One of our lecturers asked us the following question: what’s the most important part in a magazine? Everyone shouted either content or editor. His answer? Wrong! Advertising is what keeps the project alive. Where are you going to get the money from? He said with an inquisitive tone, as if we were naive to not even think about it, and we probably were.
We live in a capitalistic society. You need money to make money. Media is a business that constantly sells goods or ideology, it is by no means a mere product of culture. As highlighted by Durham and Keller in “Media and cultural studies: keyworks”, communication researcher Dallas Smythe argued that the audience, rather than consuming a service produced by the media, is enslaved: its role represents “unpaid work at the service of the advertising industry”. It may seem an extreme point of view, but we have to consider the effect of advertising on editorial content.
In recent years we have seen an increase in what the industry calls “a native advert, or sponsored content”. What is sponsored content? In a nutshell, an article that instead of informing, is promoting, but pretends to do the first. Or does both. An example: let’s say i’m reading about how high cholesterol is bad for you, but then the writer suggests going to Subway because it’s healthier than other fast foods.
Sponsored ads from Buzzfeed, in the red rectangles
It’s quite a clever but freighting way of advertising. Marketing platform “Contently” “surveyed 509 consumers ages 18 and up, showing them one online brand sponsored piece from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Altantic, The Onion, BuzzFeed or Forbes or an actual article on Whole Foods in Fortune. In four out of the six groups shown a native advertisement, a strong majority said they thought the ad was an article”.
When it came to planning our magazine, we were told to reconsider stories that were too politically and socially strong for the companies that were supporting us. How do you expect to get funded by Tissot when you talk about a women-only tribe in Kenya formed to escape rape and genital mutilation?
As an aspiring journalist, it may look depressing at first. However, it is true that you do need to be paid for your job and without advertising doing this profession might not be even possible, unless you write for independent publications or have private funds to disburse. I think Marx himself put it best: “The writer must earn money in order to be able to live and to write, but he must by no means live and write for the purpose of making money”.