Where is the line between editorial and advertising?

As the holiday season rapidly approaches, it’s the time of year for publications to slap gift guides together.

I’d never critically thought about the gift guide until I started interning at Eugene Magazine.  As we were trying to put the book to press last week, our advertising salesmen were frantically calling their advertisers featured in the gift guide to collect high-resolution photos and a brief description of their product for the guide.

I’ll be the first to admit – I don’t know the specifics of the gift guide.  These advertisers may have paid for a spot in the gift guide, or an advertising disclaimer might be on the page.  What I do know is that we didn’t “test” these products to recommend to readers.

Isn’t this just blatant advertising?  Without having an objective writer test and review these products, aren’t we essentially offering free editorial space to companies?

The Daily Emerald had a good example of something similar last Friday.  Power to Change, an HP sponsored organization promoting green campuses, hosted a tailgate for the ASU game.  The Emerald’s write-up looked like promotion for the event and HP.  Doesn’t this cross the line of free PR?

The FTC is cracking down on bloggers receiving free products to write about, forcing them to disclose their relationship.  Could, or should, this mentality be pushed onto magazines and newspapers?

The Bullshit Observer, a strange site in itself, discusses how publications are increasingly creating “advertiser friendly” content in the race to snap up advertisers before your competition does.  This is bad for consumers, he writes, because the watchdogs (us) are asleep at the wheel.

Publishing a magazine is tough work.  I’ve seen firsthand how hard the advertising salesmen work to sell ads to local businesses, and putting a loyal advertisers product in a gift guide might be a simple gesture that shows how much the magazine values their relationship.

What do you think?  Should magazines, or any publication for that matter, publish gift guides without reviewing the product?  Or should loyal advertisers be rewarded with a shout-out?

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