Turns out plenty of readers think that payola in news is just peachy

By Paul Bradley Carr , written on August 17, 2014

From The News Desk

Journalists, me included, spend a lot of time fretting about — and writing about — how quickly our industry is going to the dogs. We have to believe that if readers knew the truth about native advertising, or pay-to-play, or the dirty reality of who runs the newsroom at certain high profile sites, they would demand a return to the good old days of editorial/commercial independence.

At Pando — as I’m sure is the case at many, but certainly not all, other sites — we expend a lot of energy keeping our house clean: ensuring investors have no access to our newsroom, enforcing policies barring press junkets, deciding how to most clearly flag sponsorships… and all the other church-and-state stuff that readers expect.

Or rather that we have to believe readers expect.

Imagine, though, if it turned out that serious news consumers didn't care about that stuff. Not just teens or those who get all their news from Buzzfeed lists and trending hashtags -- but if actual, grown up readers didn’t give a flying toss about church and state.

If that were the case there’d be nothing to stop every financially-challenged newsroom (i.e. every newsroom in the world) from joining the race to the bottom: Selling every headline to the highest bidder, giving every book a positive review (with an affiliate link at the bottom, of course, or even becoming a full-fledged ecommerce company. News organizations, after all, are supposed to serve their readers, and if readers want a completely bought-and-paid-for news agenda, how long will it be until they get their wish?

Judging by the depressing reaction to the Bezos-owned Washington Post’s move to insert giant Amazon affiliate buttons into its news stories, that future might not be far off.

Just look at this Twitter thread, started by Gigaom’s Mathew Ingram...

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 1.27.43 PM

The responses came in fast...

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 1.30.47 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 1.30.32 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 1.29.09 PMScreen Shot 2014-08-17 at 1.30.40 PM

Yes, that last comment really did come from a former Washington Post reporter who is pleased to see that the Post has "finally" allowed itself to become a storefront for Bezos.

I'd like to think Pando readers would be a little more skeptical -- and, fortunately, at least one commenter on my original story shared my concerns...

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 1.35.38 PM

But as for the rest...

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 1.34.36 PMOf course there'll always be holdouts, especially at independents like Pando and public media like the BBC (but maybe not PBS).

Still, if the newspaper that brought us Watergate would today be using the story as an excuse to sell Robert Redford DVDs and Richard Nixon bobble heads, and if the overwhelming reader response is “about time too!”, then the news industry may be even more screwed than we feared.