Thesis: Unmarked advertorials common feature of Northern European press

A doctoral thesis demonstrates how half of newspapers and magazines in northern Europe try to accommodate readers and advertisers. According to its results, three quarters of papers and magazines in Northern Europe have published unmarked advertorials.

Jan Richard Bærug, who recently defended his PhD at the University of Tartu, analyzed the attitude of 691 papers and niche magazines in Northern Europe, looking at the touching points of journalism and advertising.

He found that three quarters of all the publications he analyzed agreed to publishing marketing texts that appear like regular contributions, but are actually advertising. These advertorials were also run without any indication by the publisher that readers were looking at something else than journalism.

According to Bærug, this hybridization of journalism is a problem, as it may weaken democracy.

Bærug’s study has a major weakness seen from today’s perspective: it was conducted in 2006 and 2007. But although the study was conducted ten years ago, Bærug believes the problem of hybridization of journalism is still prevalent.

“On the contrary, data from the Press Councils of Denmark, Finland, Germany, and Lithuania show an increase in the number of cases in which the problem was merging marketing and journalistic content,” Bærug said.

According to him, Estonian and Russian newspapers ran the highest amount of these hybrids, nearly half of which they didn’t mark or label as advertising in any way.

“The United Kingdom was different from other countries, as it is characterised by almost no publications rejecting advertorials, but at the same time all publications labelling commercial content appropriately,” Bærug explained.

Journalism was in a very vulnerable and tense situation, where the merging of journalism with marketing content supported the weakening of democracy, Bærug found. “A strong tradition of freedom of the press and journalistic autonomy can act as the counterbalance,” he added.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

Source: Tartu University News

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