Tony Ortega: The Atlantic Magazine Becomes Scientology’s Newest “Ideal Org”


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Here's a post from the Nieman Journalism Lab (at Harvard University)

The Atlantic and advertorial ethics:
The Atlantic fell on its face this week with an article-like piece of “sponsored content” from the Church of Scientology, which proved to be an illuminating case to examine that murky region between news and advertising known as advertorial. The Scientology article, which looked like an Atlantic article but for a small “sponsor content” tag on top, also had its critical comments removed by Atlantic ad staff before it was taken down (though you can see a screenshot here).

The Atlantic apologized, though The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple noted that it didn’t say what it was apologizing for. Wemple also laid out what little we knowabout how the whole thing happened and predicted that The Atlantic would be done moderating comments on advertorials. As controversial as the Church of Scientology is — and as odious as its treatment of journalists has been — Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici said the problem wasn’t necessarily with running advertorial from the group, but in how The Atlantic went about it.

Several others went into greater detail about what exactly The Atlantic did wrong. Jack Shafer of Reuters said The Atlantic turned off its upmarket advertisers by running “loopy Scientology content,” and eConsultancy’s Patricio Robles said The Atlantic has an obligation not to throw its advertisers under the bus. At paidContent, Mathew Ingram maintained that sponsored content should be a crucial part of many media sites’ strategies, provided they’re done well.

Others said the problem is more of a fundamental issue with advertorial content. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Dean Starkman and content strategist Erin Kissane argued that if the advertising’s success depends on its deceiving its readers into thinking it’s journalism, that’s a fatal flaw. Said Kissane: “If you wouldn’t knowingly lie to your readers in an editorial or an investigative feature, you shouldn’t deceive them with interface design choices that obscure the line between ads and ‘content.’” Josh Stearns of Free Press argued that news orgs can’t sacrifice readers’ trust with such content, and Poynter’s Julie Moos listed some ethical questions for news orgs to ask about sponsored content. At The Guardian, Dan Gillmor said it needs to start with disclosure.

Of all the links in this post I found this one particularly interesting:

But YMMV :coolwink:


@IndieScieNews on Twitter
Of all the links in this post I found this one particularly interesting:

But YMMV :coolwink:
Very good analysis.

Why The Atlantic’s Scientology Advertorial Was Bad

Here are the business problems with their decisions:

  • The Church of Scientology is a highly controversial organization. The choice to run any church-produced promotional material was also therefore going to be controversial. It’s difficult to imagine that the ad team simply didn’t realize this—more on that in a minute.
  • The “article” was presented in a way that is visually indentical to other Atlantic content, except for a small disclaimer at the top. It was not visually distinguished in unmistakable ways, which meant that some readers were likely to mistake it—content known to be controversial—for legitimate editorial material.
  • The sidebar content was not separately flagged, and was even more easily mistaken for “regular” Atlantic content.
  • The comments section for the article looked exactly like every other comments section on the Atlantic website, but was actually very different: it was, in fact, moderated by the magazine’s marketing staff, who blocked or deleted comments that criticized either the Church of Scientology or the Atlantic’s decision to run the advertorial.


Diamond Invictus SP
I came across a blog entitled "The Other McCain" which had some rather harsh words for the President of Atlantic.

Scientology ‘Advertorial’ Scandal Exposes Atlantic Executive as Truthless Swine
If nothing else, the past week has made clear that The Atlantic‘s president, M. Scott Havens, is an unethical scoundrel who cannot be trusted in the vicinity of anything purporting to be “journalism.”

Monday, The Atlantic embarrassed itself by publishing a glowing “sponsored content” article that heaped praise on the leadership of the Scientology cult. This ludicrous “advertorial” got yanked within 12 hours, after exposing the once-reputable Atlantic to vicious (and inarguably well deserved) ridicule, including a dead-on parody by The Onion: “The Taliban Is A Vibrant And Thriving Political Movement.”

The motives of the Scientology cultists were clear enough: A shocking exposé was coming out (Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, by Lawrence Wright), so they were buying some public-relations damage control with this “article” at a prestigious journal.

Unfortunately for the Scientology swindlers, that backfired disastrously and the “sponsored content” scandal led to a “Streisand Effect” that actually increased scrutiny of the ripoff science fiction cult. Going Clear is now the No. 1 bestseller among religion books at Amazon, and No. 5 overall. The surge of media attention has also boosted sales of Janet Reitman’s 2011 book Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion, as well as advance sales of the soon-to-be-releasedBeyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape, a tell-all memoir by Jenna Miscavige Hill, niece of Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige.

This negative publicity backlash has also damaged The Atlantic‘s upscale brand, and that damage is likely to be made worse by the attempt of the magazine’s top executive to talk his way out of this humiliation. Late Friday, M. Scott Havens sent out a company-wide memo that was immediately leaked to media watchdog Jim Romenesko. The memo was crammed with dishonest doubletalk like this:

Read Full Post Here:


Cat in flight
"A walk down the path of history is crunchy with the crispy corpses of
those who pooh-poohed or ignored the clown car of ridicule when it
pulled-up to the curb.

Stephen Jones" ARS 1995

The whole quote:
"A walk down the path of history is crunchy with the crispy corpses of those who pooh-poohed or ignored the clown car of ridicule when it pulled-up to the curb. Who would have thought such a tiny car could contain so many infectious and revolutionary guffaws? Satires, parodies, blue humor, pants to the ground ass-wavings, tea-dumping, Modest Proposal submiting, 7 dirty word spewing, flag burning, frankly impolite, just plain rude and improper expressions of ridicule have either ignited reform, fanned the flames or kicked the corpse to make sure it was dead."
-- Stephen Jones

Ask not for whom the clown car honks, Scientology, it honks for *thee*.

I guess it was Android Cat who said the last line:


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Going forward, native ads will be subject to three main changes. First, native ads will go through a two-part review process by a team consisting of Havens himself as well as people from sales, marketing, PR, legal and product. The team will screen prospective advertisers and review their content before it runs to make sure it doesn’t run afoul of the Atlantic’s brand.

Second, the labeling will be more overt, with a more prominent "sponsored content" label and clearly visible disclaimer (which until now, viewers had to click to read).

Finally, the Atlantic will have the sole power to moderate comments and will only moderate comments for spam, obscenity, hate speech and the like.

Hmm.. Kinda vague on the comments issue?
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Second, the labeling will be more overt, with a more prominent "sponsored content" label and clearly visible disclaimer.....

Here's a suggested disclaimer for Atlantic should they decide to run another Scientology ad: (placed at top of ad)

Legal Disclaimer:
Responding to similar ads such as this have resulted in harmful effects, including, but not limited to: bankruptcy, broken families, mental and spiritual damage, forced abortions, forced divorces, and other issues. Atlantic is not responsible for any of these effects should you not heed this warning. Reading this ad constitutes agreement that you hold Atlantic harmless should damage result.

EDIT: I just posted my suggestion of the disclaimer into the comments section. :biggrin: