The readers of Jack Marx’s Daily Truth blog have twitched a little in response to our piece last Friday on the ethical
issues raised by the fact the blog was created in response to a request by its
sponsor, Absolut Cut. One reader, “John
D”, commented:

“Me – I like to think I’m smart
enough to decide for myself whether or not I wanted to buy a product advertised
on this, or any other web site. According to Margaret however, it’s a stunning
portrayal of the decline of ethics in journalism… I would have thought the
bulk of the people that read this blog are smart enough to buy products without
being unduly influenced by advertising. The bulk of the posts I’ve read in the
time I’ve been reading this blog are pretty eloquent and articulate. I’m not
sure who Margaret Simons thinks she might be saving us from… Ourselves perhaps?
Egad woman, b-gger off for God’s sake. (Not terribly eloquent I know…) PS – I
am a long time (6 years) subscriber to Crikey, and have contributed to them a
number of times. Which goes to show they’ll publish just about anybody.”

This defence – that the audience
is smart enough to tell the difference between advertising and content – is of
course exactly the same as that used by Alan Jones and John Laws in the cash
for comment affair. Marx’s hip young
readers might not welcome the comparison with the shock jocks’ ageing

The cases aren’t exactly similar:
Marx is paid by Fairfax, not directly by Absolut Cut. I’m
sure he is not paid anything like as much as Laws and Jones. And I believe him when he says that on a
day-to-day basis Absolut Cut has no input into editorial content. But what cash for comment and sponsored blogs
have in common is the use of talented media performers to create a buzz around
a brand, and alter public perceptions.

Does it matter? I think so. The recent controversy over Chris Masters Jonestown book was largely about the battle between journalism,
represented by Masters, and journalism blended with PR and advertising.

The commercialisation of content
and the blurring of boundaries between it and advertising is undoubtedly one of
the ways of the future. But it must not
be the only path. I wish Fairfax policed the boundaries more
thoroughly. And I wish fine writers like
Jack Marx did so too.

We must take care that in the
future the devil doesn’t have all the best songs and the best singers. But that means those of us who care about
journalism need to get with it, and start behaving as though we really believe
what the advertisers already know – that
content is king.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey