Publication Date: September 2017
Research and Editorial Team: Maha Rafi Atal

Media studies scholarship on advertising has traditionally fallen into two camps. Cultural analysis emphasises the signals advertisements send to consumers, focusing primarily on the role of advertising creatives. Economic analysis emphasises advertising’s impact on media companies’ financial performance, focusing on the role of sales managers, and proprietors. Both approaches minimise the role of reporters, against whose work advertisers place their messages.

This article draws on interviews, as well as financial analysis, at six newsrooms to examine the impact of advertising practices on the editorial independence of reporters. Combining cultural and economic analysis, the article highlights the unique threat advertiser influence poses to critical business reporting, which takes as its subject the very firms who must choose to advertise against it.

The article argues that the new forms of advertising, where branded content is presented alongside, and intended to mimic, reported content, increase the threat of advertiser capture. At four legacy outlets studied, investigative business coverage has declined as media organisations react to the changed operating environment with practices that compromise the divide between news and advertising staff. At two online startups studied, where new advertising formats have always been part of strategy, news and sales staff remain separate. Yet, there is limited appetite at these outlets for conducting critical business journalism, which is not seen as key to organisational mission. The article concludes with policy recommendations to safeguard the viability of critical business journalism.

Tags: Advertising Media freedom

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