Posted on | January 15, 2013 | 24 Comments
How do you turn pixels into profits? This is an industry-wide issue for journalism in the digital New Media age, and the “sponsored content” approach — selling ads that look like articles — is supposed to be the wave of the future. Well . . .
The Atlantic apparently sold space to the
Church Creepy Ripoff Brainwashing Cult of Scientology for an “advertorial” with this headline:
To say the very least, the article attracted unflattering attention:
The Atlantic — the one time publisher of Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edith Wharton — is now publishing blatant Scientology propaganda. The “sponsored content,” which went up Monday around noon, features all sorts of breathless praise for Scientology and its alleged growth last year.
The post is basically one long tribute to David Miscavige, the “ecclesiastical leader of the Scientology religion” . . .
Given the high-toned image and upscale readership of the Atlantic, this invitation to public ridicule was an embarrassment to the staff:
— James Fallows (@JamesFallows) January 15, 2013
Twitchy collected the ROTFLMAO reaction from Twitter, and MediaGazer aggregated the firestorm of journalistic shame, which predictably ended with the de-publication of the non-article:
The Atlantic has U-turned on its controversial paid-for feature article from the Church of Scientology. The publication had sparked a debate on media ethics and business models after allowing the advertorial from the religious group to appear on its site but — as of 21:00, UTC-8 — the page now redirects to one with the following message: “We have temporarily suspended this advertising campaign pending a review of our policies that govern sponsor content and subsequent comment threads.”
Of course, this is just an occasion to laugh at the snobbish hypocrisy of the Atlantic, another elite-oriented neoliberal institution caught in the economic crunch that has affected so many other Legacy Media outposts. Paying for actual journalism in a post-literate age is an increasing challenge for every outfit not attached to an entertainment conglomerate that can afford to subsidize the written word as a “loss leader.”
For my own Shameless Capitalist self, I say shop our Amazon specials and remember the Five Most Important Words in the English Language:
As I said, “Old Media Belatedly Discovers That Elections Have Consequences”‘ the moribund Obamaconomy is impacting the Atlantic as well.
The widespread belief among journalists that they can safely ignore market forces is crumbling under the weight of contradictory evidence. Jeff Bercovici of Forbes notes that it took less than 12 hours for the Atlantic to pull the ad, and issue an embarrassed statement:
We screwed up. It shouldn’t have taken a wave of constructive criticism — but it has — to alert us that we’ve made a mistake, possibly several mistakes. We now realize that as we explored new forms of digital advertising, we failed to update the policies that must govern the decisions we make along the way. It’s safe to say that we are thinking a lot more about these policies after running this ad than we did beforehand. In the meantime, we have decided to withdraw the ad until we figure all of this out. We remain committed to and enthusiastic about innovation in digital advertising, but acknowledge — sheepishly — that we got ahead of ourselves. We are sorry, and we’re working very hard to put things right.
Maybe the Atlantic can sell out to the Qatari oil sheikhs . . .