Today’s top—though belated—media criticism comes from Erik Wemple from The Washington Post. He dissects the long-lamented but until now much-overlooked blending of ads and coverage within Mike Allen’s fabled, overrated, “Playbook” morning tip sheet (and e-mail newsletter) at Politico. Allen, a former Post reporter, has been one of the chief Politico staffers since its beginning.
One can only cheer when Wemple observes early on in his lengthy piece, “It’s about time that Politico’s Allen got his due as a native-advertising pioneer.”
Other media commentators are now responding and I’ll chart their reactions (and any Allen reply) below at the end of my piece. Jonathan Chait at New York magazine has tweeted, for example: “The ethical disaster most journalists would define as a firing offense is, for Mike Allen, a job description.” And he’s written this. Andrew Sullivan’s headline declared, “Mike Allen, Busted.” Seveal wags have retitled the Wemple piece, “SLAYBOOK.”
So what’s native advertising?
One of the hottest issues in journalism today is “native” advertising, the tricks that publishers deploy to elide the domains of journalism and advertising. BuzzFeed has sustained gray-bearded criticism for its boundary-defying listicles. The Atlantic earlier this year ran a native ad from the Church of Scientology that inflamed its audience and prompted an apology and a review of Atlantic procedures for approving ads. Forbes, The Washington Post and the Huffington Post are also experimenting with this approach to funding journalism.
Until now, Allen’s alleged transgressions, well-blended as they are—for example, ads from the US Chamber of Commerce plus outsized coverage of its work and views—have never been catalogued. Wemple took the time and summarizes:
A review of “Playbook” archives shows that the special interests that pay for slots in the newsletter get adoring coverage elsewhere in the playing field of “Playbook.” The pattern is a bit difficult to suss out if you glance at “Playbook” each day for a shot of news and gossip. When searching for references to advertisers in “Playbook,” however, it is unmistakable. And its practitioner is expanding the franchise.
Beyond the Chamber…
Another big name that’s gotten a healthy dose of earned media from Playbook is BP, a company that has faced quite a challenge in image-conscious Washington, thanks to the 2010 oil spill at the Deepwater Horizon rig leased by the company. In recent months, BP has blanketed “Playbook” with ads hyping the company’s status as “America’s largest energy investor.” The free BP mentions authored by Allen tell a similar story.