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Can the editorial team also write sponsored content? (Commissioned Content)

Is sponsored content jeopardizing a publication’s integrity? Or this trend a trusted revenue source for news outlets across the world?
You may ask: just what is sponsored content? The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) defines it as “paid ads that are so cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that the viewer simply feels that they belong.”
Written in simpler terms, it’s when brands are sponsoring articles or blog posts in popular, pre-existing print and digital newspapers, websites and blogs. This has also been erroneously referred to as advertorials, and marketers are allocating as much as seven percent of their content marketing budgets to this new media practice.
Many celebrated and influential media brands have incorporated native advertising into their business models, including the New York Times, Forbes, the Daily Mail, BuzzFeed and Conde Nast. In a market where newspapers’ revenues are declining, this has become a lucrative source of funds. The UK’s Daily Mail charges advertisers $10,000 per post, while Elite Daily charges advertisers $50,000 per video post.
It makes sense. As Moz highlights, the reader’s primary focus is on the content itself, and it’s quite rare that visitors look at the ads on the top or side panels. Native advertising would just be a natural progression for advertisers to get noticed by the reading public.
For most publications, it’s the same editorial team creating news stories that produces this sponsored content. However, there is one problem that a lot of opponents have with this idea: editorial creators cannot also write sponsored stories because if an objective editorial writer were to pen such content then it would certainly diminish or eliminate the initial objectivity.
Indeed, it’s understandable why some critics may purport that reporters and columnists could maintain a conflict of interest if they are required to report on a brand or a company they have previously sponsored.
This isn’t necessarily a correct viewpoint, says Jon Steinberg, the former BuzzFeed executive and the current CEO of Daily Mail North American. According to Steinberg, conventional forms of advertising – banner ads, for instance – could still influence the editorial process in the same way a sponsored story could bias an editorial. The solution to this conundrum is the ethics, publishing guidelines and professional standards that publications invoke.
An example of this could be if a tech firm were to advertise on a website and ran a $200,000 banner/ad unit campaign. This move could just as much influence a review of that company’s product as an article published on the website sponsored by the international electronics brand.
“I think that a publisher and a media enterprise have ethics and standards that transcend and sit outside the ad formats that they do,” Steinberg told Contently’s Aaron Taube. “I think that if you’re running display units only, you can allow the buyers of those display units to influence the objectivity of the journalism, regardless of whether you’re doing sponsored content. What I like to say is either you have ethics, or you don’t have ethics.”
Moving forward, we’re seeing a greater number of well-known and reputable publications and broadcasting companies take advantage of sponsored content. In Canada, Global News is offering a sponsored content system, while in the U.S., Politico is also promoting branded content.
Google, meanwhile, has already taken action by labeling “Sponsored Content” at the beginning of each article headline in its Google News feed.
This may be a smart long-term move for brands, too, because it taps into a changing demographic: millennials. Gawker has partnered with Cottonelle, BuzzFeed sponsored a Starbucks content piece, and New York Times ran an article about women inmates that was branded for Netflix and its hit series “Orange is the New Black.”
Moreover, studies have previously shown that when it comes to advertising, consumers want relevant and informative content rather than just a promotion of a product or service. With that being said, sponsored content may take time to garner the trust and support from the general public: 54 percent don’t trust it and 67 percent felt deceived when they learned the article they read was sponsored.
However, Buzzfeed’s entire business model is founded upon sponsored content, and it remains one of the most popular websites today, particularly for the younger generation.
As newspapers evolve so do the different methods of advertising and generating revenue. Essentially, just because advertising is taking on a new form it doesn’t necessarily equate to a negative sway on the editorial desk anymore than traditional advertising would.
Anna Wintour, artistic director of Condé Nast, may have said it best in a press release: “The industry is evolving, and so too our ways of storytelling. It is exciting to have new opportunities that will allow the vision and intelligence of our editorial teams to reach consumers.”
A reporter was commissioned to write this in-depth article via NewsLauncher

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