Last Saturday, the news section included an article on Olympics design. The article was about the design of the Richmond Olympic Oval, built for the Vancouver Games. But a sidebar caused some confusion from a few readers.
The sidebar included a reference to an app and also to sponsorship by a car company.
One reader wrote a letter saying that “inset into the story’s photo of the Olympic skating oval is the logo for an app that would take viewer inside the building. Below the photo are directions on how to use the app with a credit to a car manufacturer for sponsoring the app. Below the story is a big ad for that same car company. Have we reached a point where car companies sponsor stories in the G&M? Or hire freelance writers to do articles with product placement potential?”
Executive Editor Jill Borra explains: “The content was editorial content – both the text and the video that the app led to. The content feature was sponsored by a car company, which was mentioned in the sidebar, but as with all such sponsored content, the advertiser knew only of the topic and did not preview or have any say in the article or the video.
“I understand that the sidebar could appear confusing, as it is relatively new for The Globe to use scanning technology in the paper. To clarify, we pay for use of the Layar technology (they didn’t give us anything to feature their technology), and scanning the page takes the reader to a Globe and Mail video. If you scan the Lexus logo, however, you will get taken to a Lexus ad, much like a click-through ad on our site.
“We have a similar feature from the same series running in Friday’s paper and Saturday’s paper. We have changed the wording to make it clear that if you scan the page, you see Globe and Mail content.”
In my view, the sidebar was confusing and not transparent to the readers what it was, whether it was an ad for the car company or for the application used. Transparency dictates that the reader understands whether a feature is advertising or editorial. Readers should know what the sidebar referred to, whether they have a smartphone or not, and there should have been a link to the globeandmail.com video.