CNN has announced the formation of a new unit that will not report the news. Instead, it will take money from corporations to produce content that resembles news but is actually PR designed to burnish its clients’ images.
The name CNN gives to this mercenary enterprise? “Courageous.”
It’s hard to see what’s particularly courageous about CNN‘s move, even if you see the destruction of journalistic boundaries as a heroic struggle. As a report about CNN‘s foray into “news-like content on behalf of advertisers” on a Wall Street Journal marketing blog (6/8/15) notes, “news companies from the New York Times to BuzzFeed to the Wall Street Journal have units that create advertiser content.”
Perhaps CNN anticipates courageously withstanding ethical criticism. As the Journal‘s Steven Perlberg notes, “These undertakings often raise church-and-state questions about the divide between the editorial and business sides of a company”–understandably, since the point of so-called native advertising is to create advertising vehicles “that feel like editorial work.”
But CNN‘s parent company insists that this is not about fooling consumers:
“This isn’t about confusing editorial with advertising,” said Dan Riess, executive vice president of integrated marketing and branded content at Turner. “This is about telling advertisers’ stories — telling similar stories but clearly labeling that and differentiating that.”
Mr. Riess said CNN’s trustworthiness when it comes to news was part of the reason Courageous would be attractive to advertisers.
“This is CNN. We’re not here to blur the lines,” he said.
So advertisers will come to Courageous because CNN‘s “trustworthiness” and unwillingness to “blur the lines” will be transfered by viewers to advertising content that is “similar” to CNN‘s news but “clearly label[ed] and differentiat[ed].” This is a business strategy, of course, that only works if the similarity outweighs the differentiation.