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Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Mar 26, 1998

Posted to HotWired 27 Mar 98

Eric Lamanque makes a good point: it is increasingly difficult to tell the difference between genuine journalism and paid commercial advertising.

Jon Katz's recent Digital Citizen story is a good case in point. Although Jon wasn't funded directly by the advertisers, it was plain that the story was not genuine, but rather, part of a marketing plan aimed at attracting upscale readers.

And there's a lot of that around. One of my favourite bugbears is the newpapers' 'Auto' section. Scanning through the headlines, you would think the auto industry walks on water, so flattering are the rosy headlines touting Chrysler's new look or Ford's improved safety record.

Entertainment 'news', in both print and electronic media, is often centred around the latest publicity campaign. Hardly a movie comes out which is not promoted via 'news' articles talking about the actors, the plot, or the set design.

In the hard news component of our press, the advertisers' influence is a bit more subtle, but it is omnipresent. Most news appears on the front page or TV screen as a result of some agency's publicity campaign. The incidence of genuine 'news' is small, almost miniscule, in these publications.

Katz writes about the argument culture. He correctly points out that this culture is poisoning our news media. he does not correctly identify the cause. The cause is not poor journalism. The cause is non-journalism, in a media where the lobbyists and action groups now have a leg up, and where corporations and politicians will do almost anything to prevent real news from being printed.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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