The editor, James Retief, requested that I contact and interview particular people for my articles, which I initially took as being conventional editorial suggestions.
But when I saw the published articles, I realised that the people I had been asked to contact were advertisers.
Which meant, as far as I was concerned that, that I had been duped into writing advertorial. But only been paid editorial rates.
I was furious. I objected , and secured a higher word rate from Highbury, and an assurance that if I were to be published again under similar circumstances, that I could use a pseudonym, as I objected to having my name attached to advertorial.
Now I have been contacted again by James, and asked to write yet another article for African Communications. Which I agreed to do, at an editorial word rate of R2.50. The commission duly arrived – followed two days later by another request to include quotes from an African Communications advertiser.
In a state of startled deja vu, I wrote back to James, and asked for clarification on whether I was being asked to write editorial or advertorial.
The response: “I am asking you to include a sound bite – a sentence or two from Web Africa (an advertiser), in the article. If you cannot or won’t do this then please let me know and I will withdraw the commission.”
I may be reading too much into his message, but it would seem he is implying that my desire to be paid industry-appropriate rates for distinctly different types of content creation, and my wish to retain my credibility as an independent writer, are somehow unreasonable. Rather strange, given that a few months ago he acknowledged the justice of my complaint and, to his credit, offered redress.
But since he has apparently changed his mind about what is fair practice, I have advised him to find another writer. My reputation may be modest, but I think it worth preserving.
I suspect that this kind of thing is pretty widespread. While I very much doubt that astute readers are fooled by the kind of “editorial” Highbury is publishing, it seems to me a betrayal of normal standards of editorial independence.
Transparency about how the media works – or doesn’t work – is an important part of building public trust in the fourth estate. Most people are incredible cynical about journalists, and this kind of practice explains why. It’s a pity, and rather unnecessary, as I think advertisers do benefit when publications are trusted.