Advertorials Tilting Perspective

White question mark on bright blue surface
image courtesy of  Stephan via

Every few weeks, a spate of articles appears, insisting that remote work is “dead” and everyone “has” to come back into the office.

As a remote worker who was remote far before the pandemic, I can attest that this is simply not true. Although many a corporation wishes to make it so, and is putting far too much money into that wish, rather than putting it into something healthy that will actually benefit the corporation and its employees.

First of all, look at the publications running the articles. Go on, take a look.  I’ll wait. Back? What do you see? Corporate-focused publications who are paid to toe the corporate line. Several of those publications, which used to be good outlets for freelancers, now slant more toward advertorials than actual articles.

Oxford Languages defines “advertorial” as “a newspaper or magazine advertisement giving information about a product in the style of an editorial or objective journalistic article.”

I used to write a good number of advertorials. Many of them paid better than typical freelance articles, because they were backed by corporate dollars. However, they were also clearly marked, at the top of the page, as an “advertorial.” The company paid the advertiser’s rate and bought the page on which the advertorial lived. While it was written in the style of articles in the publication (or slanted to the corporate style), it was clearly marked so that there was no question that it was paid advertising, rather than an article assigned by the publication’s editor.

The point of the advertorial was to invite, entice, convince, and expand the audience to the product or service touted in the advertorial, with an eye to profit. It was marked as advertising, but written in the voice of an editorial or feature article. If the reader couldn’t tell, that was on them, since it was clearly marked; but the purpose was to promote the advertiser’s product or service. It challenged the reader to pay attention, especially as the font marking it as “advertorial” got smaller and less significant over the years.

On the internet, many pieces of what used to be labeled as “advertorial” are now simply called “content.” Especially when paired with a click-bait headline. Much of what comes up in “feeds” are advertorials or content on a company site pushing their products and opinions, not actual news or feature articles in an independent publication. There are fewer and fewer “independent” publications as more and more have been gobbled up by corporate interests and not allowed editorial independence.

When I first started my writing career, and did more journalism than I do now, I was trained in the NEW YORK TIMES style of reporting (back when they were actually a publication many of us dreamed about working for someday). There was a whole course on it, that I attended either between high school and college or early in college.  It was a long time ago, whenever it happened, but I use what I learned to this day. In addition to the “who, what, where, how, why” necessities, we were also taught that, for something to be a fact, it had to be corroborated through three separate, reliable sources.

This gets muckier when dealing with whistleblowers and scoops, obviously, but the basic foundation was that, in writing an article, even (especially) on tight deadline, you also had to investigate your sources to make sure they weren’t making it up either for their own ego, or because they were paid to plant information.

On many publications, when I submitted an article, I also had to turn in a sheet for the fact checker, who would check the sources and quotes, thereby making sure I got it right and to protect the publication. This was true in both newspaper and magazine writing.

Most publications have dismissed their fact checking departments.

I remember one of the journalists who spoke to the class telling us, “Assume anyone you interview is lying and work back from there.” Which is cynical, but also often necessary.

That is not a plug for “both side-ism” – especially since that has become the catch phrase for only giving conservative points of view credence. But it means thoroughly investigating information to find out what the spin is on it. Once you know the purpose of the article in enticing you to its point of view and who is behind that enticement, you can make a decision on whether or not it is credible.

And if you “don’t have time” to dig?

Then don’t take a position on what’s being spoon-fed to you until you can gather information from credible sources.

Of course, all this spin makes it harder to know what a “credible” source is. It’s not a source that only reinforces your opinion. Credible sources are getting harder and harder to find, much less define, since so much is about smoke and mirrors and carny barking rather than verifiable information.

So when I see an article that’s clickbait and obviously corporate-funded rather than objective journalism, I remember my old training and do a little digging before I accept what’s in the piece. Especially when my lived experience is so different from what the article insists is “the way it is.”

Are you running into advertorials posing as journalism more than usual, to tilt the public’s views one way or another? How are you dealing with it? Drop your experiences into the comments.

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