Ben Smith and Andrew Sullivan battle in sponsored-content throwdown!

Digiday | Andrew Sullivan | The Atlantic | Capital
A sponsored story on BuzzFeed will run an advertiser about $20,000, Jack Marshall reports. A BuzzFeed spokesperson hasn’t yet replied to my query as to whether that’s accurate. But say it is: That seems like a pretty good deal when you consider the site’s rapidly growing audience.

It’s maybe even a better deal for advertisers if, as Andrew Sullivan argued Thursday, you find BuzzFeed’s sponsored articles hard to differentiate from staff-produced articles. “I don’t see an ethical line being definitively crossed here – just deliberately left very fuzzy,” he wrote.

Sullivan and Smith duked it out over the content on a panel moderated by Atlantic biz editor Derek Thompson, who described his role as “para-glider entering a hurricane.” (Thompson’s employer has had mixed experiences of its own with sponsored content in recent months.)

Joe Pompeo attended the panel and gives a blow-by-blow: “If journalism is not understood to be separate from advertising, then it has lost something incredibly important in a democratic society,” Sullivan said. “Our writers aren’t immersed in our ads,” Smith said. “There’s a real separation.”

Thompson writes he wished both parties had bent a little:

I wish Ben conceded that BuzzFeed advertorials are intimate mimics of BuzzFeed articles…. BuzzFeed is trying to make ads that are as charming and delightful as articles, but the more clearly they say WARNING THIS IS A WEB ADVERTISEMENT, the more likely people are to ignore their charming delights, because we have been taught to ignore all Web ads. I wish Andrew had paused in his fiery attack on advertorials and BuzzFeed to acknowledge something simple: Advertising does a good thing in the world. It pays great journalists to find and tell the truth.

Related: The problem with BuzzFeed’s sponsored posts | How news organizations can sell sponsored content without lowering their standards

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  • markglaser

    On last week’s Mediatwits podcast, Andrew Sullivan also went off on “horrifying” sponsored content: http://youtu.be/35caAmB6wss?t=27m35s

  • NateBowman

    I find it odd that an organization that is supposed to help journalists make decisions about the principles and ethics of journalism would pull this quote from the Sullivan post:

    “I don’t see an ethical line being definitively crossed here – just deliberately left very fuzzy,”

    This intimates that Sullivan, at least partially approves. This reading does not convey how Sullivan really feels. The next sentence is:

    “Maybe I’m old-fashioned but one core ethical rule I thought we had to follow in journalism was the church-state divide between editorial and advertizing.”