Readers Lash Out at Tallahassee Democrat’s Sponsored News

Readers Lash Out at Tallahassee Democrat’s Sponsored News

Today the Tallahassee Democrat took another step away from journalism and moved closer to becoming a public relations firm.

The Tallahassee Democrat published a story entitled “Sponsor story: Amendment 1 would preserve rights, protect consumers.”

However the story was listed on the front page of the Tallahassee Democrats website under Headlines without the “sponsor story” tag. See below.td1

The story appears to be the Tallahassee Democrat’s first effort at making money off of articles that look like news but are really paid commercials. The subject matter of this effort is the controversial battle between two solar amendments. The article published in the Democrat is advocating for Amendment 1 and is being financed by private utilities.

It did not take long for readers to let their opinions be known about the “looks like news” approach in the comments section.

A disgustingly misleading con job, a paid advertisement no less, made to look like an article published by the newspaper. It is indicative of the rank dishonesty of the Koch-backed Amendment 1 gaggle, a bunch of paid for hacks and liars. Shameful.

Sad to see the Democrat attempting to present propaganda as news in this jarring sponsor story format.

The Tallahassee Democrat will take money to throw itself under the bus. This is truly pitiful. Sure hope the TV news people get wind of this story. TD editors should be ashamed!!!

William Hatfield and Skip Foster, what in the hell are you thinking here?

Tallahassee Democrat had been a paid shill for politicians for many years now. I can personally attest that this dates back to 2001, but I doubt it started then. Fortunately, there are other options for local news.

Fish wrapper be damned.

Why don’t you just call it an ad?

Sponsored content has been around for a few years and is most notably published in magazines.

Jack Shafer,  a Reuters columnist covering the press and politics, wrote about a sponsored content controversy with The Atlantic in 2013.

You can smell the desperation when nosing about in sponsored content. Publishers know that banner advertising doesn’t work for their clients — as the Journal notes, banner-ads’ share of Web advertising is shrinking — and they must devise new advertising forms to attract ad revenue.

But as The Atlantic[r3] learned in January after running a Scientology ad that looked too much like regular Atlantic fare, sponsored pages carry a potential downside that’s greater than traditional “proximity advertising.” Proximity ads place commercial messages next to editorial copy, but they’re boxed and printed in such a fashion (non-editorial typefaces, for example) to reduce the chance that readers will confuse ads with news. It’s equally important to advertising-supported journalism that the news not be confused with the ads that run nearby, a point Benjamin Franklin made in his advertising manifesto in his 1731 “Apology for Printers.” Franklin held — and most publishers continue to hold — that the controversy raised in news stories is 1) desirable, 2) should not be held against advertisers and 3) that the content of advertisement should not automatically be held against the newspaper publishing them.

When Web publishers deliberately blur the visual and textual divide that separates editorial from advertising, as The Atlantic did, they force readers to judge whether a page is news/opinion or a commercial advertisement. But they’re not confused; it’s the publisher and the advertiser who are confused. The publishers and advertisers have polluted their own tradition by erasing the traditional line. Suddenly, it’s completely reasonable for readers to blame controversial news stories directly on advertisers and blame controversial advertisements directly on reporters and editors, because publishers and advertisers have essentially merged operations. Such calamities injure both publisher and advertiser, even already controversial advertisers like Scientology. (In The Atlantic‘s defense, it should be noted that it ultimately conceded that it “screwed up” the presentation of its advertisers message and promised to do better in the future.)

Will the Tallahassee Democrat continue this approach to news or will reader criticism result in a change?

11 Responses to "Readers Lash Out at Tallahassee Democrat’s Sponsored News"

  1. I’d love to know how much they were paid for this betrayal. The utilities have a massive war chest in the millions.
    Need a name change to the “Tallahassee Daily Shopper.”

  2. Seems to be a Gannett decision, not just the Democrat (which is owned by Gannett). USA Today has a “Story from Nest” on its homepage with the caveat “Members of the editorial and news staff of USA TODAY were not involved in the creation of this content.”

    Not that it’s any less tacky, but they may not have had a choice. It becomes all the more suspect if the Democrat were to ever take a similar position to those in any paid advertisement.

  3. I’m sorry but I must be missing something. The piece said it was a story from Smart Solar so what did you expect to see. I put the same level credibility in such a story as a display ad by Tallahassee Ford. Now, if you want get excited about credibility get excited and concerned about the absence of neutrality in the actual reporting of news.

    1. The issue is its placement under “Headlines” when it belongs in/on the Op/Ed part of the website/paper. This is another in a long list of ethical lapses by the publisher and his executive news editor. It is patently wrong.

    1. And a lower stock price. Gannett (GCI) is setting new 52-week lows day after day.
      They used to head up in spite of their biased content. Seems like their liberal progressive agenda is now Job 1, and the stockholders have been shifted to Job 2.

      1. There is no future for journalism. The Democrat will disappear. Papers will disappear after this generation. We can look forward to the only real source of money to support “news” from the following guys and their billions: Bezos, Cuban, Trump, Zuckerman, Cook, Buffett, etc. These are the guys who’ll want a toy to play with and to merge with their digital offerings. We really will become subject to the power of a few major newspapers and TV/web outlets.

    1. If only everyone in their ever-shrinking coverage area would come to the same wise conclusion as you did, Diana. They didn’t even send their remaining full-time photog to cover the thrilling FSU/Miami game this year — a game they’ve staffed for more than three decades! An early “CYA” wire photo of Francois throwing a pass at the beginning of the game led the Sports front. Huh? Nothing from the blocked PAT or even the celebration? Horrible.

  4. As a company, TD has a right to try and make money off what product/service they produce – this is a free country and Capitalism is a great thing. But inarguably TD does NOT have the right to publish “sponsored” content and still claim themselves to be a “newspaper” that practices “journalism”.
    Calling themselves a “newspaper” while selling articles produced purely for money is Fraud, plain and simple.

    TD should just drop their humiliating facade and admit they’re just a “shill rag” for money and/or leftist advocacy. To that point, other “newspapers” such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, et al should do the same.

  5. I guess the Tallahassee Democrat has joined all the other “major” news organizations. Advertising in the conventional form is down and sponsored ads/stories are the only way they can make any money.

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