Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Newsvertising: First we had 'fake' helicopter tours. Then we had 'fake buyers. Next came a 'fake' mansion. Now do we have 'fake' news?

First we had "fake" helicopter tours.  Then there were 'fake' asian buyers for Chinese New Year.  Next we had a "fake" mansion.  Now do we have "fake" news created so that our cities' major daily newspapers can sell real estate advertising?

Last decade news entertainment, or “infotainment,” dominated the news landscape. Sharply scorned by many traditional journalists and academics for focusing on “entertainment” rather than “news,” the practice has taken hold notwithstanding.

The trend has been for news programs to make their broadcasts more entertaining to gain ratings. By incorporating more lighthearted presentations or human interest stories into newscasts, they could hold their audience. While there is still a line between a traditionally hard news approach and infotainment, the current media climate has blurred the distinction.

This decade, with the rise of the internet and the explosion in social media, that line is being blurred even more as print media fights for their very survival.

To stem corporate losses, newspapers have taken to raising the price of their subscriptions and news-stand copies. They have also taken to instituting 'paywalls', methods of charging readers for online content. But it's not enough.  An in desperation another disturbing trend is starting to emerge.

The news media has always been targets for product pitches of one form or another.  Businesses and politicians have always bombarded mass media with press releases designed to promote self interests. From time to time media has picked up on these 'press releases' in the name of informing about 'public interest' stories. And no sector of society has seized on this tendency like real estate marketers.

Stories with a real estate theme have reached legendary status on the Wet Coast, particularly when it is revealed these stories are nothing more that shills or manipulations of the media. (On that note, The TYEE has an excellent article out by Shannon Rupp worth reading titled: Why Blog when you can Flog which outlines the Industry's attempt to manipulate the blogosphere)

But what is disturbing here is that the print media now views the rapacious demands as something to exploit. And exploit it they are. It's a trend we call "Newsvertising."

Real estate marketers crave media spots in the news. And nothing garners attention like a news story profiling your development in a positive way.  Until now that sort of attention has been free!

But not anymore.

Rather than be the lackey who provides 'free advertising", print outlets like the Vancouver Sun/Province appear to be seizing on an untapped opportunity to sell their journalistic souls.

It used to be, if you wanted to advertise you product under the veil of a news story, you had to suffer the ignominy of having a banner placed above your 'fake' news story that read "ADVERTISING FEATURE"

However the moment people see the term "ADVERTISING FEATURE", they tune it out. Makes selling that sort of advertising virtually impossible.

Enter the Vancouver Sun/Province's latest gambit: incorporating advertising so that it appears as "news" without outwardly announcing it's not.

"Newsvertising": the next step for print media.

You can see the tactic here:

This March 21st Vancouver Province story has all the hallmarks of a human interest real estate news story, but it's not a news story.It's an "advertisement feature" cleverly disguised as a news article.

Scroll to the bottom of the 'story' and you will see this:

When you go to the link: theprovince.com/focus you are instantly taken to the Vancouver Sun/Province advertising rates page. This little blip at the bottom is all there is to discern this as an 'ad' from other regular news articles.

And it doesn't stop at fake human interest news stories, The Province appears to be faking hard core news too.

On March 15, 2013 the Province ran this "ADVERTISING FEATURE" dressed up like regular news: 

The headline screams: "Real-estate sales finally recovering: Tighter mortgage rules had put a freeze on activity"

(This while some of the past decades worst year-over-yeary monthly sales figures are recorded) 

Just like the real estate human interest story from March 21st, the bottom of this feature also has that small direction to the province/focus section. Only this time it isn't a hyperlink. You can't click on it and discover you were have been directed to a page detailing advertising rates.  This time you being have to go the extra step of copying and pasting the url into your browser to discover it's an ad.

If you had a print copy of the newspaper, it's even worse.

For all intents and purposes it looks just like a real news article:

Presumably all of this is perfectly legal. But is it ethical?

What are you going to do?  Go find a computer to find out your reading an ad in your hard copy newspaper?

