A small bomb hit the political media world yesterday when Erik Wemple of The Washington Post insinuated that the very popular “Playbook” email newsletter, written by Mike Allen of Politico, is more a native advertising venture than a news ticker. If you want positive coverage, you just need to pay for it.
The newsletter has always accepted money from sponsors, with advertisers paying $35,000 for a weeklong promo run. The point of Wemple’s reveal is how closely the “editorial” content resembles the “paid” content. Allen is, essentially, reprinting certain advertisers’ press releases by giving hands-off coverage to their PR work. Case in point: Allen reported BP’s post-oil spill damage control campaign as news and linked to a PDF of the company’s print ad. He later linked to a video spot, and Wemple strongly implies that Allen’s friendship with BP execs facilitated this coverage (for which Politico did not charge).
The newsletter also consistently quotes press releases from regular sponsors like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, writing things like:
Ahead of tax day, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce promotes its agenda for tax reform: “Renew all expiring tax rates and incentives right away. … Stop threatening small businesses with higher taxes”
The average Joe on the street will understandably say “of course the media is biased and politics is a pay-to-play game” while shrugging his shoulders at this story, but it’s big news to anyone who does PR in DC. The money quote after the jump: