of the news printed in it? Not in passing but really think about it.

Are you kidding? I live in Brazil. See

A news publication in a media market that is often pointed to for its world-class levels of concentrated media ownership by longtime close personal friends of generalíssimos and coroneis — property of a company that now monopolizes print distribution in São Paulo — omits the following newsworthy finding of a BBC global survey on the press:

Strong majorities in Brazil (80%), Mexico (76%), USA (74%), and Great Britain (71%) believe that the concentration of media ownership in fewer hands is a concern because owners’ political views emerge in reporting.

When I stop by the newsstand in the morning, I tend to assume the news publications on sale here are flat-out bullshitting me as hard as they possibly can — at least until I have boiled them to the point that I think they are fit for human consumption. But Indian readers may be more trusting:

Now India’s largest publishing group, Bennett, Coleman & Co. has its readers doing just that by launching a new category called “edvotorial.” Or simply put — paid news.

Launches Medianet:

Last year the group launched a business division called Medianet. It functions like a paid news desk through which, for a price, advertisers and public relation agencies can place editorial content in certain lifestyle supplements of the group’s flagship newspaper, the Times of India (TOI). The word Medianet at the end of the article informs the reader that the copy is, in fact, a paid piece of news.

Really? Which ones?

The full extent of the disclosure is the word “Medianet”?

At the foot of the copy?

Which is run in the same typeface as other news content, in the same space on the page?

Edvotorial is just advertorial, with a “toxic sludge is good for you” marketing campaign behind it. Duh.

So, too, will odvotorial be advertorial, and udvortorial, and idvurtorial and udvyrtorial. And so on. Call it what you will.

Or is the term “edvertorial”? The WPI article uses both spellings at different points in the article.

“Edvertorial” seems to be the neologism actually in use by the company in question.

How is it that all these distinguished observatories of world journalism always seem to manage to forget to actually practice basic journalistic technique — such as copyediting and fact-checking before clicking “Publish” in their content-management system?

At any rate, Indians (nuclear-armed subcontinental ex-colonials, not “woo-woo” Indians, as Jeeves clarifies in response to a dunderheaded query from Bertie Wooster) apparently do think about accuracy and editorial integrity:

… over the past few years the Times group has had its journalism standards questioned. In April 2000 it launched an online portal, the Indiatimes, and critics accused it of using its extensive editorial space to promote the portal. Then in February 2003 an ET journalist was arrested, along with an online portal journalist, for allegedly blackmailing a stockbroker. None of this has induced the kind of Times-bashing as Medianet has.

Which issues mountains of the usual sort of loud, filibustering, logic-chopping nonsense in reply to said bashing.

Yada yada yada.

That factoid on the ancient prehistory of anti-advertorial, by the way, is from an interesting little paper I found by Fedler and DeLorme, written for the 2003 Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Convention: “An Historical Analysis of Journalists’ Attitudes Toward Advertisers and Advertising’s Influence.”

Like the political parties that subsidized eighteenth century newspapers, nineteenth century advertisers demanded special favors. Most commonly, advertisers wanted editors to publish favorable news stories and to suppress anything unfavorable. Advertisers liked favorable news stories because they were more noticeable and more credible than advertisements. The stories (called “puffs” in some cities and “local notices” in others) simply praised advertisers and their products. Journalists hated writing the puffs. As a beginner paid $10 a week, Blythe complained:

Blythe complains:

“They were advertisements, in news-paragraph style, that ran from 5 to 15 lines each and were inserted on the local pages. Each day had its quota…They were for shoe stores, drug stores, all kinds of stores; and the advertising man guaranteed they would be “bright and snappy.” Think of working all the afternoon and writing two columns of stuff, and then being obliged to…write “bright and snappy” items about Beegin’s shoes and Boogin’s bread, running from five to 15 lines! Those local notices gave me my first pause about the desirability of the newspaper business as a career.”

The arrival of a starting innovation: Mark the difference between the stuff you can vouch for personally and the stuff someone is paying you to print.

So that when Watson’s Patent Snake Oil turns out to cause blindness in adorable schoolchildren — who then appear on TV mewing like tragic kittens and bumping into walls — you cannot be blamed for having personally or editorially endorsed the toxic sludge.

Gradually, editors began to mark the puffs with an asterisk or with the abbreviation “adv.” Or, editors set puffs in a slightly different type. On Jan. 1, 1848, James Gordon Bennett’s New York Herald became one of the first U.S. dailies to ban puffs.

You can see this practice in action in the old Brooklyn Eagle, which the public library has put online.


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