The insidious effects of advertising
Alex Halavais was talking about Wikipedia when he wrote this, but I couldn’t help thinking of small citizen journalism (or community journalism) Web sites:
The point behind advertising is to persuade consumers to behave in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise behave. The expense is justified by the profit they can draw from these changes in behaviors. That’s why companies might be willing to buy (the idea that they would be “donating” is disingenuous) ad space on a site that has drawn attention as a credible source of information. The only currency Wikipedia has is its credibility, and frankly this is not as shored up as it might be. Accepting advertising might well produce a significant short-term profit, but it would be at the expense of the goose laying the eggs.
So consider a very small Web site or blog that covers the news in a small community. To stay afloat, the publisher accepts ads from local businesses. Yet we all know how that works with print newspapers in small towns — the business then has a stranglehold on the contents of the newspaper.
I can imagine the angry phone call: “Bob, if you publish that story about my husband’s drunk driving arrest, I’m going to pull my full-page ad for the grocery store!”
Now, if Bob the publisher has scruples, he will publish the story anyway. But if Bob has to pay someone this week, he can’t afford to lose that ad.
Halavais has a good point about Wikipedia — and it applies to a whole lot more than just the world’s largest-ever free encyclopedia.
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