The wall between editorial and advertising isn’t as clear as you’d like to think

Asavin Wattanajantra

27 February 2015

As a former journalist, it was interesting to hear of recent events at the Telegraph, one of the UK's most respected newspapers.

Pete Oborne, who used to work for the Telegraph as a chief political commentator, claimed that corporations had a direct influence on what content is published at the newspaper and website.

It's a serious claim which some might consider a dagger to the heart of fair, unbiased journalism. Due to their reputation and history, newspapers have a trusted position deep in the heart of British society.

And in an ideal world, editorial and advertising should be kept separate – it's very hard to work as an idealistic reporter at an organisation if you feel that you'll be unduly influenced by companies that partly fund your salary.

The journalist/PR relationship is built upon the fact that writers should be able to write about a company or business without feeling pressured to write something positive or to not mention something in a story they disagree with.

This breaks down if a PR representative unduly influences the reporter. And it becomes even more serious if the wishes of an advertiser changes the whole editorial direction of a newspaper.

But then again – should we regard UK newspapers as the paragon of pure unbiased journalism anyway? It has always been the case that owners and editors would set the news agenda depending on their political or social viewpoints.

Think of Rupert Murdoch. It must be argued that particularly with his Sun newspaper, certain stories and viewpoints would be highlighted more than others. After all, he is the one with overall power, not any of his editors and certainly not writers.

And going back to the advertising – it's not a recent problem. Newspaper owners are there to make a profit, and there has always been a dependency on advertising, made worse by declining revenues from print cover pricing.

The birth of native advertising has complicated things even further. Due to monetary concerns, it's rare to see any news website without 'native advertising' or 'sponsored stories', articles integrated with the main editorial line but often produced by brand content creators themselves.

In the end though, thanks to the internet, we have more of a choice than we ever did in terms of news sources. Instead of being limited to one news source, our sources of information are virtually limitless – we can choose what we want to read, watch or listen to.

So in a sense, although advertisers may have an influence on editorial, it might not matter in the long run as we can always switch and find the information we're looking for somewhere else. That's something we should be thankful for – and established media giants need to be very careful about.