Sponsored content is a tricky card to play for newspapers and media outlets looking to add money to a business model that appears allergic to revenue in the digital age. The embattled Salt Lake Tribune has now begun experimenting with sponsored content, with editor and publisher Terry Orme explaining in an e-mail that the move is a gamble. “Is this the future of online advertising? Is the revenue going to make a difference? I don’t know,” Orme says. “No one does.”---
Readers noticed immediately the placing of sponsored content on the Trib site this week with the appearance of an article entitled “Can poor air quality lead to pregnancy and birth complications?.” For being sponsored content the article isn't exactly advertising pretending to be news, as some sponsored content has manifested itself. But neither was it from an unbiased author as the piece was written by Melinda Rogers, a former Trib reporter now working as a communications specialist for University of Utah Healthcare.
The article focuses on the concerns of activists and healthcare professionals who are fielding more and more questions from expecting mothers worried about the potential effects of Utah's notoriously bad air and inversion on the pre-natal development of their children. The article even references ongoing research done by a “reproductive medicine specialist at University of Utah Health Care’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology” on the issue of pregnancy and air pollution and offers tips on minimizing pollution's impact on children.
Orme (pictured) says the use of sponsored content or “native advertising” offers a unique product to advertisers. “From an advertiser’s point of view, it gives a company or other entity the chance to communicate its message in a format that has proved engaging for readers — stories,” Orme says. “From our point of view, it’s a potential source of new revenue.”
The Trib has also begun leveraging another one of its products for new revenue by also selling ad space on the paper's popular “Political Cornflakes” blog and e-mail newsletter. For the first time the Cornflakes has recently begun running ads for the government relations and lobby firm of Foxley and Pignanelli.
It's an ad Orme hopes will become a regular addition to the Cornflakes. “We believe there is a revenue opportunity there,” Orme says. “The newsletter speaks to a niche that advertisers should also want to engage.”
When it comes to the sponsored content Orme says he's adopted two rules from The New York Times playbook. “Mark the content clearly, and don’t have any of it produced by The Tribune newsroom. I, or another top editor, will see each piece before posting and have veto authority,” Orme says.