One of the things I [heart] about the internet is its ability to totally democratise the production and distribution of knowledge and information.
Reading George Monbiot's (somewhat difficult to follow) analysis of the relationship between the media, editorial independence and advertising in a recent Guardian column, I thought: "Wow. Well, that's complicated. What's the solution?".
Well, it turns out the solution wasn't too far away. Several comments down in fact. By a man called Graham Wayne.
I won't try to summarise or precis his response. I'm just going to re-post.Lazy, you say? Well, it's too good not to.
I am moved by your candid argument to respond - and we should acknowledge the Guardian for giving you the space - and yet for the first time in many threads I am, frankly, quite perplexed by the commercial paradox you identify.
There are some alternatives, but none of them are entirely satisfactory or perhaps commercially practical. Some are not consistent with the ethical requirements you describe and with which I broadly agree. But in the first place, let us enjoy for a moment the irony of taking money from the airlines, the automotive industry and their ilk, in order to sponsor an MSN outlet that consistently criticises them and pays for people like you to do so. It does sweeten the pill a little, but perhaps not enough.
Some suggestions then - not so much as things I think can be done, but as catalysts that might lead to constructive discussion and better solutions than I can offer:
1) Recent news suggests that some quality MSN websites will attempt to institute subscriptions. If the Guardian moved in that direction but limited advertising according to content that met published ethical standards, it would make subscription more meaningful. I would pay to support a news site that placed ethical behaviour at the core of its business model, because that is exactly what I find is virtually absent from commercial concerns, and much to our detriment both as consumers and members of society.
2) Try such a scheme as an alternative site and trial it for a reduced sub in the first year. If it took off, move the enterprise in that direction and reward those early supporters with a discount on the second year - or something.
3) Ban only the ads that meet the ethical standard. This is not a moral exercise but a commercial one, but where virtue is rewarded. Ethical standards should be applied to products or services, not companies per se, and when certain products enjoy more ad space than their counterparts, their importance to the companies that produce them shifts in their favour, simply because they sell more. Advertising usually targets the consumer, attempting to modify their behaviour; here advertising could target the companies and do the same. It is in the boardroom that this message needs to be understood - the market is changing and ethical behaviour will be rewarded by consumers. (And when it's all hat and no cattle, you have new fodder for the column).
4) Develop more flexible price strategies and find more innovative ways to deliver the adverts. Perhaps a rate card with weighted price bands depending on gross revenue, where smaller and more ethical concerns can also take some space in the paper or the site, thus increasing opportunities for ad sales. I suggest this because I think taking the ethical stance will cost the Guardian some revenue. Quite how much it loses is in part dependant on the ad sales team, because there is also a strong marketing advantage in the ethical stance, especially if the Guardian is the first to adopt is. Very newsworthy, and worth trumpeting in any ad campaign. It must also be true that properly exploited, there may be some additional market share to be gained through it, so it's not all downside.
5) Keep discussing the option of going completely digital. I'm sure this is discussed and the Guardian management understand this much better than I, but there are important implications for the environment as well as the economics. It must include a subscription, but that has benefits since it would probably be annual or semi-annual, which is more reliable income than variable sales of print copies. (I'd like to see the management's thoughts on this. Things change, as the Guardian demonstrates with this very site. Where are they now on this?)
Prudence would dictate money will be lost, so the Guardian must ask the same question it does over page 3 girls: what is it prepared to do in service of Mammon rather than its founders like Scott? Tits are out of bounds, yet they would bring in more money, as would the sex trade ads, but the Guardian has taken a moral stance at the expense of profit. Morality cannot be parcelled out or striated by expediency. Either the Guardian is wholly responsible and doesn't want to assist in destroying civilisation, or it may as well start looking for busty women and brainless men to leer at them, since that readership will always put their hands in their pockets - if you know what I mean.
Good isn't it? I hope the Guardian's Emily Bell sees this and takes some of Graham's points further.