Separating Hype, Opinion and Journalism

Sep 032009
 

imagesWhen a food blogger emailed me recently to say she had just heard “puff piece” for the first time, I wondered who else had never heard of this term.

Her email led me to ponder the differences between hype, opinion and journalism, especially in blogs. I’m concerned, because some 84 percent of Americans say online customer evaluations influence their purchases, according to an Opinion Research Corp. survey. That means if you recommend a product on your blog, people are likely to believe you. So here are seven definitions to keep in mind when writing about a product or place:

  1. Advertorial. A form of print advertising in newspapers and magazines. It looks just like the publication’s regular editorial copy, leading readers to believe believe the publication endorses the product or location. Ethical magazines label them as Advertorial or as Special Advertising Sections. On the web, advertorial is harder to distinguish, because it is usually not labeled.
  2. Junket. A trip offered to writers, all expenses paid, in the hope that a story will result.
  3. Promotion. What advertisers, marketers and public relations (pr) people do to get media attention for themselves or their clients. Writers, on the other hand, know how to sift through promotion and find information interesting to their readers (or a publication’s readers), and the reasons why come through in the piece. Writers are not promoters.
  4. Puff piece. Promotional writing about a person, product or company that offers only positive comments. Also called “hype” and “free p.r.,” it is duller to read than a balanced review.
  5. Review. A balanced opinion of a product, service, or place. Reviews are mostly positive, but still address weaknesses or cons. An all-positive review is actually a puff piece.
  6. Sponsored posts/content. Where companies pay writers to promote their products. Writers might do so in their own blogs, or by creating a blog for the client, or by writing comments on other blogs, on Twitter or on Facebook. While their comments look like personal opinions, they are a form of promotion and often not labeled as such. These writers could be in trouble over ethics and disclosure issues, but Gawker says the trend will only increase. Sponsored writing on websites is the online equivalent of advertorial, and often not labeled as such.
  7. Opinion piece. An informed essay capitalizing on a piece of news and expanding on it, based on the writer’s opinion. In print, the writer’s biases are sometimes covered in the bio, thus exposing their agendas. On the web, again, it’s harder to tell.

Have I left anything out? If you’ve written sponsored posts and positive reviews, think I’m being too extreme, or think this is all semantics and you can write whatever you like, I’d like to hear from you. Let’s discuss.

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  10 Responses to “Separating Hype, Opinion and Journalism”

  1. Thanks for addressing this, Dianne (your earlier post on freebies was also great). What I see out in the field is that publications that used to have very strict standards are loosening them *a lot* because of budget issues. Freebies in food, travel, and lifestyle writing are everywhere.

  2. Hi,

    Re your comment about the free trip, please come back to my blog (www.diannej.com/blog) and re-enter it. I have just posted on the Sweepstakes, and your comment needs to be on the correct page. I’m going to delete the one you made earlier.

  3. As usual, spot on. I have one disagreement though. I don’t think a review needs to be overwhelming positive. I think it needs to be honest so if something is more negative than positive that needs to come out.

  4. Thanks Dianne, I’d never heard of puff piece :-) Now I know. Thanks…and very interesting read too

  5. I didn’t realize that an all positive review was considered a puff piece. Thanks for the clarification.

  6. Hmmmm…I realize I may be doing a lot of “puff” pieces, usually because I really do like something like La Maison du Chocolat ganache the other day. What’s not to like?
    But I’m also keenly aware that readers don’t like to hear negative comments, well my readers. It can be a difficult balance sometimes…

    • Hmmm,…maybe it’s not so much that your readers don’t like reading negative comments but that you don’t like writing them. If you received the thing or trip you are reviewing for free, you probably want more and if you write negatively, you might not get any other trips or freebies. If you did pay for it yourself, it may be hard to admit that something wasn’t worth the money for instance.

      Personally I think I am pretty objective, but I’ll admit, it’s easier to be positive.

      • Yes, these are good points and probably true.

        I find that people have unrealistic fears about “being negative.” It’s not about writing a whole negative review. There’s a way to be “less than positive” without making personal attacks or being nasty. It’s about constructive criticism and a balanced approach. That is much harder work than just gushing over a product. Take a look at a movie reviewer’s work and you will see what I mean. If a reviewer only wrote glowing reviews he or she would be out of work soon.

        There is no reason for a company to cut you off if you write a balanced, well thought-out review.

        Agreed that it is easier to be positive. It is probably easier not to edit your own work also, no?

  7. If I had a nickel for every email I get asking if the writer can do a guest post or revise a post I’ve already written to include a link to their client…that just makes me crazy. It seems many have decided that PR now can be free…just ask a blogger. They’ll do it for free. Disgusting. There has been a definite uptick in this type of email – probably get one a week.

  8. […] My eyes widened. So she’s assigning advertorial now, where a company pays to get an¬†enthusiastic article that looks and smells like regular […]

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