Buy an ad, get an ‘article’ for free
A lot of Sri Lankan journalism is quite casually corrupt. You have ads next to advertorial content that looks like a real story. But it’s not. It’s just press release journalism, about as relevant as the classifed ads. This has higher value than no information, but it’s not especially good information. Media, especially new media, should be better.
The Business Of Being A Business Magazine
Some of the purest corruption is in the business magazines. Business Today is a monthly kowtow to the Rajapaksa government, featuring such luminaries as Mervyn Silva on the cover. They run interviews with power players without any critical perspective at all, serving as a mouthpiece for power.
LMD may have been more independent at one point, but take their business model for the LMD 100, a ranking of the top corporations in Sri Lanka. There is some objective measure for the 100, but they also send out letters to other companies asking for Rs. 250,000 for a two page spread – one page which looks like an interview (advertorial) and one ad. It’s not the advertising or the price that’s so bad, but the easy prostitution of editorial content to the service of lucre.
Then there is the pinnacle of this model which is the Daily FT. That essentially runs press releases or rote coverage of press conferences as it’s bread and butter content. They have a few columns to spruce it up, but even those avoid controversy at all costs.
The Lifestyle Business
And it’s not just business. I got to thinking about this while reading the Daily Mirror’s Life section. Both their writer and us from YAMU reviewed Cantaloupe Aqua’s Coconut restaurant (near Unawatuna). They were trying out a new coconut themed menu which really wasn’t that good. At YAMU, we wrote an honest review and the place’s management called to say they understood and were making changes, which is fine. The Life, article, however, is just a rote listing of items and how great they are.
But that’s not true. By that I mean, that’s not what the writer thought. We spoke to the writer and they thought pretty much the same as us, but once it goes through the Daily Mirror sausage factory all that comes out is ‘This Place Is Great. Everything Is Great. Advertise Here.’
Looking through the Life section, it’s obviously pay to play. There are stories directly next to ads. There isn’t even the illusion of independence.
Above I said that this press release journalism is better than no information, and it is. I still get a sense of what different businesses and competitors are doing by reading the Daily FT. I must admit that I find Business Today and LMD largely useless. Business Today is just disgusting sycophancy, but with LMD you’re not even getting new news, it’s just sorta in-depth advertorial which is, like, not necessary.
The Corruption Spreading Online
With things like the Daily Mirror Life section (and Life online) they have the scale to be sycophantic. People will pick up the Daily Mirror anyways, these are essentially just advertising supplements. I mean, I don’t think it’s good, but it’s there, it’s sorta like HitAds for the city.
What I find sad, however, is that many online and independent sites copy this model, just copying press releases and writing breathless copy. But they don’t have the scale, and that’s not going to serve or attract users. There are already big media companies that print advertising and advertorial, with editorial as a sort of fig leaf to go out in polite company. This serves them, it serves the advertisers and it gives some bare information to the reader.
However, this isn’t really what media should be, and certainly not new media. When everything is great and paid for then it all settles into a mediocre grey. What makes things good or bad is largely contrast, but if everything is reported the same then you get no flavor at all. This is not to say that one publication’s opinion is always right, but you at least get the human courtesy of an honest opinion, something we give to our friends when recommending a restaurant or place to see. Somehow that accountability isn’t there for mass media, but for new and increasingly social media, I think it should be.
Press release journalism sucks. Please don’t continue it online.