↑ comment by gjm ·
2020-11-02T02:43:11.190Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
You think my definition of "advertising" is too narrow. It might be, and I take your point that there are ways of pushing a story that don't involve explicitly paying money to the people you want to publish it. (Which I didn't intend to deny -- that's why I asked "who is paying whom" rather than assuming that the whom is the news outlet.) But it looks to me as if either your definition of "advertising" is too broad, or else there are limits on it that I have failed to understand.
For me, I think what distinguishes advertisement from other forms of publication is something like this: an advertisement is there because someone else hopes to gain from my paying attention to it, in contrast to other publications which are (in principle) there because someone else hopes that I will gain by paying attention to it, perhaps because if I expect to do so then I will pay them.
There are degrees of advertising-ness. Something is 100% pure advertising if it exists, and is the way it is, only because someone has purposes that are advanced when others pay attention to it. Something is 100% pure not-advertising if those who made it value others' attention only because those others get, or think they get, something valuable from it. Scarcely anything is 100% pure either way. Subliminal advertisements, to whatever extent they work, would be 100% pure advertising. Maybe if I hire you to do some sort of analysis, and you do it as accurately and honestly as you can, your writeup is 100% pure not-advertising.
Charles Dickens wrote Bleak House partly to encourage reform of a malfunctioning part of the English legal system. It is more than 0% advertising. But he also wrote it to provide readers with an engrossing story, interesting characters, good writing, and so forth, and it continues to be read after the Chancery Court was abolished. I would find it perverse to say that it "is advertising", still more to say that "novels are a subset of advertising" just because many of them have some sort of persuasive purpose.
It looks to me as if news is more advertising-y than novels, but I am not persuaded that news is advertising-y enough to justify the claim that "news is a subset of advertising".
You gave a number of concrete examples of stories in Ars Technica that you think are there at least partly because someone else hopes to profit from their being read. You may be right. If so, that establishes that those stories are more-than-0% advertising. Maybe they're close to 100%. So far, so good.
On the other hand, when Ars Technica publishes a liveblog of the latest Apple announcement event, it's doing so not only because Apple made it possible for them to do it by inviting their journalists (and, for all I know, providing other incentives of one sort or another) but also because it turns out that quite a lot of people want to know what shiny things the world's most successful shiny-thing company has just announced. Those things are a long way from being 0% advertising, but they're also a long way from being 100%: a major reason why they're there and are the way they are is because lots of people actually want to read them. I, personally, would not say that they "are advertising".
Similarly, when they publish reviews of particular products, no doubt they have been provided with free samples to review, and no doubt the vendors are hoping for favourable reviews, and it's not hard to imagine a variety of incentives for the reviews to be positive. So, again, not 0% advertising. On the other hand, by and large the products they're reviewing look like ones a lot of readers are genuinely interested in reading about, and so far as I can tell they don't outright lie about the products in their reviews, and sometimes they publish negative reviews that it's hard to imagine the vendors being happy to see. All of which, to me, indicates that a substantial part of why they're publishing those reviews is because a lot of people want to read them. So: a long way from being 100% advertising, too.
I do agree that the tech press is pretty damn advertising-y, but even there it seems to me that there's plenty that I would not find it reasonable to call "a subset of advertising". However, I'm more interested in news, hence my examples from the BBC and the Guardian. I do not find it plausible that most of the stories I listed have a substantial advertising component. Let's take the first example I mentioned: the top story on the BBC's website when I wrote my comment above was about the then-recent Biden/Trump debate. That's a thing a lot of people genuinely want to know about. (Whether they should want to know about it is maybe a worthwhile question, but "pandering to unwise desires" is not the same thing as advertising.) So far as I can tell, the article was a reasonably accurate description of some of the more notable things said in that debate. If you think it's "advertising" then I want to know who it is that (1) gains from my reading it and (2) has, in pursuit of that gain, influenced the BBC to put the article there.
Likewise for most of the other stories I listed. They mostly don't seem like stories whose reading brings much benefit to anyone other than the reader. They mostly don't seem like there's anyone who would be expending trouble or resources to get news outlets to publish them. And they mostly seem like the sort of thing that readers go to the BBC or Guardian website in order to find.
I don't claim that any of them is literally 0% advertising, but with a couple of exceptions they all look less advertising-y than Bleak House. And unless I'm wrong about most of them, that for me is enough reason to reject the claim that "news is a subset of advertising".
Hence my request: if the story about the Trump/Biden debate, or the story about a clothing retailer being in financial trouble and maybe closing all their UK shops, or the story about the COVID-19 death rate in England having increased for the first time in a while, is "advertising", tell me who the advertisers are. Tell me who benefits from my having read the stories. Tell me what you think they did to get the stories published.
I think those stories are there mostly because they're things BBC/Guardian readers would want to know about. To whatever extent I'm right about that, they are not advertising.
Again, to be explicit, I am not saying that every story, or nearly every story, on the BBC or Guardian website is not-advertising. I bet the footballer one is advertising. I wouldn't be surprised if the children's-authors one has a lot of advertising about it. (Though I think that one's like the Ars Technica Apple liveblogs: it's a story seeded by someone with an interest, but it's also the sort of thing their readers would want to know about.) I entirely agree that "news" and "advertising" have substantial overlap. But I think your headline claim goes substantially too far.