Wait, Who Signs Your Cheque?

Posted: March 30, 2011 by Adam Hodnett in #7 Ethics

One of the greatest things about the Internet is how accessible tools and resources have become. This blurs the line between amateur and professional.

My fear is that as journalists become the jack-of-all-trades of online media, teams will get smaller and writers will start handling their own advertising/funding.

I may be cynical, but I don’t trust someone to properly investigate or criticize an organization that funds them. “You don’t bite the hand that feeds you” is a cliche for a reason.
I’ll give you an example:

Maclean’s recently published their opinion on usage based billing. They mentioned that they’re owned by Rogers–so at least they were upfront about it. But, in my opinion, the argument was simplistic.  It was rational and correct, but it didn’t take in to account the bigger questions. As a result, it was exactly the kind of argument Rogers would want people to read.

Again, I may be too cynical.  But at the very least, I think this was just in bad taste.

Most news sources I know that address the ethics of advertising usually just shun it all together. NB Media Co-op, Democracy Now!, This American Life–they all rely mostly on donations. But, I think this is “throwing the baby out with the bath water” (to load up on even more cliches).

I really think advertisement can be win-win-win. Content creators can get funding, a good company can get exposure, and informed viewers can find a way to spend their money in a way that might curb a bit of that western guilt.

I picture small clothing shops devoted to ethical materials, ethical food producers (see Spearville), or any other business that respects social implications over the bottom line. I would love to help these people get known, especially since online shipping and shopping has made things so convenient that even Wal-Mart shouldn’t be able to compete.


If I were running an online news room, I would make advertisement a thing of pride. I would keep this appropriate by devoting one writer/sales person to it.

It would be challenging, and maybe too ambitious, but that person would be responsible for a weekly editorial, personalized audio/video/print endorsements of products and services, and customer relations with new and existing “sponsors.”

There would be an overarching mission statement for the whole company, one which would emphasize social responsibility and progressive ambitions, while primarily dedicated to the truthful and accurate story telling and reporting. This employee would obviously have to agree with our philosophies and ethics, but in the end, the advertising side of things would be completely under his/her control.

He/she would responsible for:

– Meeting with potential sponsors and keeping up relationships with existing ones
– Doing research in to these companies to ensure we approve of their practices
– Write a statement every week as to why the chosen sponsors are acceptable
– Interact with a Reddit.com-style message board and a Twitter account.
– Come up with a convincing ads for our audio, visual, and print content that would be embedded into a break in stories after they’re ready to be published/broadcasted.

This personalized/embedded ad would be similar to Leo Laporte’s style from TWIT. I’ve always enjoyed his approach. It’s a lot like how I feel I should donate when Ira Glass or Amy Goodman interrupts the show to explain why. When Leo raves about Audibles.com, I feel like I’m missing out.

I want to hear a real person telling me how something is actually useful and how  supporting the company advances their cause.  I would have to understand that cause, why buying from them helps, how I buy similar products anyway, and why I should feel good about funneling my money to these people instead of giants like Wal-Mart. It would be tricky. And keeping the ads short, effective, and as unobtrusive as possible would take time. But I think it’s possible.

Done right, I think everyone would win. Our writers would write and not have to be freelance/artist-types pitching and funding one project at a time. Our audience could trust our content and possibly appreciate the companies we try to connect them with. Hopefully our opinion would become respected.  And after a few success stories, I would hope that our approval would become valuable enough that online ads would start selling at a rate that makes sense, and would truly usher in the “Attention Economy” that I’d like to see the future built on. 


I actually really like this idea. If you guys have any thoughts, or notice any flaws, please let me know. You can comment here, but as I’ve already pushed for–I think Reddit.com facilitates the best conversation on the net. CLICK HERE to use the reddit post I made so we can use their system, but anything is good. Thanks.


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