News corporations have found it increasingly difficult to reap profits from print media because of the internet. As a result, they turn to the web to regain the lost revenue.
Unfortunately, it hasn't been going so well for them. Most internet users are reluctant to pay for the content they read online and smart enough to avoid the huge banner ads.
Faced with the menacing prospect of non-profitability, a bunch of blokes in top hats and monocles have devised a grand plan to make advertisements appealing to the consumer. It's called "native advertising" - advertisements camouflaged as legitimate news articles.
BuzzFeed was one of the first organisations to enter this terrible world. Its CEO, Jonah Peretti, stated in an interview with Bloomberg that 100 per cent of Buzzfeed's revenue comes from native advertising. Naturally, they would be the prime specimen for one to analyse the trend.
A quick scroll through BuzzFeed's homepage (yes, I faced the horrors of degenerate journalism and listicles for you, dear reader) reveals a tonne of sponsored-content nonsense. Irregularly capitalised headlines such as 13 GIFs Of People Totally Nailing It from Reebok and 20 Things You Didn't Know Were Illegal by the Discovery Channel adorn the front page. What's next? 22 Reasons Why Poor Labour Conditions Are Totally Awesome (For Us) brought to you by Apple?
As this type of horrible content seems to exist only on entertainment sites such as BuzzFeed, one would assume the big, proper and legitimate publications would be free of such terrible violations of journalistic ethics. Nope.
Back in July, Joe Ripp, CEO of Time Inc., launched his newly formed native advertising department, much to the dismay of its readers. The New York Times followed suit, despite publishing an editorial warning the world about the dangers of native ads five years ago. The latter then went on and published a Chevron-sponsored article titled "How our energy needs are changing" without mentioning the fact that the world is shifting towards renewable sources of energy because corporations such as Chevron have stripped the Earth of its resources.
The notion of sponsored news articles is not new; they've been around for quite a while, such as stories about medical studies that are sponsored by large pharmaceutical corporations.
You might think it's easy to distinguish between sponsored content and real news, but a study conducted by the Interactive Advertising Bureau indicated that 41 per cent of news readers were unable to tell the difference.
Introducing a business model that allows advertisers to sponsor news content has the potential to destroy the wall that's supposed to separate journalism from business. Allowing advertisers to make editorial decisions and interfere with the content is a blatant ethical violation, and will most definitely corrode reader trust.
We, as consumers, should work together to prevent the deterioration of journalistic standards and ensure that our news sources are free from corporate manipulation.