With Hindustan Times joining the paid news bandwagon with its Media net kind of initiative, the focus is back to debating whether it is right to monetize editorial space. In this manner, it is neither advertising nor advertorial, it reads “sponsored.” and hence the content has a certain bias towards a brand, company or the individual sponsoring it.
A few days ago, news broke about Hindustan Times entering the paid content space. The report mentioned that the Hindustan Times initiative, called Brand Promotions, is expected to promote and build brands in an “impactful way,” particularly the likes of Page 3.
As this news broke, the social media world echoed surprise and disbelief. These sentiments stem from their perception that Hindustan Times might tread along the path of The Times of India. People fear it will begin to ‘sell’ news like its strongest competitor – in an unabashed manner. Lately, Hindustan Times’ business paper Mint has led the way of ethical journalism and editorial integrity since its launch. And it has come as a refreshing change for readers. Such a media house changing track and walking towards the opposite direction is unthinkable.
Those against monetization of editorial space fear that this may trigger several publications, national or regional, English or vernacular, to follow suit. With two among the top 5 media houses in the country indulging in such a practice, it can become a norm rather than an exception. It can especially be a boon for the cash strapped media organizations.
In recent times, I have heard some of the leading vernacular publications in South India, asking PR and Corporate Communications professionals, particularly in retail sector, to pay for getting a news item published; for instance, a showroom launch or a product launch. Simultaneously, there are several instances of corporate organizations in FMCG and retail sectors with big advertising budget, trying to arm twist media for news coverage. Initiatives such as Media net or Brand Promotion will provide a structure and shape to such transactions. It gives a license to indulge in such activities.
The job of PR professionals in media relations will become tougher as the line between advertising and editorial functions continue to blur. Upholding transparency and integrity in this profession is likely to be a challenge.
How will PR agencies with deep focus on media relations justify their existence if corporate houses have enough marketing budget to indulge in advertorials and sponsored editorials? If the culture of sponsoring editorial content goes viral, PR agencies will be forced to reinvent themselves. Only time will tell whether it will be for better or worse.
Written By Radha Radhakrishnan for Image Management
The author is a communication professional based in Bangalore. Views expressed are personal