The Soapbox – Making concessions for advertisers

I was drawn to an article on the Sydney Morning Herald last week (courtesy of Mumbrella) as an age-old debate reared its ugly head yet again.  In the wake of the David Jones saga, it seems the media hasn’t missed being drawn into the mire…

Ian Verrender, in his capacity as business editor for the Sydney Morning Herald, revealed that previous reporting by his paper had come under criticism by former DJs Managing Director, Mark McInnes.  An article that had appeared in the paper’s CBD column a while back and Verrender, who was in charge of that section at the time, mentioned that there had been clear pressure from the paper’s advertising team that those sorts of comments wouldn’t cut it with such a high profile, high paying advertiser.  As such, the implications are that concessions were made.

It seems like a bit of a throw away remark in the context of the article, but it’s something that really irks me as I feel there should always be independence between editorial and advertising, particularly when we’re talking about one of the nation’s leading publications.  The media is the Fourth Estate after all – honest, accurate and unbiased reporting – or at least in an ideal world.

As a public relations professional, on the very rare occasion that this issue presents itself during day-to-day activities, I’ve always felt immensely frustrated by any implication that money or advertising will buy ‘free’ publicity.  At the end of the day, we are working to open communication paths between our organisations and those media interested in them, not negotiate cash for comments.  Hearing stories like that of the David Jones comment really annoys me.

But should we blame the Sydney Morning Herald for bowing to corporate pressure?  Money and advertising are key to print media’s survival after all.  Or is it the advertiser who is to blame for blurring the boundaries?

Would love to hear from anyone who’s experienced this sort of situation and how you successfully managed the issue, whether from a journalism, ad rep or PR perspective.

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