The Launch of Further Blurs the Line Between Editorial and Advertising

People are still attempting to catch-up from their long Holiday weekends and we’ve already had a week full of journalism and ethics’ debates. First, Washington was a buzz with Politico breaking news on the Washington Post’s proposed off-the-record, lobbyist events with the Post’s editorial staff.


The story appeared to catch Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth and Executive editor Marcus Brauchli off-guard, as they hurried to kill the story and the event all together. Although Brauchli made it clear that the planning of the event was not vetted with the editorial staff in telling Politico: “You cannot buy access to a Washington Post journalist,” Weymouth pointed to events of this type as key revenue streams for the company moving forward:


“We do believe that there is a viable way to expand our expertise into live conferences and events that simply enhances what we do – cover Washington for Washingtonians and those interested in Washington. And we will begin to do live events in ways that enhance our reputation and in no way call into question our integrity.”

As I’ve mentioned before, the current “media meltdown” has accelerated the media industry’s crash, and publications like the Washington Post (which lost $19.5 million in Q4) are scrambling for dollars. In fact, the crash of large publications has been underway for some time now, as Alan Mutter noted today in stating:

“Profits fell 100.1% since 2004 at newspapers with circulation greater than 80,000.”

With media companies trying  to innovate new revenue streams, the lines between church and state (advertising and editorial) continue to blur.

Which brings us to Dan Abram’s latest Web venture. (Media-ite), launched yesterday to much fanfare (while being down for much of the day), is a media commentary and news aggregation Website.


According to the Website, Mediaite is the site for news, information and smart opinions about print, online and broadcast media, offering original and immediate assessments of the latest news as it breaks.

In addition, Mediaite’s “Power Grid” objectively ranks media professionals across a dozen categories based on their real-time relevance. Power Grid rankings rely on an array of metrics, including anything and everything from circulation to Twitter followers to Google buzz depending on the category.

Now, with the site being down much of yesterday, I didn’t have a lot of time to play around with it, but I must say the innovative digital rankings are pretty cool, and as Howard Kurtz noted: “they call out the celebrity journalists” (which a media-junkie like me loves).

The only problem with all this is, Abrams wears many hats. He’s NBC’s former Chief Legal Analyst and last November he opened Abrams Research, a media strategy firm which utilizes journalists to advise Fortune 500 companies on media relations.

This creates some blurry lines.


With these connections, how can Abrams run a media outlet, which curates, aggregates and even produces content, objectively? It’s a very fair question and one that remains unanswered, despite the spin which Abrams and his team have tried to use to address it.

So while I’ll continue to play around with the Mediaite ranking system, which could serve as a good communication’s tool to rank today’s digital influencers, the ethics of it all remain cloudy.

Jeff Jarvis made the similarities between the Mediaite launch and the WaPo fallout all-the-more-clear with a simple tweet over the weekend:

“WaPo access program sounds like a Dan Abrams’ production.”

About the author

Kyle Austin is marketing communications consultant, as well as the founder and managing partner at Beantown Media Ventures (BMV), a digital content and PR agency for startups. Throughout his career Kyle has provided marketing, communications, public relations and business development counsel for Fortune 500 consumer technology brands, venture-backed startups and non-profits. Kyle lives in Boston and holds an MBA from Babson College's Franklin W