Press Council spanks Herald and Stuff for sponsored content

Analysis

David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Press Council has issued a rebuke over the publication of sponsored content on Stuff and nzherald.co.nz that masquerades as news stories, noting that this practice is a breach of the professional standards expected of a trusted media and that some of the ‘stories’ published are simply inaccurate.

This is a huge slapdown. First, the Press Council is saying they are masquerading advertising as news, and secondly the “sponsored content” is fake.

The Press Council has undertaken consideration of this complaint on the basis that if material is being published in a way that makes it look as if it is genuine news it should, at least, be held to the same standards as news content.

The Council is also alarmed at the way news and advertising content has been mingled together beyond the control of news sites’ editors.

As they should be. Both sites work hard to fool you into clicking on sponsored content.

The decision relates to native advertising material that is dressed up as editorial content and placed at the bottom of each story page. In the ‘stories’ covered in this particular complaint, completely fictional characters – a Levin man, Paraparaumu kid and Christchurch taxi driver – were purported to have made considerable sums from investing in Bitcoin. Viewers were attracted to the material because it was localised to their hometowns and presented as news headlines. On accessing the supposed articles, readers were taken to Bitcoin promotional material.

So the sponsored content is fake, using made-up locations to con people.

While the publications argue the content is advertising and they use visual cues to distinguish this paid content from independent news, the Council has ruled those cues fall short of international best practice, as does the mixing of news and advertising. The content is so clearly intended to look like news that the Council decided to accept the complaint and consider its impact on journalism standards in this country. As a result, we are urging the news sites to harden the lines between news and advertising, to ensure transparency and protect the New Zealand media’s hard-won reputation for independent and high quality journalism. Readers deserve nothing less.

Well done the Press Council. NZME’s response:

NZME and the New Zealand Herald, like other publishers across the industry, rely on the revenue that advertising generates to ensure that we can continue to deliver the latest breaking news to its readership from the best journalists in New Zealand. Native advertising, when properly disclosed, helps us to achieve this.

Their argument is that if we con enough people into reading fake sponsored content, then that can fund the real news. And they wonder why trust in media is so low.

Despite our belief that we were complying with international standards, NZME has carefully considered the points of the Press Council and swiftly made changes to the Outbrain widget which appears on the New Zealand Herald digital site. These changes include:

A physical separation of content which is:
• Reticulated within the New Zealand Herald site (such as other, related stories published by the New Zealand Herald), under a header called “Recommended”; and
• External links provided by Outbrain, under a header called “Paid Content” (or similar);
• Any images related to external links will continue to show the external website name immediately below the image. 

Sounds like an improvement.

The full Press Council ruling is here. Some key aspects:

In the Herald, news stories, stories from other news sites and ads are in fact melded together under the ‘Recommended’ banner, as Cropp concedes. Therefore, when Cropp asks if the sponsored content is “part of an editorial framework or advertising framework?” the answer can only be: both. ‘Recommended’ as a headline does next to nothing to alert readers to the fact that much of the content below is paid and not independent journalism; quite to the contrary, it implies that the content linked to is somehow special and is endorsed by the Herald. Given that this content is paid and includes either advertising or stories from sites of dubious merit, including the made-up Bitcoin headlines, such an endorsement sends a worrying message to readers.

Stuff does more to assist its readers, separating the ads and paid content from other sites [promoted stories] from its links to its own stories [more from stuff]. It also has a thin border above and below the content, which the Herald does not. Yet it’s disturbing that it still labels the native ad content as “stories”.

So both sites promote these advertisements as stories.

On Frewen’s complaint under Principle 1, the headlines employed on both sites are clearly inaccurate. There is no Levin man, Paraparaumu kid or Christchurch taxi driver. They are figments of an algorithm’s imagination and are deliberately designed to deceive and dress up advertising as news. In fact, the headlines are total fiction.

And the headlines to get you to click on the “stories” are fiction.

Political commentator David Farrar posts at Kiwiblog.


21 · Got a question about this story? Leave it in Comments & Questions below.


This article is tagged with the following keywords. Find out more about MyNBR Tags

Post Comment

21 Comments & Questions

Commenter icon key: Subscriber Verified

I divorced from Stuff earlier in the year, best decision I've made for my mental health. Click bait, biased articles and a toxic comment culture, good riddance.

