Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Ask the expert? Humbug!
So no sooner did I get done casting aspersions on a local TV station's "Ask the expert" (read: paid advertising) part of its Web site yesterday than I get home and what's staring at me but a full-page, section-back ad in my local paper encouraging people to visit its own "Ask the expert" Web section, and, by the way, if any of you "experts" want to advertise, call this number.

At least the paper labels it an "advertising feature." The TV station, in small type, disclaims any responsibility and notes each is a "sponsor."

But here's what bothers me: If we bandy about this term "expert," then will readers/viewers start to devalue it in our news columns, too, when we go to the trouble to find someone with real expertise in a field? Will they start to think that everything is just paid and that we're all just pimps, interviewing whoever will pay top dollar? (OK, hold the snide comments. ... And we already know the dirty little secrets of the talk shows and the "experts" directories.)

So if I want to become an "expert" in weight loss, all I have to do is establish a corporate name and buy an ad? (If you saw me, you'd know the absurdity in that.)

Should we not be a lot more honest and label these columns: "Ask our Advertisers" or "Ask our Sponsors"?

Perhaps this is an issue that national organizations, such as SPJ, should weigh in on.


At 5/19/04, 12:11 AM, Blogger Neil Holdway said...

Along the same lines, Doug, are the multi-page inserts in major magazines, like Newsweek. You're reading along and suddenly the page numbers change, the design changes, and you can't figure out where you are in the magazine. It's some special section dedicated to health, or technology, or whatever. The page numbers are B1, B2, etc. They usually are labeled "special advertising section," but the pages are designed and written as news articles -- and are, actually, sometimes interesting, to the point that you're not even sure what the catch is or what is being advertised. I suppose sometimes it's advertising for a general category, such as health care. Still, your concern over what's authority and what isn't applies.


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