Can A News Organization Be A Successful Advertising Platform, Too?

For my first set of observations about InTheCapital, I decided to focus on the site’s overall setup, starting with the website’s home page.

It’s got a lot going on.  Article headlines in bold font with accompanying photos, featured events, ads, and reader commentaries can all be found on a busy but enticing home page.  “Today in D.C.” features four of the day’s top headlines, paired with a larger photograph.

Below that, one will see a list of story headlines and accompanying photos and ratings (InTheCapital uses “The Flame score” to rate articles based on their comments, ‘shares’ on social media, and the number of views the article receives).

As I scrolled through the list of recent stories, I was reminded of scrolling through the popular story headlines on BuzzFeed, as both use graphics and large headline text within a seemingly never-ending list of stories to catch a reader’s eye.

Similar, am I right?

Similar, am I right?

InTheCapital‘s writers are prominently featured under their bylines (including cute little circular photographs of the writers).  In this way, the set-up definitely reminds me of a blog – it encourages readers to find favorite writers and to keep track of when they publish new material.

There’s a lot more to the creative set-up of InTheCapital that I plan to look closer at in later posts.  For now, though, I want to take a minute to focus on one of the more unique components to this website.

InTheCapital is more than just a news-producing website: the site is unique in that it sells “channels” to advertisers.  For $100 a month/$1000 a year for a basic plan, InTheCapital will essentially sell space to advertisers for them to post articles related to their products or companies.  Member channels pay $500 a month/$5000 a year, and range from PennSocialDC to Verizon.

I checked out one member’s channel: Congressional Federal.  A federal credit union serving members of the House of Reps and their families, as well as other employee groups in Washington, Congressional Federal’s channel contains five articles, ranging from a Q&A about the company to an informational posting that Congressional Federal had won the 2013 Care Award for mission service.

The articles are clearly identified as being written by Congressional Federal, but the setup of the page is the same style as other pages on InTheCapital.

My question for those of you reading is, is this ethical?  InTheCapital is providing a great way for companies to advertise their products and reach InTheCapital‘s desirable audience, but I do wonder how InTheCapital can produce content that is objective, when the site is essentially making money by hosting content written by advertisers.  It’s certainly an innovative way for InTheCapital to afford to stay up and running, but I have to wonder if a website can be a successful advertisement platform and a reliable news source at the same time.

What do you think?  Comment below!

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