Reply
Share
  • 4
  • 0

Talk to your friendly local IT professional about blocking Taboola and Outbrain (and other clickbaiters like them) at a DNS level. Your life will be much happier for it.

And I'd also recommend getting sites like NZ Herald, Stuff and so forth set as 'untrusted' in your web browser of choice settings which stops most of the annoying infinite scrolling scripts and other such rubbish from running. Makes the pages load much much faster.

NB: No need to do this for NBR who (mostly) treat their readers like adults.

Reply
Share
  • 2
  • 0

One of the reasons I just won't read the Herald anymore............along with inaccurate misleading articles and political bias.....

Reply
Share
  • 4
  • 0

Yes good work from the press council.too much sponsored fake news in the finance space too

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 0

The Herald is just sooo maddening.... used to suck me in every time!
That's wot I love about the NBR, I know better than to click on 'paid content'

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 1

Actually in NBR Nellie paid content is the original work of our journalists and contributors rather than sponsored content. We call it paid content because we are a subscriber site with a paywall. Occasionally we will put up free stories that non-subscribers can access if we only have facts every other site has at that stage or it is supplied content from BusinessDesk which we offer free.

Merry Xmas Fiona

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Thanks Fiona....and a *Merry Xmas* to you & the team as well !!

(Actually, my hubby's business has been a paid subscriber to NBR for yonks...Wayne wont give me his password for commenting in case people work out we're related)

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

I gave up the Herald over a year ago, except for Thursdays for the TV programmes. Most of their content is junk.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

So Donald Trump becoming Prez is purely clickbait sponsored by the Russians.

Whew, what a relief.

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 0

We can but hope that The Horrid and The Mess take notice of the ruling, but I doubt very much that they will.

And in the (very) remote chance that anyone from these two comics reads the NBR or DPF’s blog, take note - you will both continue to bleed subscribers and readers until you show some integrity and start reporting the news instead of fluff, opinion pieces, and PR spin.

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 0

As one of the pioneers in the NZ blogosphere in this area of professional communications I take great heart in the fact that the major corporate publications are now giving up completely and following our lead. We always suspected they were running such campaigns through their business sections.

I would hasten to add that so blatantly pumping a product for payment on something as risky and unregulated as bitcoin however would have been beyond the humble blogger risk profile.

Both publications have proven with this one example (presumably there are many others they just have not got caught yet), that they should be read and taken for entertainment between the factual and very serious business of the real estate advertising.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Good to hear from you CK. You and Farrar where 2 of the pioneers in the blog space. I treat the Herald and other MSM ( except for this excellent site) as a source of my daily chuckles as the kiddie reporters try and fail to bring me adult news.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

I didn’t think the Herald and Stuff were that short of cash they had to spruik fake news stories for Bitcoin to entice people into accepting it. It’s a tad astonishing. It’s the holidays so I have more fun things to do than check the law regarding but it would skate the line for sure if it didn’t cross it.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Maybe the proposed media merger name should have been SpankMe?

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 1

As an exercise i wished Fairfax and NZME would put paywalls on their online channels just so they can see how irrelevant their content is (as no one in their right mind would subscribe) which brings me to another point how can these 2 companies be awarded their annual laurels in media awards when their products are awful

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 0

Because if you haven’t noticed by now, they’re the only entrants in the annual gasping competition to see who has been hand fed the best stories by PR companies.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

If the reader is running Adblock Plus on their browser (and they should) simply ad the code below to the filter list (Adblock/options/advanced/my filter list)

||outbrain.com^
||taboola.com^

save, clear the cache and presto no more Outbrain or Taboola

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

The stuff and herald are papers for people that are clueless and can't see beyond the hype and the tripe that they print, or what could be, or maybe may happen, its all for ratings, nothing else.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

The Press Council just went up in my estimation.

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 0

Fake news, hidden political agendas and sympathies (usually Left-wing), undeclared vested interests, brown-nosing politicians, click-bait, journos in more or less the same role for decades across multiple platforms impeding the input of new talent and fresh perspectives, the 4th estate sure as hell isn't what it used to be in this country, that's for sure.

Reply
Share
  • 5
  • 0

This is precisely why I can't stand the Spinoff. The majority of their 'news stories' are paid content. I still can't understand other media companies fascination with the Spinoff to the point that Media Works are now giving them their own TV show.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Post New comment or question

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.