Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet is a bit of an institution. The country’s biggest paper, it’s a heady mix of health scares (‘Why your cellulite could be cancer’), celebrity gossip and, perhaps incongruously, earnest left-wing opinion pieces. Entertaining stuff, all in all.
This morning one of the many leader writers at this publication, Daniel Swedin, took umbrage with The Local. Why? Because we published a sponsored article on behalf of a client that he disagreed with. He said this called into question our independence.
Honestly, rather a storm in a glass of water, as a Swede might say. But slightly puzzling nonetheless.
The article in question was sponsored by Almega, an employers’ organization, and argues that Sweden should not further restrict labour migration. Restrictions that powerful trade union group LO wants to introduce. (Purely coincidentally, LO owns 9% percent of Aftonbladet, dictates the political stance of the paper and appoints Daniel Swedin’s boss. Although you’d have to search hard to find mention of this on their website).
It just so happens that in this particular instance, I agree with our client. As an international media company, The Local needs talent from all over the world. I’ve grappled with trying to prove to authorities in Germany and elsewhere that an employee from the US or wherever is the only feasible candidate for a job. Trying to explain the media business in endless forms to uncomprehending bureaucrats is a deeply depressing and pointless experience. The article has also resonated with readers, and is one of our most read and most shared articles of the week.
But whether I’d agreed with Almega or not, we’d have run the campaign. Why? Because we’re a commercial media company – as such, we've also run campaigns for trade unions. Because why should advertisers with complex messages be forced to explain them in the soundbites that banners allow? Because it didn’t breach any of our strict guidelines on ethics, relevance or quality. Because our sponsored articles are written by a dedicated commercial content editor, not by staff journalists.
And because sponsored articles (or native advertisements – as they’re known in the trade), are being recognised by publishers around the world as an important part of the future of media. BuzzFeed, Gawker, The Atlantic are leading the charge on the other side of the Atlantic (although The Local was doing it before BuzzFeed and Gawker even existed).
Oh, and on this side of the pond, one publication running native advertising is Aftonbladet. The problem for them is that they’re (occasionally, at least) doing it dishonestly. This week they were criticised by the Swedish Advertising Ombudsman for running a sponsored article for a gambling company without declaring that it was sponsored. Perhaps Mr Swedin should tell his colleagues to clear up in their own back yard before criticising us?