Up against the wall

I want you to pull back from this sentence and view the page with a wide-angle lens.

You’ll see that there is both editorial content and an advertisement on the page. It is not that hard to differentiate between the two (I hope). The ad runs along the bottom of the page, and this note and our table of contents are the editorial. The advertisement at the bottom was paid for by an advertiser; the rest of the page was produced by the editorial department.

In the news-media business, the division is called the “wall” between church (editorial) and state (business). Editorial brings in readers who attract advertisers, who pay to have their ads placed on the pages. The wall should not be breached, allowing advertisers to produce or influence editorial—the reader needs to know that editorial can be trusted and is uncorrupted by financial interests.

But something tears away at the wall and causes alarm in journalists, and that is advertorial. That sly intruder is content that appears to be reporting but, in reality, is a sales message. It is an ongoing ethical problem, and we aren’t immune. If you saw our Chow insert last week, you saw a good example. All of it was produced by the advertising department, including capsules of information that appeared to be editorial. Unfortunately, it wasn’t labeled as advertising, and it caused confusion for readers. We hope that won’t happen again because we don’t want any uncertainty about what is coming from which side of the wall.

Smart readers and television-news viewers want to know that news and other editorial information isn’t directly paid for or influenced by business agreements. That issue is dealt with in our cover story (“Embedded with the Kings”).

Readers should know what information is for sale and what is not.