Time Inc.’s New Chief Content Officer on Native Advertising and TMZ

At the Media Minds breakfast discussion this morning, new Time Inc. chief content officer Norman Pearlstine had some interesting things to say about media ethics in conversation with Alex S. Jones, director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics & Public Policy at Harvard. Jones, who pressed Pearlstine on the issues of native advertising, wondered how the exec would approach these issues at his new gig.

“[Native advertising] varies from brand to brand,” said Pearlstine. “It’s not to suggest that some magazines have a higher or lower standard, but that they’re different. If you think about the customer needs of some of our lifestyle magazines, they’re quite different from the customer needs from Time or Fortune.”

Pearlstine admitted that he didn’t understand what the hullabaloo over native advertising is about – likening them to advertorials that have been appearing in magazines “forever.” So what’s his approach?

“I think it’s all about labeling. If you are labeling properly, and you turn off your customers in the process, you’ll know you’ve made a mistake. The great thing about the digital age is that you have instant feedback about what you’re doing.”

Pearlstine also discussed the rise of TMZ and the practice of paying sources. Although it’s Time Inc.’s policy not to pay sources for content, they will pay for things like first serialization rights to a new book: “I have a little trouble distinguishing between paying for a book excerpt and paying for photographs for Angelina Jolie‘s children, where the funds go to a charity in the name of the person providing the pictures, and what TMZ is doing.”

He says that TMZ’s practice is not something the People brand would delve into, but whether or not the company finds a place for that kind of outlet remains to be seen. “I’m a reader of TMZ; I love TMZ. I’m asking myself, if I love it that much, why would I say, ‘I would never touch this?'”

For more on the conversation, visit our sister site 10,000 Words.

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