We showed this story to 41 different people on the weekend.  NOT ONE realized they were looking at an advertisement.

Who paid for this ad? What company placed it? You don't have a clue.

The major daily newspapers in our City appear to be so desperate for ad revenue that they have taken to prostituting their journalistic ethics for a quick buck. All while the public is being served up highly misleading advertisements presented as news.

Each and every one of the 41 people we showed the article to felt manipulated and deceived when they were shown the 'news story' was actually an ad.

The Canadian Association of Journalists principles for ethical journalism state:
Journalists have the duty and privilege to seek and report the truth, encourage civic debate to build our communities, and serve the public interest. We vigorously defend freedom of expression and freedom of the press as guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We return society’s trust by practising our craft responsibly and respecting our fellow-citizens’ rights.
Presenting these ads in this fashion, in our opinion, isn't responsible. Nor is it properly presenting the truth. And we certainly don't think it's serving the public interest.

If you agree and wish to complain about these practices by the Vancouver Sun or Province you can file a complaint online with Industry Canada about misleading advertisements.

You deserve to know when you are looking at an ad instead of a news story and you deserve to know who is responsible for placing that ad.

You deserve more from your print media.

If they won't give that respect to you, maybe it's time to start demanding it?


Email: village_whisperer@live.ca
Click 'comments' below to contribute to this post.

Please read disclaimer at bottom of blog.


  1. Not only are buyers being deceived but so are sellers. They must be if I see the same houses listed this year as last with the same asking prices.

  2. You vote with your wallet, Whisperer. The solution is to simply not participate and the chips will fall as the circulation numbers drop.

    Or not.....

    Back in the days of the Soviet Empire the largest circulation newspaper was "Pravda" which translates as "The Truth".

    Of course it was absolutely jam packed with lies and state issued propoganda. So we wonder...why did people buy it and read it?

    Well one reason was it was the law to subscribe if you had any associations with the state of the day. The other was that people felt they might get at essential nuggets of the internal workings of government if they could divine the meanings written between the words.

    In any case they bought plenty of copies even though everyone knew they were being lied too. They even had a saying......that there was no truth in "the Truth".

  3. Reading these articles makes me want to buy a condo.

  4. Vancouver Sun or Province - same low life non-news conglomerate.

    Non news is good news??


  5. The fact that the industry needs to put out an ad to tell you the "strength" of the RE market tells you about the weakness of it.

  6. I guess all the stops are being pulled for the last hurrah! Scruples seem to be the first to go when the going gets rough...

  7. nothing says any news has to resemble or be truthfull.

    1. Sounds like the new Province masthead motto!

    2. It's a shame though, an embarrassment to the Sun's legitimate journalists, like Kim Bolan, who must be risking her life to write about Vancouver gangsters and corruption.

  8. Obviously, the real trick these days is finding people with a modicum of integrity. People have a tendency to believe the printed word and to be more ready and willing to accept journalistic reports from a major news source as facts. Well, the newspapers and those who rely on them for their latest market intelligence deserve each other!
    One would probably be better served to take a contrarian approach to most newspaper reports dealing with real estate investment. As has been said before, "buy on bad news and sell on good news".
    At least when it comes to reporting, the "Blog" has shown that it can weather criticism and using the strength and depth of its readership, can unearth truth to a greater and more objective standard.
    Good report Whisperer.... story needs to be told!

  9. That is why I've stopped consuming any form of mass media all together for anything other than entertainment purpose/contrarian indicator.

  10. I filed a complaint. The last one I filed about the fake asian chinese new year buyers didn't go anywhere, but at least I'm trying! Do your bit blogosphere and make that complaint!

  11. Don't like it?
    Email the editor and tell him it's shite.
    Wayne Moriarty: wmoriarty@theprovince.com

  12. If you read/watch the news for your Real Estate info you are doing it all wrong. If you follow this website for any information you are just as bad. The news, similar to this site likes to report on the negative as that is what people feed off.