Shaping Editorial Content — Gasp! — to Aid Distribution, Ad Sales

In a Friday column at (The Medium), Virginia Heffernan makes a casual admission that I don’t see very often: That editorial decisions at traditional print publications and newspapers are shaped by ad sales and promotional considerations. It’s an obvious and true admission, but one that is more often directed at the crass and debased kind of journalism that occurs online, especially at, ahem, blogs.

“Take an example from a recent issue of Self magazine. It contains an article about volunteer work, one that could have been written in a million ways. But because it appears in a magazine with newsstand sales, a subscriber base of women and ads from cosmetics companies and pharmaceuticals, it is, perforce, a colloquial personal essay that expresses in its DNA deeply held beliefs about how women’s magazines work and sell and survive. Specifically, it’s produced to engender and justify a cover line, that good old device used by glossy magazines to stand out on newsstands. In this case, the cover line reads, ‘The #1 Happiness Secret You Might Be Missing,’ and the story touts volunteering as a wellspring of contentment. That volunteering story is worlds away from one you would find in a private journal, a hardcover anthology, a paid advertisement or a travel blog.”

In this light, all the scary and revolutionary stuff called “conversational marketing” isn’t so new. The subtle (and deeply important) part of the job is figuring out if you’re Self Magazine, a hardcover anthology or a paid advertisement.

(This article came to my attention by way of a tweet by TheJames.)

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