“The general erosion of editorial standards”

Lauren Indvik posted a piece on Mashable Business this week titled “Magazine Get Serious About Ecommerce” in which she examines the approaches a few different pubs have taken to combine editorial content with links to products in an effort to get consumers purchasing and offset declining print ad sales.

In this piece, Indvik writes:

It’s been relatively easy for retailers to move into the content space, particularly because they haven’t had to entertain illusions of editorial objectivity. Editorial has from the beginning been posited as a bonus on these sites, a complement to the shopping experience designed to inspire and entertain shoppers.

Magazine publishers, on the other hand, have struggled to bridge this divide. How do you maintain readers’ trust once you begin recommending products for which you receive a cut of every sale? Or, in the case of Time Out New York, if you become a retailer yourself?

The trick, it appears, is to position it as a service.

This approach is not new to the Internet, although it may be new to mass-market media and retailers. For examples, it’s been common for years for small websites to include links to products interspersed with their editorial content. For example, a camera hobbyist website run by an amateur photographer may include links to Amazon.com to purchase the camera gear that’s being reviewed, with a tag line like “Please click here to purchase this item and help keep this website free.”

Doesn’t it behoove the owner/author of the website to review all camera gear positively, so that he generates click-throughs to Amazon and make more commissions? Maybe. But most of these types of websites are run by individuals who are just average people sharing their love of a hobby. Users can sniff out someone hawking goods as opposed to a true, unbiased opinion from an amateur in a heartbeat, and sites that are little more than front doors for online retailers don’t last long.

But this is different. People read Elle and Vogue (and most any mass-market magazine—these were simply the two cited by Indvik) and assume unbiased editorial content. When that line becomes blurred, it makes me wonder about the state of the media in general, in which entire corporate media empires can be accused—sometimes convincingly—of having an agenda, one that oftentimes moves beyond selling merchandise into positioning political agendas and peddling influence.

Photo from Al Arbiya news

Another piece in the Christian Science Monitor this past week addressed the sad state of journalism on the Internet when it lambasted the Huffington Post and others for letting a story about a proposed law in Egypt go viral. The law would allow men to have sex with their wives for up to six hours after the woman’s death, but as author Dan Murphy put it,

The chances of any such piece of legislation being considered by the Egyptian parliament for a vote is zero. And the chance of it ever passing is less than that.

Murphy points out the complete lack of any verification of the story, saying

But extreme, not to mention inflammatory claims, need at minimum some evidence. The evidence right now? Zero…Stories like this are a reminder of the downside of the Internet. It makes fact-checking and monitoring easier. But the proliferation of aggregation sites, newsy blog sites, and the general erosion of editorial standards (and on-the-ground reporters to do the heavy lifting) also spreads silliness faster than it ever could before.

“The general erosion of editorial standards.” Now there’s a story that has some credibility behind it.

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