Adam Penenberg: When it comes to walling off a publication’s news content from the influence of advertisers, I am a strict federalist. By that, I mean that I believe that the editorial and marketing departments should be completely walled off from each other and operate as independent entities, with separate staffs, missions and budgets. At stake is nothing less than a publication’s integrity.

To people on the marketing side of the business, it may seem that if it were up to journalists, there wouldn’t be any advertising. This is simply not true. Editors, reporters and even mouthy columnists like me accept that advertising pays our salaries, especially online, where only a handful of users pay for content. If it weren’t for those irksome banner ads running down the sides of our articles, or the even more annoying pop-up ads that scream at you to click and find out more about some product you don’t want, we’d all be working for free.



From a journalist’s vantage point, however, it often appears that people on the business side care about one thing: money. They don’t seem to understand that it’s the content that attracts readers in the first place. Otherwise advertisers wouldn’t bother renting space to hawk their products and services. If readers begin to feel that news coverage can be bought and sold, we lose our credibility and they’ll surf elsewhere. Then we’d all be out of jobs.



Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t have compassion for my comrades on the business side, especially at sites that are not charter members of the Big E-Four: AOL, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, which together skimmed half of all online advertising dollars in 2003, and accounted for 38 percent of all online usage minutes in May 2004, according to Jupiter Research analyst Nate Elliott.



This year, Elliott estimates that online ad spending in the United States will hit $8.4 billion, most of it “banners and skyscrapers, rich and streaming media, floating ads, interstitials and other graphics.” Regardless of the format, he says, smaller publishers will be forced to “scramble for ad dollars.” And dot-com media face another serious threat: non-news sites like craigslist and eBay, which can live off much lower margins and don’t have to plow money and resources into creating fresh content. So the temptation by marketing departments to squeeze as many dollars as possible from advertising will only intensify, which could affect the editorial side of the equation.



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