Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Sponsored content

Here's a fascinating article by Jacob Silverman on The Baffler's website: The Rest Is Advertising

Silverman starts by describing how he got what appeared to be a breakthrough in his languishing journalism career:

I was a little stunned: I’d been writing about tech matters for years as a freelance journalist, and this was far more access than I was used to receiving. What was different? I was calling as a reporter—but not exactly. I was writing a story for The Atlantic—but not for the news division. Instead, I was working for a moneymaking wing of The Atlantic called Re:think, and I was writing sponsored content.

Unfortunately, after all was said and done, the experience led him to conclude that large forces were at work, leading the world of journalism down a dark path:

And so it is that American journalism, in this late decadent phase, has come to mistake its biggest rivals for its dearest sponsors. Now that visibility, which can be bought like so many ad impressions, is won by gaming search and social platforms, publishers are no longer just hosting or appeasing advertisers; they are also competing with them. They are employing the same sponsor-pleasing jargon, vying for the same resource—attention—in the same newsfeeds and timelines, and scouting the same talent.

Silverman closes, though, by looking, gamely, for a silver lining:

For that amount of money, you could hire five smart thirty-year-old writers, especially if you’re not drafting through the traditional Ivy League patronage system. You could pay a bunch of writers to actually write.


As of now, there’s a glut of young writers circling, anxiously wondering if they’ll ever have more to show at the end of a year than a bunch of 1099s, double Social Security tax, and a few new Twitter followers. If journalism hopes to recuperate itself as a viable career, it will have to find a way to let some of these people in and to keep those who want to stay. Otherwise, the advertisers wait, and their pocketbooks are bigger.

The entire essay is compelling, if grim.

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