Tag Archives: marketing

advertising commercialism competition democracy deregulation ethics internal wikis journalism listserv mailing list mass media media ownership Online News professionalism public service self-censorship Wikipedia wikis

Weekly listserv journal – On wikis and cashing in

As part of a class project I’ve been reading the Online-News mailing list and responding to some of the issues and discussion brought up there.

An interesting thread about Wikis started this week.  Wikis are web sites that allow users to write, update and maintain the content, usually stored in some sort of database.  The idea of letting just about anyone update content on your site might seem crazy, but the idea is that since anyone can update it, and backups are kept, there are likely to be many more people willing to fix a bad page than make the page bad in the first place.  Perhaps the best-known one is http://www.wikipedia.org/.  This site is probably a librarian’s nightmare, since everything, from the indexing terms to the source citation (if any), is left up to whoever wanders by.  It seems to work fairly well, though.  I wouldn’t put anyones life on the line, but if I wanted some background on a subject Wikipedia is as good a place to start as any.

The thread started when someone posted the problems they were having in choosing and starting one.  Wikis are pretty easy to program, which means just about everyone has written their own, and many of them concentrate on anything but good architecture.  Other posters noted that they found Wikis to be useful internally, but no one here seemed to be using them with the public in a big way.

Apparently posting and reading here can pay off.  Someone mentioned an article about Rosalind Resnick at http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/content/jun2003/sb20030625_5361.htm.  She started an opt-in email marketing company that she later sold for $111 million in cash.  Years ago she used to post to this group.  I really miss the Internet boom.  I think I may have missed my chance to put together a couple of ideas and a web site, and then cash in.

Is Advertising Ethical?

A response to Taking Sides – Clashing Views in Mass Media and Society – Issue 7

Examining issue 7, Is Advertising Ethical, John Calfree argues advertising has important and far reaching benefits while Russ Baker counters that advertisers exert unwelcome pressure on media outlets.

Calfree’s argument, though broken into several sections, is basically that ads provide the audience with more information and that competition will force companies into disclosing accurate and beneficial information (usually in the form of less-bad advertising).  His first main example is fiber-most Amercians were unaware of the health benefits of fiber until Kellogg’s started advertising about it.  Soon many food brands were advertising about their own health benefits and consumers soon knew about a slew of nutrients to watch for.  The second major example he uses is the way in which cigarette companies highlighted problems with smoking in order to boost confidence in their brand.  This ended up scaring away customers.

Calfee keeps on referring to the benefits of unregulated market forces and how the market itself necessarily marches toward more and better information for the consumer.  Unfortunately, all he gives are examples of highly regulated forces.  Without the Surgeon General, the FDA and the FTC, those pro-fiber ads would have shared the air with the same flim-flam snake oil ads that filled magazines in the 1800s.  Market forces themselves only drive advertisers to make incredible claims; government oversight and outside reporting is what forces those claims to be scientific.  Calfree acknowledges this in a way when he says effective advertising uses information people have from outside the ad-so how is the ad itself then informing anyone?

Baker provides ample evidence for his thesis that advertisers try-often successfully-to influence the content of what is printed in publications.  The letter from Chrysler demanding editorial review of anything socially provocative was specially chilling.  The automaker, the fifth-largest advertiser in the country, was more or less demanding a seat on the editorial board.  And many magazines gave it to them.  The more successful a publication is and the more advertisers it has the less powerful one advertiser becomes, of course, but not all magazines have this luxury.  Baker says the biggest danger is self-censorship by editors and publishers who do not want to risk alienating the people who pay the bills.

Personally I agree with Calfree only to the point that things like price competition really do benefit the consumer.  Baker is right about advertisers wanting to influence editorial copy, and though I think many publications can stand to lose a few big sponsors over and important story, many won’t simply because they’re more concerned with higher profit rather than independence.  And special advertising sections and advertorials I find especially disturbing; when I was in Naples the print paper did a special advertising section on plastic surgery filled with wire stories about the benefits with no other point of view represented at all.  There are definite downsides and risks to plastic surgery, but you wouldn’t know it from the very hard-news looking section in the paper that day.

Commercialism and professionalism – democratic media or declining standards?

A response to Mass Media and Society (James Curran and Michael Gurevitch), Chapter 10

Daniel Hallin argues in “Commercialism and Professionalism in the American News Media” that the decline of journalistic professionalism due to commercialism is not necessarily bad or good but instead a complex change.  He agrees with one side of the debate that it may lead to a more democratic media, but says that the old school worry about declining standards and less public-affairs information is probably true as well.

Hallin traces the development of professionalism in the media by citing a 1940s-era Commission on the Freedom of the Press report that reflected concerns similar to those we have today.  The commission found that the political leanings of media owners and concentration of ownership required that journalists consider their work as a public service, not just a job.  On the other hand, more recent developments have pushed for more market-driven journalism.  Forces such as competition for viewership with television and public (stock market) ownership of media companies have made many newspaper executives advocate market-driven reporting.  In television, increased competition, deregulation, the rise of local news and reality-based programming and large media-corporate mergers have pushed away from professionalism as well.  Hallin says that despite all this, pro-market editors and owners have not won the argument-professionalism is still alive on the individual journalist level.  More to the point, he believes that neither side is right.  For example, though market-driven shows like Hard Copy, Larry King Live and Jerry Springer may give voice to individuals with controversial minority beliefs that would never be touched by hard news reporters, these shows are more interested in exploitation and fear-mongering than discussion of issues.  Hallin says that old-style professional reporting leads to regrettable practices like accepting the government’s official version of events and covering news more important to the elites.  On the other hand, the market-driven ideology might lead to information-rich media for elites and information-poor media for the masses-which is hardly democratic.

I agree with Hallin, although I think many of the faults he finds with the professional media may have been faults of the culture of the 1950s and 60s instead.  The tendencies to focus on Washington, accept the official line, and cover foreign affairs in terms of national security were more due to World War II and the Cold War than professionalism in general-it was in the name of professionalism, not marketing, that Watergate was exposed.  Also, many of the things that may be attributed to marketing, like the drive for diversity reporting, are as much part of a shift in professional ideals as anything else-Hallin even gives the example of professionals wanting to cover the inner city even though suburbanites are more interested in champagne prices.  He’s right that the last 20-30 years have been a mixed bag for the mass media and information consumers.  There are more shows bending the line between entertainment and journalism than ever before, but on the other hand the market has created hundreds of television channels where there were just three, including 24-hour news coverage.