Advertising Econ 101: As the economy gets smaller, companies reign in spending and advertising revenue contracts. Less money in the ad pool, means that content-generating media companies have to become more and more competitive with one another for the available dollars.
They pitch constantly. They turn RFP's (requests for proposals) around in a day. They do custom mocks for custom programs. They do lunch, and dinner, and ice-cream socials. They do advertising creative for free. And more and more, they are willing to make their content more, "advertiser friendly."
What does advertiser friendly mean? It means that the content the media company puts out allows for positive advertiser mentions within the body of reports. It means expose's about the client's products and/or services. It means long love letters disguised as "product reviews," crafted by editors via copy/paste from client press releases. Most of all, it means definitely NOT being critical of your advertisers in the body of your articles or within your videos.
It means being a good business partner.
WHAT ABOUT CONSUMER FRIENDLY?
For consumers, that means your watchdogs are asleep. Or perhaps more accurately, you're watchdogs have eaten something that turned them into friendly, slobbering, kiss-happy golden retriever pups.
After all, media organizations are supposed to be protecting us from dangerous products, irresponsible business practices, shoddy workmanship, scams, schemes, lies, and 100% money-back guarantees with 1000 stipulations. But they're not. Especially during a recession.
By way of example, Hartford Courant reporter George Gombossy was sacked this month for, as he claims, essentially reporting negative things about companies that also advertise with the paper. Since he's a "consumer columnist," reporting about companies is basically his job description. Since, "Everything's Fine at Sleepy's Matress Discounters," doesn't make much of a story, you can imagine that his articles would need to be somewhat critical of companies just to be doing his job (especially when he might hear things from people about Sleepy's, like they have bugs in the beds). It seems he was repeatedly called upon by management to discuss the "tenor" of his articles when they ruffled feathers of companies that spent money there. Then they fired him.
CAPITALISM STRIKES AGAIN
Unlike Mr. Gombossy, I don't see this as a travesty per se. I see it as capitalism at work. Love it or hate it, that's our system. Unfortunately, media companies aren't very forthright about the fact that this is the system, so they pretend to be "Consumer Watchdogs" when they're really just corporate lapdogs. I wouldn't mind if they blurred or totally disregarded the line between edit and advertising if they would just stop pretending that there was one.
Maybe as consumers we should stop going along with it.