Do not expect the New York Times to go native

By Erin Griffith , written on May 7, 2013

From The News Desk

The New York Times is not innovation-averse, per se... It's got its own accelerator; it's experimenting with incredible new ways to tell stories as evidenced by the Pulitzer prize-winning interactive story, Snow Fall. Hell, it even has a daily deals arm, for whatever that's worth. But in the business model department, even in a time when so many media organizations are desperate for an innovative ways to monetize content online, the Times isn't eagerly adopting the buzziest new thing. At the Wired Business Conference today, New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson quipped that native advertising was "the buzzword of 2013 business model discussions at conferences."

The crusade behind this buzzy new buzzword happens to be led by a company with the word "buzz" in its title. Buzzfeed CEO and founder Jonah Peretti spoke at Wired conference earlier in the day; Abramson said the two have spoken at length about the topic. While they agree that advertising doesn't have to be awful, Abramson pointed out the dangers of purposely confusing an audience about what's an ad and what's editorial.

Native advertising that blurs the line between ad and news can dilute a media organization's editorial authority, Abramson said. The New York Times has had to fight to gain the trust and authority it has with its readership, so the last thing she wants to do is purposefully confuse readers about which is which, she said.

Abramson is correct to point out that native advertising is as buzzy a buzzword as they come. I even spoke at an entire conference dedicated to the topic in February. The term was coined by Fred Wilson to describe the kind of unique, platform-specific ad products offered on social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Spearheaded by Buzzfeed's almost religious crusade against "ads that suck," media organizations from Forbes to The Atlantic have tried their own spin on native, although you could argue that their offerings are the same old sponsored advertorial with a new name. Nevertheless, as a result of this momentum, a countless number of adtech companies have gone all in on native ads, slapping the word on their offerings in hopes of catching a rising tide.

The issue on the adtech side is one of scale -- it's hard to spend large amounts of money on what is essentially custom, one-off ad work. The issue on the media side is one of ethics. As we saw with the Atlantic's Scientology dust-up (the publication experienced a backlash after it ran a sponsored story promoting Scientology), it's easy for readers to be confused with sponsored content, and even easier for them to become angry about it.

Native ads might work great for the digital natives like Buzzfeed. Old school publications like the Times, it appears, aren't willing to take that risk.

[Image Credit: leff on Flickr]