‘Don’t ignore native advertising just because it feels icky’ journalism expert warns media

Panel (l-r):

Panel (l-r): Susie Banikarim – Vocativ; Justin Ellis- nieman Journalism Lab; Jane Spencer – Fusion

Branded content and native advertising should not be ignored by media outlets “just because it makes us feel icky”, while plagiarism and not attributing sources is “one of the greatest problems we have”, a journalism expert has said.

Justin Ellis, a writer for the Nieman Journalism Lab which looks at the future and development of the profession, was responding to claims that native and branded ads are like selling “snake oil” during a panel on new media ethics at South by Southwest overnight.

“It’s like arguing anything we try in media now is going to fail because we don’t have any connection with our readers – the fact you think you’re selling snake oil to people when they can decide for themselves is misguided,” he said.

“There’s  a lot that has to be figured out – publishers say its going to be clearly labeled, cigarettes are clearly labelled, but the label is on the side, it’s not on the front.”

He said he thought it was “here to stay” but it was up to outlets to work out what works for their brands, adding: “I hesitate to say we should rule out anything just because it makes us feel icky – what’s right for Upworthy won’t be right for the Wall Street Journal.”

Fellow panelist Jane Spencer, a fomer journalist at the New York Times and The Daily Beast, said her new digital venture Fusion the publication valued transparency and fairness “traditional objectivity is not always our goal , we don’t want to give both sides of the story equal time and not end up with a story that’s accurate”.

However it has also employed a director of standards at to give young writers a resource to come to ask advice about things like attribution and sourcing images.

However, Ellis said while having someone overseeing standards was good he warned “it’s a bit like a traffic cop, it won’t stop accidents from happening”.

He said the culture of publications plagiarising or lifting information from rivals and not attributing articles was “one of the biggest problems we have”, and added that media “over inflate the value of Twitter” adding: “There’s audiences to be had but not everyone is on Twitter.

“The people there every vocal about everything, but you shouldn’t over extend yourself.”

Alex Hayes in Austin

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