“The Atlantic” Sells Out to Scientology

16 Jan

Morning Jolt – January 16, 2013

By Jim Geraghty

Here’s your Wednesday Morning Jolt.



The Atlantic, Suddenly Enthusiastic about 2000’s Battlefield EarthMovie

I’ll begin by quoting Jonah:

Everyone in the magazine business needs to have a bit of a “there but for the grace of God go I” attitude when it comes to keeping the lights on. But it seems to me some advertising just isn’t worth it. Exhibit A: The lavish fake article the Church of Scientology has taken out in The Atlantic under the heading “Sponsor content.”

(I can hear it now — “Hey, Jim, funny you mention this, because I’m getting a lot of e-mails offering health stuff that doesn’t interest me since I subscribed to the Jolt!” Hopefully, whatever you think of those e-mails, you never find yourself thinking, ‘Boy, Jim has really gotten worried about hormones that can make you fat . . . and he’s suddenly changed the tone and style of his writing.’)

That “advertorial” is no longer up online now; if you wish to see it, the Poynter Institute has preserved the ad for . . . well, proper humiliation of The Atlantic, I suppose. Headline? “David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year.” Yeah, that does seem a little outside of the usual coverage in The Atlantic . . .

The magazine published an apology:

We screwed up. It shouldn’t have taken a wave of constructive criticism — but it has — to alert us that we’ve made a mistake, possibly several mistakes. We now realize that as we explored new forms of digital advertising, we failed to update the policies that must govern the decisions we make along the way. It’s safe to say that we are thinking a lot more about these policies after running this ad than we did beforehand. In the meantime, we have decided to withdraw the ad until we figure all of this out. We remain committed to and enthusiastic about innovation in digital advertising, but acknowledge — sheepishly — that we got ahead of ourselves. We are sorry, and we’re working very hard to put things right.

I guess a big question is, is the ad distinguishable from the content from the magazine? If you read Men’s Health or Men’s Fitness — why are you looking at me so skeptically? I read them, I’m just not all that consistent about following the advice — you’re often seeing ads for various protein shakes and muscle-building products that are written in the form of a gushing article, with “advertisement” written somewhere at the top or in the margins. The Atlantic‘s Scientology piece looked a lot like a regular article, and where it really looked like an article was the comments section . . . where apparently critical comments were weeded out.

The Washington Post‘s media-beat writer Erik Wemple lays out the details:

Native ads are critical to The Atlantic’s livelihood. They are one element of digital advertising revenue, which in 2012 accounted for a striking 59 percent of the brand’s overall advertising revenue haul. Unclear just how much of the digital advertising revenue stems from sponsor content. We’re working on that.

Though the Atlantic has done many such advertorial packages in the past, Raabe says that it hasn’t received complaints — at least that she’s aware of.

This is the first such package that The Atlantic has done with Scientology.

Comments! Commentators sniffed close moderation of the comments on the Scientology piece. Here’s some history on the topic: Advertorial sponsors in the past haven’t always opted to activate comments on their posts, according to Raabe. Makes a lot of sense, given all the abuse that can pile up in that territory, not to mention the labor required to clean it all up. In the case of the Scientology post, says Raabe, “Our marketing team was monitoring some of the comments.” The incident, she adds, “has brought to light policies on how we monitor sponsor content.”

The outcry over the Scientology post trickled up to the level of the Atlantic’s president, M. Scott Havens.

The advertorial feature was taken offline around 11:30 p.m.

Robert Stacy McCain: “Of course, this is just an occasion to laugh at the snobbish hypocrisy of the Atlantic, another elite-oriented neoliberal institution caught in the economic crunch that has affected so many other Legacy Media outposts. Paying for actual journalism in a post-literate age is an increasing challenge for every outfit not attached to an entertainment conglomerate that can afford to subsidize the written word as a “loss leader.


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