Arif Durrani: head of media at Campaign, editor of Media Week
Arif Durrani: head of media at Campaign, editor of Media Week
A view from Arif Durrani

Who pays for news media continues to divide opinion

The "sources of news have become narrower" and the rise of native advertising is "exaggerating and intensifying a problem that is serious and shouldn't even exist in the first place". Just when I thought everyone with an opinion had been heard with regard to content marketing, along comes Noam Chomsky.

For those who need a gentle reminder, Chomsky is the eminent American linguist, cognitive scientist and general philosopher who captivated many an aspiring psychologist in the 90s (including me) with his belief that innate traits within the human brain actually play a far greater role in children’s language development than initially believed. In later life, he has become a commentator on the risk of propaganda in commercial media.

Chomsky was being interviewed by Byline, a new crowdfunding platform for journalism. Its goal, according to the co-founder Daniel Tudor, is to sort out the "total mess" in which the news media now finds itself.

'The core message from endless conferences about transparency in native ads is clearly not travelling well'

By "mess", he means the business models that many now believe to be broken. It chimes with something The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger noted in his emotional farewell address as editor-in-chief last week: "Twenty years ago, no-one asked a newspaper editor about their business model. Now it’s one of the first questions."

For Chomsky, native ads will shape editorial and "determine what is presented to the public". For anyone on the commercial side of content, the Byline interview will not make for comfortable reading: native ads are described as "a form of online advertising that seeks to fool the consumer into believing that they are reading ‘editorial’ content rather than paid advertisements".

The core message from endless conferences about transparency in native ads is clearly not travelling well. Perhaps we should understand the reservations as news breaks that it was not only the Telegraph that appeared reluctant to report on HSBC’s Swiss tax scandal earlier this year but all of Global’s radio stations too.

Meanwhile, over at the Content Marketing Association, membership has never been stronger. The body founded to represent traditional customer publishers, such as John Brown Media, Redwood and Seven, has now opened its doors to the data specialists iProspect and MEC’s Organic Performance, as well as brands such as TalkTalk and Zurich Municipal.

For some, branded content will always be viewed with suspicion. As Byline scoffs: "Even a progressive newspaper like The Guardian publishes sponsored content from Goldman Sachs." Chomsky’s suggestion about how quality journalism can be funded in the digital age, if not by advertisers, is equally emotive: "How is the BBC funded?"