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The WSJ's Paid Guide to the Upfronts

I meant to blog this earlier, but I??e been plagued by computer problems all day. Who noticed this today? The Wall Street Journal has a strange five-page advertorial in the Marketplace section today called the ?007 Guide to the Upfront,” filled with vanilla trend stories about the upfront presentations. The section is entirely bought and paid for by CNN, Discovery Networks, and Univision — companies that present the very kind of events the section covers.

A “Special Advertising Section” like this is nothing new in newspapers or magazines. But this one feels a bit insidious. I think, perhaps, the reason is because these sections are rarely done so well. It’s a multi-story overview with a bylined stories, and a layout and illustrations that look incredibly like the Journal on a timely topic. A colleague of mine even admitted he started reading it without noticing he had ventured into paid content land.

Who wrote it? I called a spokesperson for the WSJ. She told me that the entire section was produced by the Journal’s in-house marketing department and written by freelancers. The three advertisers — CNN, Discovery Networks, and Univision — paid for it jointly, and were only given “a sell sheet that has a very general outline and roughly discusses the kinds of topics each section will cover.” I imagine the strategy from these three networks is to draw some attention to themselves for advertising folks following the upfront presentations, since all three are also-rans this week and the big networks are hogging all the spotlight.

But if I were at the Journal writing my own upfront stories in the previous pages of the Marketplace section, I wouldn’t like how this looks. The format is too similar, and even though the content is evidently neutral, it smacks of paid propaganda. As a reader I’m left with an icky feeling.

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