“Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver airs on HBO, a channel whose subscription-based business model eliminates the need for advertisers. That status surely helped make Oliver’s segment on the journalism trend of native advertising much, much easier to write.
If you don’t have any advertisers, you can insult all the advertisers.
Native advertising, as Oliver explained it on the segment that aired Sunday night, is the practice taking hold at many print journalism outfits to break down the traditional wall that existed between the editorial and advertising arms of the business and allow the editorial side to create content sponsored by advertisers.
Many print outlets have embraced the notion of native advertising to shore up their bottom lines, which have sagged in the age of the Internet.
“Since they moved online, many papers have struggled financially,” Oliver said. “Mainly because news is like porn. People don’t want to pay for it on the Internet, even though, somewhere in a dimly lit room [New York Times columnist] Paul Krugman worked very hard to make it.”
At Time, Inc., the CEO Joe Ripp has spoken very warmly of the notion that the editors of his magazines, including Time, would sometimes be called upon to create sponsored content.
“I’ve changed church and state, as you know,” Ripp recently told Bloomberg TV. “We took that away and said the editors are going to be working for the business side of the equation. Frankly, I think they’re happier. They’re more excited about it. Because no longer are we asking ourselves the question ‘Are we violating church and state’? Whatever that was.”
Understandably, Oliver took issue with the idea that the separation between editorial and business would have no effect on the quality of journalism produced and listed many examples of native advertising in publications including The Atlantic and the New York Times. The Los Angeles Times has also featured native advertising both in print and online.
But Oliver proposed a very unique solution to the problem. Rather than wring his hands and lament the slow dismantling of trustworthy journalism, he suggested that perhaps editorial should start getting involved with advertising.
And by example, he premiered the world’s most informative Diet Coke commercial. Never before have you seen a sweaty, washboard ab guy deliver such dire news. Could it be a trend?
No doubt someone, somewhere, is running the numbers.
Follow me on Twitter: @patrickkevinday