Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Magazines as Curators

Magazines must keep an ethical separation between editorial and advertising. Obviously, we wouldn’t want advertisers buying flattering press coverage with their advertising money. But, what about the reverse? Should the editorial ethos of a magazine influence which ads it includes?

Recently, I was reading the Jul/Aug 2007 issue of GOOD magazine. Lots of articles about waste management, how much trash we accumulate, and what our trash says about us. Great advice on how to reduce our waste and consume products closer to home. The green focus of the magazine is unmistakable.

But, then I discover what I first think is a parody. But instead of satire, it’s a genuine ad for Fiji water with the headline: “From the end of – the end of the earth.” Amidst articles assailing the extravagances of today’s wasteful culture appears these words in the ad’s body copy:

Why travel all the way to the South Pacific islands of Fiji for a drink of water? Thousands of miles from the nearest industrialized continent, there is a virgin ecosystem at the edge of a primitive rainforest. Within this fortress, a natural artesian aquifer protects FIJI Water until it is bottles at the source and shipped to you. And the taste is miles from everything else.

Well, if GOOD wants to create positive change in our ecological behaviors (i.e., be a green curator), then why include any pages that betray that effort? Why take part in generating desire for water in the very plastic bottles the editorial side so eschews? And, especially one that is shipped thousands of miles from its source. Doesn’t advertising combine with the editorial content in affecting the experience a magazine creates? Or, do readers somehow compartmentalize advertising separate from editorial?

Anna Quindlen wrote in a recent Newsweek column about R.J. Reynolds new female-targeted Camel No. 9 brand. Turns out a group of Congressmen asked 11 women’s magazines to stop accepting ads for the new cigarette brand. None of the 11 decided to join the likes of Good Housekeeping which has not run cigarette ads since 1952. Most publications simply ignored the request. Vogue took what they thought was the patriotic highroad responding that the request was “at odds with the basic fabric of our country’s value system.” Free speech trumps any culpability in the part they play to increase demand for cigarettes with pretty pink foil lining. Or in any part they play in making lung cancer the number one killer of women (surpassing even breast cancer).

Quindlen concludes:

Cigarette manufacturers…have a compact with the bottom line. But magazines have a compact with their readers. And that means not only writing about products that will kill them, but forgoing ads for those products as well.

1 comment:

haydn said...

Steve - magazines are mainly shaped editorially by who you can punt the ads to. I don't launch a magazine unless I have a bunch of advertisers signed up and these days those advertisers are going to be pretty dictatorial and have PR watching the magazine constantly. The relationship between who pays for advertising and who doesn't get a look in is fluid but from what I can see the role of publisher has now become ad salesperson - and that's true of magazines at teh very highest level of quality and editorial independence.