We older people (say above age 25) was educated with the idea of what Steve Rubel refers to as ”a strict ’church-state’ wall” that separates the editorial and advertising sides of the house” in the ”media biz”. I have reasons to suspect that younger generations have neither heard of that idea, nor seen the point with such a wall. Furthermore, in my view that wall does not really exist (anymore). Of course there are established (and formally educated) journalists who believe in, maintain, and never climb over the wall. Likewise some main stream media ad sales representatives mindfully stay on their side of the fence. And PR folks, like Steve I presume, play by the rules of the wall-idea game.

The things I bring forward here has occupied my mind ever since I discussed e-media with Svenska Dagbladet in the late 1980-ies (at that time a major Swedish daily morning paper). I was frustrated because exploring non-print distribution required the co-operation of  people from both sides of the wall. A no-no, they simply did not want to talk to each other. Steve’s post finally triggered me to share some of my thinking around the issue.

What if that wall idea is not?

First of all, I am one of those who advocate full transaparancy. This remark is my response to Steve’s question that ends his post. In other words, I believe for ethical and commercial reasons that anyone (blogger, podcaster, msm journalist, consumer, etc.) should as much as possible state, explain, and be open about why we say things. For example because somone paid me to say it, or because I like a product and not is paid for stating that. Full disclosure. Always.

Second, we have to realize that when we talk about this ”wall” a lot of people does not understand the issue. This goes beyond those who understand, but does not care. Or to put it in a different way, imagine the extreme that there are people who think that everything media contains is of course there because someone paid for it. At best there is a semipermeable membrane between the people who bring in the money from advertisers and those who create the editorial content. Perhaps we can lean on all the research that says that younger generations are experts in seeing through commercial intents. Although I am not so sure about that the kids always do. And if the do, they might not really care and buy into it anyway.

Third, because the advertising methods (print ads, radio spots, and TV commercials) that have been developed in mass media in the last 50 years now increasingly become less effective, advertisers and mass media are turning to new/old alternatives. These range from a program format totally developed for a particular advertiser, to product placement. Buzz marketing belongs here too. And by the way, a lot of free ”trade magazines” has for many many years contained only articles written by professionals in the trade (with the clear purpose to sell the stuff they write about).

Fourth, I have a real hard time with the term ”media” (or ”media biz”), because it is always extremely unclear what ”media” means. If You is media, then where is the wall?

The big issue here is not loss of trust in particular media brands or their journalists, but the loss of your trust in your friends. When You is the media and everything you say is a result of direct commercial influence – then I do not trust You.

Another fruitful path is early training in source criticism. But that is another issue.

Integrity, openness, and criticism. Please.