Advertorial is a new word in the journalist’s lexicon. Many of us read advertorials without realizing it, unless our eyes notice the tiny word sponsored at the corner of the computer screen or see, special section in a magazine. What the reader is looking at isn’t news but advertising dressed up to look like news. Unfortunately, these promos are becoming more common, appearing in legitimate publications because the sponsors pay handsomely for the space. The Atlantic runs a creative marketing group which ran material for the Church of Scientology not too long ago. The headline read: David Miscavige Leads Scientology to a Milestone Year.” (The Rest Is Advertising,” by Jacob Silverman, The Baffler, No 30, pg. 151.)
Writing an advertorial, to an unemployed journalist, can mean being able to pay the rent and still having some change leftover in one’s pocket, considerable change, in fact. A news article might earn a freelancer $150. An advertorial will bring in $4.00 a word, a small fortune by everyday standards. Magazines can pay as little as 1-cent a word for copy.
A number of advertorial writers have names that belong in the pantheon of journalism. (ibid pg. 158) That may be why they don’t use a byline when they write one. In author Jacob Silverman’s words, they’d prefer not to be seen as having “sold out.”
What concerns Silverman, himself a writer of advertorials, is that the line between commercial and professional writing is becoming blurred. Last spring, he notes, The American Society of Magazine Editors relaxed their guidelines which had set a firewall between content and advertising. Now the editorial and marketing departments intermingle freely. (Ibid pg. 155.)
Media moguls like Rupert Murdoch, who distill the news according to their biases, may be the least of our worries. In today’s brave new world, conglomerates, with huge advertising budgets are able to pass off of their propaganda as information. The last firewarll against this creeping commercialism is an alert reader.