By Jim Hightower on January 07, 2014

Attention class. Here's today's new word: "Native advertising."

Okay, that's two words. But it's one concept, and it has nothing to do with native people. Rather, it's a phrase sprung on us by the wonky wordsmiths of internet media, who also refer to it as "brand content," meaning that these particular web pages are not articles, but paid advertising. But they don't want to be too explicit about distinguishing between genuine news items and ad hustles.

Why not? Money, of course.

In today's fledgling web publications -- from such newbies as BuzzFeed to the digital versions of old-line pubs like the New York Times -- there's been a blurring of the line between the publications' legitimate journalistic content and the faux "stories" that are provided by marketers and designed to look like real articles from non-biased news sources. For readers and viewers, the questions are obvious: Whose stuff is this, and what can I trust?

The best ethical response by online publishers would be to draw a bright line around all "branded content," perhaps with some flashing neon lights and honking horns to announce: "This is an ad." But no. While internet publishers say they seek journalistic integrity, they're hungrier still for advertisers' dollars, so their game is to flash just enough integrity without losing the bucks.

That's a losing game for integrity. Media analyst Bob Garfield notes that the very effectiveness of native advertising depends on it being confused with editorial content. Eliminate the confusion, and the ethical failure diminishes, he says, but "what will also diminish to near vanishing point is the readership of those adverts."

Any media so dependent on corporate money that it resorts to deceiving its audience is -- in a word -- "dependent." Also, "untrustworthy." We need public funding to free the independence of journalism on the web.

Listen to this commentary:

Photo: "Big businessman crushing a small one," via Shutterstock.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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