Lowering The Standard of British Journalism

For the few years a long time ago in the 1960s when I was a Tube-riding office worker, enduring the forty-minute commute each way, I read a lot of newspapers; my evening solace was the London Evening Standard . It was the right size for a cramped transit car, a tabloid, but with 60 or 70 pages of solid material. I read a ton of theatre, movie, and book reviews, nearly always completed the cryptic crossword, and kept in touch with sports and business. I was very fond of it, and it was one of the things I missed when I came to Canada in the 1970s.

These days, I read online a couple of British papers every day, but I haven’t looked at an online edition of the Standard for a long time. I vaguely remember being disconcerted by the appointment as the Evening Standard’s editor of George Osborne who had been Finance Minister throughout the socialism for the rich, austerity for the poor years of David Cameron’s bitter regime.  But then I forgot about it.

Until this morning that  is, when I found this incredibly detailed article confirming that Osborne’s business model for the Standard is selling PR as news for a price.  The Standard

“has agreed a £3 million deal with six leading commercial companies, including Google and Uber, promising them “money-can’t-buy” positive news and “favourable” comment coverage … The project, called London 2020, is being directed by Osborne. It effectively sweeps away the conventional ethical divide between news and advertising inside the Standard…

As part of the sales pitch at the Evening Standard’s West London offices, would-be partners were told to expect campaigns that will “generate numerous news stories, comment pieces and high-profile backers”.

London 2020 involves six “themed projects” running for two years. These include politicised initiatives on clean air, plastic pollution, schools and workplace tech and a project designed to address London’s housing crisis. The six 2020 “partners” have each paid half a million pounds to head projects that will be sold to Standard readers as “improving London for the benefit of all.”

According to one insider: “What was being offered was clear – theatrically constructed news, showing everything good being done. “

Not everyone was buying into this scheme. “Some companies, including Starbucks, walked away from the Evening Standard’s pitch, rejecting the offer of paying to boost their reputations through tailored news and comment.” Starbuck’s executive was very clear in his rejection: ”

“Buying positive news coverage is PR death…something you might do in Saudi Arabia, but not here. This wasn’t right for us. We do engage in advertorial [a hybrid mix of advertising and editorial] but that’s just marketing. We don’t need to buy our reputation.”

This is a long read, but well worthwhile.

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