Infuriating piece on page 19 of The Daily Telegraph. Byline: Dave Hillyard. Headline: "A postcard from our man in the Caribbean." What grated was that it turned out to be some sort of ad for Toyota.
Less subtle was the piece on page 39 of the Sunday Express. Byline: David Royce. Headline: "Sell your home faster." Again, designed to look to readers like genuine editorial. Again, with an almost invisible advertisement tag in the palest of minuscule type to preserve the masquerade.
In these hard times, too many newspaper and magazine editors are bowing to pressure to live with pretend editorial. Too few are even insisting on an unambiguous tag, which of course ad agencies strive to avoid since it confirms their intention to mislead.
They know that self-recommendation is nowhere near as convincing as editorial endorsement, ideally genuine but if necessary phoney.
Sure, it is tempting to take the money and wince. Sure, that has greater appeal to editors than having their budgets cut. But a line has to be drawn.
Else Al Fayed will be buying space to dictate Fulham match reports. Lord Archer will be putting down hard cash to cover his own trials. Jackie Collins will be paying card rate to review her own books. And favour-seeking donors will bankroll spreads for parties to report their own conferences.
We are talking ethics here. And talking pride. We ought not to take for granted that we can easily claim back the high ground when the climate improves.
Consult and be damned
So the relaunch of The Mirror awaits a report by McKinsey. Let us pray that consultants’ mitts are kept off matters editorial.
Rupert Murdoch rejected all such hocus-pocus and relied on editorial savvy to launch the most successful newspaper of our time. Its predecessor, the Mirror group Sun, never recovered from a massive overdose of consultancy.
Its marketing campaign had delivered the message that, whatever sort of paper the great British public was longing for, this would be it. How could any editorial team possibly deliver that? The Day One sale of 3.6 million fell 80 per cent by the time the group was glad to dump on Murdoch "The Paper Born of The Age We Live In".
Can Trinity Mirror afford to ignore that lesson?