Time Inc. stoops to the level of the American Society of Human Genetics and PPNAS?

January 9, 2017

(This article was originally published at Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science, and syndicated at StatsBlogs.)

Do anyone out there know anyone at Time Inc? If so, I have a question for you. But first the story:

Mark Palko linked to an item from Barry Petchesky pointing out this article at the online site of Sports Illustrated Magazine.

Here’s Petchesky:

Over at Sports Illustrated, you can read an article about Tom Brady’s new line of sleepwear for A Company That Makes Stretchy Workout Stuff. The article contains the following lines:

“The TB12 Sleepwear line includes full-length shirts and pants—and a short-sleeve and shorts version—with bioceramics printed on the inside.”

“The print, sourced from natural minerals, activates the body’s natural heat and reflects it back as far infrared energy…”

“The line, available in both men’s [link to store for purchase] and women’s [link to store for purchase] sizes, costs between $80 to $100 [link to store for purchase].”

“[A Company That Makes Stretchy Workout Stuff]’s bioceramic-printed sleepwear uses far infrared energy to promote recovery…”

(There are quotes in the article, mostly from people with financial stakes in you buying these products. An actual sleep expert is quoted. He does not endorse or even reference the products discussed in this article, nor the science behind said products. His contribution to this article can be summed up as saying sleep is important.)

This is an advertisement, in every aspect save the one where money changed hands in exchange for its publication. (We think. This would honestly be a lot less embarrassing for SI to run if it were sponsored content and they just forgot to label it as such.) These sorts of advertisements, where certain types of reporters eagerly type up press releases because it’s quick and easy, are everywhere.

It seemed clear to me when clicking through to the link at SI.com that the article was sponsored content. But I could not find any such label.

The stretchy-underwear story is a bit of a joke, but in other places SI.com gets into what one might call Dr. Oz territory, as in this article hyping a brand-name “neuroscience” sports headset, with several quotes from the CEO of the company and a satisfied user and no quotes from competitors or skeptics.

This is the kind of one-sided story I’d expect to see coming from the American Society of Human Genetics or PPNAS, but it’s a bit disappointing to see it in a respected publication such as Sports Illustrated.

So here’s my question, which perhaps one of you can forward to a friend at Time Inc:

Is this what Sports Illustrated is all about now? I mean, sure, I’m not expecting crusading journalism every week. Sports is entertainment and as a sports fan I have no problem with the sports media promoting big-time sports. It’s symbiotic and that’s fine: the sports media needs sporting events to cover, and sports organizations want media coverage so that people will care more about the games. And I also understand that there’s no reason to gratuitously offend potential advertisers: no need for SI columnists to go on rants against training headsets or fancy sneakers or whatever.

But if you’re running ads, can’t you just label them as such? How hard would that be?

Don’t go all Dr. Oz on us, dudes!

I’m reminded of what a friend told me once, years ago, that it’s easier to be ethical when you’re rich. 40 years ago, the management of Time Inc. were sitting at the top of the world, bathed in prestige and attention and advertising dollars. They could afford the highest moral standards. Now they’re desperate for sponsorship and are doing the journalistic equivalent of knocking over liquor stores to pay the rent each month.

Or maybe this is all listed as sponsored content, and I just didn’t notice the label.

P.S. If you click on the author link at the above-discussed article on the stretchy underwear, you get a bunch more of the same:

New L.A. Rams stadium aims to be an indoor-outdoor entertainment experience

Cano, Bogaerts, New Balance customizing U.S.-made baseball cleats

Under Armour, Stephen Curry take a dip into lifestyle market with Curry Lux

For Red Sox pitcher Joe Kelly, prescription eyewear is an accessory

Ex-Ravens, Rams receiver Mark Clayton designs NFL-ready headphones

Here’s what the top players will wear at the 2016 U.S. Open

Under Armour: From the sports tunnel to the fashion runway

For 2016, the U.S. Open adds more than a retractable roof

Asics develops shoes with new, color-changing mesh

The Kings’ new arena was designed with Sacramento in mind

How BMW is using auto technology to help Olympic swimmers in Rio

Georgia Tech and more college football teams add extra helmet protection

Nike engineers its new soccer ball, the Ordem 4, for true flight

OK, you get the idea.

It all looks like sponsored content to me. Well, maybe not the one about the retractable roof. All the others, though.

So this guy works in public relations. No shame in that. I’ve released a book or two in my time and I like to think that somebody’s out there promoting it. I’m purposely not including his name here because my problem is not with this one guy, it’s with the magazine not labeling these articles as ads or sponsored content.

There’s nothing wrong with advertising stretchy underwear in Sports Illustrated magazine—it makes sense to me. Just too bad that they’re not labeling the ads as such.

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