Are newspaper Web sites selling “marketing” content?

Over the break, a blog item popped up which makes me wonder about the future of online news. According to the item, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel (a large regional daily newspaper) is bringing its entire Web operation, including news, under the supervision of vp and director of marketing Jeff Levine. The announcement stated that Levine is adding responsibility for “interactive content” (notice, it’s not called “news” here) to other more-traditional biz dev responsibilities. Not surprisingly, this has traditional news types up at arms, who contend that reporters can’t practice real journalism with a marketing VP looking over their shoulder. 

Now, honestly, I’m not sure that this represents the death of newsgathering. I admit that having news functions report up to a marketing VP is fishy, but it’s not the kiss of death if Levine keeps his paws out of things. After all, traditional news content is to some degree under the direction of a marketing type (remember the publisher?), so the risk is always there that advertising and product concerns will outweigh journalistic ones. 

Still, this does raise some big questions. In particular, it makes me wonder whether other consumer news publications are feeling pressured to provide Web “products” rather than news. And if so, is that because they’re having trouble unloading their interactive ad inventory, aren’t sure how to package Web opportunities with print, or simply, as detractors say, don’t care whether they’re seen as delivering objective content?  While newspapers are doing a decent job of attracting readers to their sites–nearly 60 million people visited newspaper sites in June 2007 alone–it looks like they may not be sure how to sell what they’ve got.

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One response to “Are newspaper Web sites selling “marketing” content?

  1. This is a very troubling trend – though the pessimist in me senses a sort of inevitability about it.

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