...Time Inc. will abandon the traditional separation between its newsroom and business sides, a move that has caused angst among its journalists. Now, the newsroom staffs at Time Inc.’s magazines will report to the business executives. Such a structure, once verboten at journalistic institutions, is seen as necessary to create revenue opportunities and stem the tide of declining subscription and advertising sales.
Yep. Time, Inc--no struggling online trade mag--now requires its journalists to report to the business execs, and editors now seek out "sponsored content" (aka "native advertising") as a large part of their professional duties.
Without getting too overtly political, I have long been concerned over the corporate buy-out of American public institutions, whether it's the money behind so-called education reform, a university selling its professorial hiring decisions to the highest bidder, or the Supreme Court (and presidential candidates) solemnly assuring us that corporations are people:
So what does all of this have to do with a library blog?
I just cancelled our library's subscription to Time Magazine, and am in the middle of an email to Time explaining why.
I work hard and spend considerable thought providing quality, authoritative resources for my students. While we obviously have books or periodicals that promote a particular side or point of view, that bias is generally made clear through content or editorial policy. And, of course, my students and I talk about using the databases first, evaluating sources, using the CRAAP test, etc.
Now, there is a long history of passing off advertising as editorial content; the public is increasingly sophisticated at recognizing and ignoring advertorials. Advertisers (and the publications) need to make it harder and harder to distinguish between journalistic and sponsored content; thus, it's not always clear which content is an advertisement. Worse, the Online Publishers Association estimates that 90% of publications offered sponsored content by the end of 2013.
However, Time's decision is especially insidious, using their magazine's integrity and reputation as a reliable source of news in order to mask that commercial line. When reading Seventeen or Sports Illustrated, there's a public understanding of the monetary bottom line, hence students have a certain amount of healthy skepticism when reading their articles. Time, as a straight news magazine, has traditionally drawn a firmer line between its sponsors and its articles, and students read it less critically.
As a librarian, I have a duty to provide my students with material that presents not an unbiased view, but one free of corporate interests--or at least material that makes clear distinctions between content and ads. It may be a futile gesture, but I'll be cancelling our subscription once school starts again next week, and will definitely add this into my critical literacy curriculum.