Advertising disguised as business news

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University of Maine journalism professor Justin Martin writes on Poynter.org about a special section earlier this month in the Bangor Daily News that contained stories about businesses across the state.

Martin writes, “Something was off. The font in the stories differed slightly from the standard type in the rest of the newspaper. All seven full-page articles were written by the same Bangor Daily News staffer, a David Fitzpatrick. Below his byline was written “The Bangor Daily News.” The stories had the look and feel of straight news coverage, but made me feel uneasy. There was no mention of advertising either above or below these articles.

“Puzzled, I returned to the front page of the insert. Above the insert’s grandly displayed title, ‘Maine’s Progressive Businesses,’ were these tiny words: ‘Advertising supplement to The Bangor Daily News.’

“According to the author of the articles, these stories focused only on companies that had previously purchased advertising from the paper. Editors, though, weren’t transparent about this with readers. Atop each of the seven full-page articles extolling the virtues of the businesses, there was no note to readers indicating the stories were linked to money coming into the newspaper. The content was delivered on broadsheet newsprint, not the smaller inserts of, say, Best Buy offerings or Parade magazine, which set the content apart from a paper’s own news. And the newspaper’s name listed beneath each of Fitzpatrick’s bylines seemed likely to confuse readers into believing these were standard news stories on Maine businesses.”

Read more here.