Cybercritique: Online media tolerate banners that blur lines

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MARKETER: Various artists

WHERE TO FIND IT: an increasing number of `news' sites

CRITIQUE: As journalists we've always liked the phrase "content is king." At first glance it makes the content providers (i.e., journalists) seem very important. But the flip side of that neat little buzz-phrase is the notion that content is becoming commoditized and therefore, a product. Now, we're not going off on a Dennis Miller rant about the increasing authority of sales staff in news organizations. But we'd like to point out a couple examples that we think crossed the online line, and likely would not have been tolerated in offline media.

Recently, we were reading some election coverage on CNN's site (before the election) and we spotted pro-Bush ad banners on the very pages covering his candidacy. Over on Yahoo!'s daily news section was a banner from a "Silicon Valley Philanthropist" purporting to tell the truth about whether Bush is a "Texas miracle or myth."

Sure, these banners were clearly labeled as `advertisements,' but anything that tarnishes the appearance of unbiased or inaccurate coverage (like calling the election wrong) damages the credibility of the "content providers" and that should be just as important to both the church and state.

MTV'S ONE-DAY SELLOUT

Meanwhile, we got a press release touting MTV's one-day sellout of its homepages, which include MTV.com, Sonicnet and VH1.com. "MTVi Group is taking the day off on Monday, Nov. 13 and leaving Ricky Martin in charge!" the release read, going on to quote executives from Martin's label raving about the promotion, which enabled users to download Mr. Martin's new track.

Is the homepages event a paid advertisement? It should be, but it's not labeled as such, so who knows? MTV has clout, but Sonicnet has credibility as a news source, especially when it was still under its former name, Addicted to Noise, and was run by journalists. Using a site with a major news section (even if it is "entertainment" news) as "a tremendous promotional platform to launch their new albums," as the release says, devalues the "news" items run on the site. For the label, this is priceless promotion, but it's not clear they even had to pay for it. It signals the escalation of a bad trend and one that reminds us all who the real king is: the almighty dollar.

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