I. BACKGROUND & THE DIVIDE
“The media and the public are supposed to be on the same side. The media, when it’s functioning properly, protects the public against marketers and their ceaseless attempts to trick people into buying things. I’ve come to realize that that is not how it is today. Marketers and the media and the bloggers – we’re on the same team, and way to often you are played into watching with rapt attention as we deceive you. And you don’t even know that’s going on because the content you get has been dressed up and fed to you as news.” – Ryan Holliday, Author, Trust Me I’m Lying
My first brush with working with the media was around the age of 12 when I started submitting a stick figure comic strip (thanks to my lack of artistic ability) to my junior high school newspaper.
In high school I was, naturally, an editor of our school paper. There I did everything from write articles, design layouts, assign stories, edit content and even manually lay out the articles on large flats using wax sticks, registration tape and exacto-knives before they were shipped off to be scanned, digitized and printed.
In college it was predicted and assumed, even by myself, that my future would involve working at a daily paper. In the interim I had a bevy of positions at two small newspapers and a startup monthly magazine.
My workflow expanded to include photography, designing more advanced layouts and submitting layouts digitally – no more waxing print outs onto large flats over a lit production table. Eventually I worked my way up to being the lead photo editor of a pair of publications focusing exclusively on the visual branding and images of each.
At every publication I worked at, from the magazines, to the small newspapers to even being a part of special productions for a daily paper (finally achieving my teenage predictions) there always existed this divide.
The massive chasm in each media office I worked at was the separation of the editors, writers, photographers and copy editors from the advertising department. The division was not just the office space itself, as the ad department would always be seated in a different part of the building; but it was also in the social circles.
Those who worked as content creators (all the writers, photographers and editors) despised the other individuals who worked in the advertising department.
The reason behind this was that content creators would want as much space as they could possibly have to run their articles, photos or their designed layouts. The ad department, who worked on commission, wanted to sell as much of the publication as they possibly could creating a never ending battle of page space each and every issue.
I recall numerous times spending hours on a great layout, only to be informed that we lost half a page here and a page there to ads and had to go back to redesign everything and figure out how to condense all the images and cut the articles to make everything fit again with the last minute ad placements.
The fragile ecosystem only worked because of the ying-yang necessity that a publication needed great content to exist and plenty of advertisements to pay the bills.
Yet at the end of the workday, writers would grab dinner and drinks with other writers, editors or photographers and the ad department did whatever the ad department does at the end of their work shift.
It has been a decade since then and I still work heavily with the media as a contributing photographer to two-to-three dozen publications in a given year.
Today, the lines separating the editorial department from the advertising department have been blurred so much so that in many cases they are no longer visible at all.
Not only have I seen advertisers influence the direction editorial content, I’ve even see advertisements being printed as if it was genuine editorial content; something which goes against FTC (Federal Trade Commission) rules. Some publications, without directly saying it, are even offering their covers for sale to interested parties who want to promote themselves, or their product or service.
This recent phenomena evolved as media companies fight to survive changes in the industry, the economy as well as how people consume content today.