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April 21, 2015
Should Editors Have a Price? A Defense for Advertising
 
"I believe that all brands will become storytellers, editors and publishers, all stores will become magazines, and all media companies will become stores. There will be too many of all of them. The strongest ones, the ones who offer the best customer experience, will survive." 
–Natalie Massenet, Net-A-Porter


The line that separates advertisers and editors continues to disappear. We have read and have witnessed several arguments and discussions that display the importance of keeping the editorial position sacred and untouched, as if the editor is the bearer of all truth and objectivity.

Oh, please.

Don't get us wrong; we are huge fans of the freedom of speech and the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press. Major movements in the United States started because the press was able to publish what they deemed necessary and beneficial.

That doesn't mean editors or the editorial section are free from scrutiny or from commercial influence. Advertising is the language of business, and business rules in a consumption-based society. 

Therefore, advertising deserves a piece of the editorial space.

Yes, we are sure everyone has heard by now about the Dove and Hasbro articles being deleted and suddenly reappearing on BuzzFeed. We can throw stones at the BuzzFeed staff, or we can consider the editors' position — keeping a business relationship with brands that think people they want to target will read those articles. Do we think BuzzFeed handled it in the wrong manner? It's hard to say. We try so hard not to be one of those "holier-than-thou" folks (though sometimes we do slip), so we honestly cannot say if we would or wouldn't do the same thing.

Taking a step back, however, we can see that developing a relationship with the brand can reap some editorial and commercial benefits. For example, let's say the BuzzFeed intended to keep the articles there due to its editorial standards. What they could have done, since Dove has been an advertiser on the site, is provide a venue for Dove to defend and counter the points the other article made.

A dream has come true — readers, dialogue, interaction, conflict, and, most importantly, ad dollars all in a single business decision. And if Dove refused to be a part of such negotiation, BuzzFeed could publish what it offered to do for Dove and could wash their hands of any "misconduct."

Returning to the principal question: Should editors have a price? Our answer: In this society, in this economic environment, it would be foolish not to. Our society continues with the rudimentary notion that combining commercial interests and "truth" cannot be uttered in the same sentence.

When such a notion is held, it must be assumed that those consuming the information are incapable of doing their own due diligence, or that consumers hang on every word and phrase that these revered editors exclaim.

In reality, commercial interests and truth in editorials can coexist. Seriously. But it will take negotiations to make sure the editorial staff and brands have the same views and values. A brand cannot choose just any medium, nor should any medium shack up with any brand. Also, though consumers as individuals are not stupid, in groups, decision-making is considered too difficult to do on their own and many do, in fact, listen to media personnel. 

One can see, then, that the argument lies with where you think advertising and commercial interests belong. In our biased minds, the market rules. If the market wants New York Times editorials sponsored by Snickers, guess what? The market wins. If we still hold on to the "old school" ideals that the editor is the bearer of truth and is above commercial interests, though you may be sheltered from society, the point still cannot be fully dismissed.

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Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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