Home > Ethics, meta-journalism > Postmedia lowers the bar with shameful “Swarmjam” pieces

Postmedia lowers the bar with shameful “Swarmjam” pieces

December 3, 2010

If you thought Black Press’s sleazy story about its “BC Daily Deals” group-buying site was bad, Postmedia thinks you’re a prude. PM has its own group-buying site, a bee-themed outfit called SwarmJam, about which you may have noticed rapturous “stories” in the province’s two largest daily newspapers.

The bylined (!) story begins:

Today marks the launch of Swarm-Jam.com, a new group-buying site that is creating a buzz across the country. SwarmJam channels the power of online word-of-mouth and consumer purchasing power into special deals on select goods and services from local retailers. The more people sign up for the “DailyJams,” the lower the price goes.

“It’s a fabulous way for consumers and readers to save money, and also a fabulous way for local businesses to attract new customers,” said Alvin Brouwer, president of business ventures, Postmedia Network.

Unique DailyJams will be available in major cities across the country, as well as in cities and towns across mainland B.C. and Vancouver Island. The advertising reach of the Postmedia Network, publisher of The Vancouver Sun, provides promotional opportunities not available to competitors, Brouwer explained.

more of this horrendous drivel…

This is in the Vancouver freaking Sun, for crying out loud. And you’ve got to know if this is appearing in the Sun, you’ll soon be seeing it in the small Postmedia community papers.

At least Marco Morelli, the Black Press web staffer who wrote their story, nobly buried the Black Press angle at the bottom of his story. The Postmedia story is shameless. It appeared on the second page of the Sun’s business section and on page A8 of The Province.

Even more concerning, it appears that it marks the end of the principled editorial/advertising policy of ol’ CanWest Publications (from which Postmedia is a direct and recent descendent).

That policy has four guidelines:

1) Commercial placement will not be used as an integral part of editorial content. (Example:Logos dropped in an editorial environment.

2) Editorial must never appear to be endorsing an advertising message.

3) Editorial content must never appear within the body of an advertising message. (Example: Column of opinion within an advertisement).

4) Advertising must never be placed adjacent to editorial content in such a way as to imply endorsement of the advertising.

For point 1, note the big-ass bee on the web edition of the Sun story. Point 2 has obviously been violated so badly that editorial isn’t endorsing and advertising message, it is an advertising message, which in turn means point 3 has also been breached. And while I can’t scan the published version of every Postmedia paper, but I can pretty much guarantee someone somewhere will breach this point.

On Dec. 7, Postmedia headmaster Paul Godfrey will address workers in a companywide webcast. I implore journalists to join me in asking Godfrey whether the CanWest editorial/advertising policy has been turfed and, how the company rationalizes these horrible advertorials. I have sent the following e-mail to pvgmessages@postmedia.com.

Dear Mr. Godfrey

In recent days news articles have appeared in various Postmedia newspapers that prominently tout a new Postmedia product called SwarmJam. There appears to be little editorial value to these articles; they mention no other sites and no proof nor even anecdotal evidence that SwarmJam is, indeed, “creating a buzz across the country.” It is a transparent attempt to promote a product. In other words, it seems like a mix of advertising and editorial.

The old CanWest Editorial/Advertising Policy directly states “Editorial must never appear to be endorsing an advertising message” and “Editorial content must never appear within the body of an advertising message.”

The policy also states “It is in the interest of the entire CanWest community that we maintain the principles and practices which have been demonstrated to support and enhance public trust in all of our media assets.”

CanWest, obviously, no longer exists. I am wondering if Postmedia has abandoned that Editorial/Advertising Policy or, if the old policy is still in place, how you excuse the placement of those advertisements—and let’s be honest, you and I both know that’s what they are.

With great concern,

A very worried community newspaper journalist (Yes, I’d like to use my own name, but hopefully you know how it is when it comes to criticizing one of the only two possible employers in your industry when jobs are so hard to come by.)

Please leave comments of outrage in the thread below.


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Photo by Joshua Ganderson via Flickr.
  1. Trudat
    December 15, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    Ha! I found this post while looking to see if anyone else had such a ridiculous experience with Swarmjam. My company did a weekend spread with them and honestly, I think a 9th grade school paper could do a better job. Stopping short and outlining every thing from bad spelling to even getting our company name wrong, I actually cannot list everything without blinking twice and thinking “is there anything else they could have screwed up?

    And then…(oh, it’s not over…) the response from their Advertising and Sales manager was the most unprofessional joke of a reply I’ve ever seen. Basically we’re blessed that we didn’t get a $8900 bill for the advertising we got, regardless of all the spelling mistakes, wrong company name and the blurb they wrote on us that wasn’t even close to what we actually offered.

    Swarmjam… you get an official “nul” on the thumbs down as I can’t actually dig deep enough to shame you with such a low rating.

  2. Anonymous
    December 3, 2010 at 9:27 am

    I wouldn’t exactly expect a swift response from him on this. A few months ago when Canwest morphed into Postmedia, a new internal website was created that features an “Ask Paul” section where employees can ask him questions about the company and its direction. So far he has replied to exactly none.
    The whole site is a bit of a joke actually – there is also a “Careers” section where to date exactly three jobs have been posted, two of which are in distribution. While admittedly the company isn’t exactly in hiring mode these days, it is baffling to me why I’ve seen several Postmedia jobs advertised on Jeff Gaulin and other job boards yet not on our own fucking site.
    Doesn’t exactly fill one with confidence about the man behind the curtain.

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