As part of my daily chores, I update the Webinar Success Industry News page. This means scanning through many dozens of articles and press releases that include keywords such as webcast, webinar, web conference, and the like. I make a personal decision on each and every one as to whether it is appropriate to list on a news portal that deals exclusively with webinar issues.
I also categorize each item as a corporate-issued press release or an article (news story, editorial, or personal opinion piece). Lately I have been having a lot of trouble figuring out what to do with articles running on TMCnet.com. This portal site has created an interesting form of advertorial opportunity for tech companies.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, "advertorial" is a coined jargon phrase that has been used in print media for many years. It refers to something that is written to look like an objective magazine news story or editorial, but is actually a vendor-supplied and purchased advertisement. Most magazines include a small print header or footer on the page that says "Advertisement" as a way to keep their integrity. The common practice is to give clients guidelines on length and format and let them submit their work like any other ad. Editors and columnists don't touch these so that the magazine can claim independent and unbiased coverage of real news, unaffected by who advertises in their pages.
But TMCnet.com has created a new twist on this with their "TMCnet Channels." They are listed in the left column on their online site. As far as I can determine, a client purchases ownership of a keyword, which becomes a channel. TMCnet.com then produces a steady stream of advertorials under the byline of their columnists and editors. While the main channel page contains a fairly obvious ad for the sponsoring company, each article looks like the columnist's own opinions... Until you realize that there are vendor and product pitches for the sponsoring company in each one.
The rub is that there is no indication on each article that it is a paid advertisement. And the people writing the features also contribute to other articles that are supposedly unbiased. So to take a tangible example, Mae Kowalke has been writing a lot of advertorials for Packetel lately on Packetel's "Web Conferencing Channel." But she also published a news story on Tandberg and a product review on a Bluetooth speakerphone. Her mini-bio on each story says that she is "senior editor for TMCnet, covering VoIP, CRM, call center and wireless technologies." That's quite a blend of sponsored marketing and objective reporting.
So I don't know if I should count a TMCnet "article" as a column that I should link to on my news site or simply ignore it as an advertisement. I don't link to banner ads, so why should I link to ads that happen to be a page long and full of text? It is a puzzlement.