#HearstMagFront: My Thoughts

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Via People.com/Angela Pham

I know I said I’d stick to tweeting about media industry news, but I couldn’t contain my thoughts about this particular event to 140 characters so here we are. Two days ago Hearst Corporation, one of the leading magazine publishers, held what they branded as a “magazine Upfront.” Basically Hearst invited media buyers, advertisers, and current cover stars like  Vanessa Hudgens and Miranda Kerr (pictured above) to their NYC headquarters for a presentation on upcoming content. When I first heard the idea, I perceived it as some gimmicky scheme to attract new advertisers and try and one-up the competition. TV networks do their Upfronts for similar reasons. But I was thinking of it too simplistically; I just assumed it would be previews of next year’s big feature stories and a few cover teasers. Maybe one of the mags got a big exclusive on some high-profile trending story from this year and want to sell the corresponding ad pages ASAP. That completely misses the bigger picture, though, and rudely ignores all the steps Hearst Digital has taken over the last few months toward the future. For example:

So, here are three of the most exciting #HearstMagFront announcements:

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The Age of Sponsored Journalism

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Yesterday, The Atlantic came under immense scrutiny for publishing a story on the Church of Scientology’s alleged growth spurt in 2012. At first glance, it’s a headline that doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. Look closer, and right above that unsuspicious headline is an eyesore in the form of a bright yellow box containing the words “Sponsored Content.” And therein lies the shock and dismay. How could a magazine as esteemed as The Atlantic publish an advertisement masquerading as journalism?

When I first caught wind of the controversy on Twitter, I was a bit taken aback. I won’t pretend like The Atlantic isn’t my favorite U.S. news magazine and a publication I aspire to see my byline in some day. I wear my bias on my sleeve. It felt like a personal slap in the face because as strong as The Atlantic’s Op-Eds are, its reporting outweighs the calculated thoughts of such legends as Ta-Nehisi Coates. The idea that The Atlantic would publish a story so poorly written on one of the most controversial religious organizations in the world stung. But, the fact that it was paid for by that same church left a bruise turning a darker shade of purple by the minute.

And, yet, I don’t fault the editorial staff for this blunder. Like that old saying about not mixing business and pleasure or church and state, that same rule applies for the editorial and ad staff of a magazine. Each staff’s decisions are its own and should have no influence in either direction. When the writers of The Atlantic saw this story, I have no doubt they felt the sting from that same slap because they know public perception means everything. And nothing is more important to the state of journalism than the perception that our work is fair.

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