Investigation: What cryptopedia ready to take money for hidden advertising

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The journalists Breaker Corinne Fife in his article highlights the problem of hidden advertising in English, cryptomeria. The findings are disappointing.

This article started with email, which appeared in the mailbox of the author a few years ago. Fife can’t exactly remember when it was the first such letter, but that’s what he got in 2016, when he began to write for CoinDesk. Since then, every few months he gets something like this:

First of all thanks for the answer!
Tell you a secret: I do PR and work with many companies who need to get publicity on sites such as Cointelegraph, Coindesk, etc.
I would therefore like to make you an offer.
Write an article about the ICO and the crypt, make the material of the three companies, and I well pay for that (more than 1000). I know that good bloggers value their reputation and will never agree to that kind of money, but I need your help, so I ask you to consider this proposal. I look forward to the ongoing partnership and will pay you in the crypt, ETH, PayPal or other way you want.
Please let us know if you agree and we can discuss this via Skype.
Sincerely yours,
Mark.

Here is the answer of the author:

Mark,
what you propose is completely contrary to the ethics of journalism. I under no circumstances agree to such a proposal.

Fife certainly not the only one who received such letters. This year John Biggs documented a similar phenomenon, exposing the PR that was sent to TechCrunch similar proposals. Biggs writes:

I get these offers almost every day, like almost all the journalists with whom I spoke.

The words of Biggs and own experience the author of this article gave him no peace. He knew he would never take money for such items, as any serious journalist. Lighting cryptocurrency industry, he read daily content on a variety of resources that could not vouch. He raised the question: if these proposals of the “left” money there, is it possible to rely on the honesty of all journalists and editors? Can we believe in the objectivity of each article?

The more he thought about it, the more I become convinced that there is a fairly simple way to test this. During the investigation of Breaker offered different resources to pay for coverage of ICO, to check who will say “Yes”.

Sorry, Yes said more often than expected.

The context

But first, a little history. In the last decade, popular media either ignored blockchain company or limited coverage of key projects (bitcoin, Coinbase) and sensational news (drugs and services killers in darkwave for the cryptocurrency).

Of course, the honest blockchain startups also want to attract the attention of the media, because the media coverage or social networks, payment press releases and creating sponsored content for many companies is the only way to obtain publicity.

As soon as the income from journalism decrease in the age of digital media, the online publication increasingly blur the distinction between lighting projects and advertising. The authoritative New York Times now places of the paid posts on my main page, while Forbes and others manage a network of employees who write promotional articles about brands under the guise of journalism.

All of this raises a lot of questions, but in this article we are interested only in the most blatant form, when companies pay for advertising that pretends to be independent journalism.

The essence of the research

Obviously, most resources do not admit that they take bribes for articles, if you ask them about it directly. Therefore it is more reasonable to conduct a secret survey.

Deception in this case was minimal: Breaker created a fake gmail account, which allegedly were PR-company. There was no fake web site or domain; it was just the email address from the image profile that is found by search query “Russian actor” (publication asks for forgiveness from this man, who was by Mykola Kostareva, Moscow PR-agent).

The employees then Breaker has compiled a list of the blockchain media. They do not claim that the list is exhaustive, but to have an idea of the scale of the investigation, the necessary numbers. In General, journalists are asked to 28 sites and at the time of publication and received the answer “Yes/no” 22 (two answers have been mixed).

The work consisted of two key steps: the first employees of the Breaker used the links to “Contacts” or “Advertising” on the websites of the media through which sent an e-mail with such content:

Hello,
I represent the PR company on the blockchain from Moscow (Russia).
Would like to have information on rates for advertising on the website. Thank you in advance,
Nicholas K.

In response, we usually got the price list or, in some cases, an entire booklet. Information included the prices for banner advertising, publication, press release or affiliate program to create sponsorship material.

Receiving the response, the author sent another letter with this sentence:

Hello, [name].
Thank you for the reply and information.
Many of my clients at the ICO want to know the details.
But some are interested in publishing without a mark of “sponsorship”.
Is this possible?
Sincerely,
NK.

Of course, the expected response should be “no”. True, some publications said that all paid advertising must be checked, or was asked to choose another form of sponsored content. Unfortunately, those who said no, were in the minority.

**Unpleasant**

Of the 22 who responded, 12 publications were willing to publish paid content without a corresponding mark.

This is a serious statement, so when the author had doubts, he asked for more detailed explanation. Only those sites that explicitly agreed to the publication of content without a mark of “sponsorship material” was included in the final list. This means that the list does not included two publications that hinted at the fact that I can make such publication on certain conditions, but in the end not confirmed their intentions. Add these two, and the total number of publications will rise to 14 out 24 (58%).

Prices for such publications ranged from a low of $240 to a maximum of $4500 (the price range directly reflects the popularity of the resource). The following table contains a breakdown in which you will see familiar names.

Some of the sites are small and do not affect kriptonyte. But among them there are those that are quite popular and are positioned as a reliable news source for traders, investors, developers and other people who are interested in the world of cryptocurrency.

Among them Bitcoinist and NewsBTC sites with high traffic that are displayed in the Google results when searching for content associated with bitcoin and cryptocurrency (Bitcoinist claims to have more than 2 million visitors per month; NewsBTC tells about 1.5 million).

Both resources has requested an additional bonus beyond the normal cost of the publication sponsorship of the material that is agreed to issue a press release under the guise of objective journalistic material.

In response to “beta version” of this article, Samuel ray, Director General NewsBTC, said:

I learned that one of our sales managers by mistake said that we agree to publish paid content without proper tagging (i.e., sponsorship material), one of your secret journalists, who presented himself as a PR agent. It is not our policy. Promotion, who proposed it, was immediately fired from our company and will no longer offer services for the is (or any other), whether it’s PR company, reseller, or anyone else.

Asked to provide evidence of the dismissal of an employee or explain why another employee also confirmed the readiness of the Platform to publish sponsored material without the appropriate mark, Rey did not answer.

Editor in chief of Bitcoinist Adam James, responding to a question about the Breaker an additional fee for sponsorship material without notes, said,

All sponsorship material is clearly marked in one form or another. Fee for removal of the tag “sponsorship” just gives the article the opportunity to stay on top longer and removes it from the pool of sponsored content within this group. In these materials, always hangs a disclaimer.

Although Bitcoinist, NewsBTC and others were willing to publish content from a fake PR agent, not all publications contacted Breaker, suggested appropriate advertising placement.

AMB Crypto and Blokt refused to publish the proposed article, but said that he would discuss the matter with the CEO of the company if we pay them the appropriate amount.

Particularly impressed with the response from Cointelegraph, one of the largest players in the industry kryptonopolis.

In the ranking of Alexa a website Cointelegraph recently overtaken Coindesk, a veteran in the industry kryptonopolis. This makes it the most authoritative news website about cryptocurrency in the world. During the investigation, one source suggested that Cointelegraph receive payment for publishing material without a mark of “sponsorship”, but in correspondence Breaker with the representative of confirmation of this information was not.

On request “Nicholas” on the publication party business team pointed out a few sites, which are included in the Cointelegraph media group can do (the group is a advertising partnership that allows marketers to coordinate advertising or sponsorship material on the websites of the parties, which in other respects are independent of each other).

At the time of publication Cointelegraph has not commented on this letter.

We will not focus on the negative and celebrate a few companies who definitely refused to publish any sponsored content without appropriate marks. It BraveNewCoin, Coinjournal, CryptosRus, CCN, Mineable, Oracle and ZyCrypto Times.

What does it mean

If the media are willing to take money to publish such “news”, the very concept of news on such resources can be put into question. They reflect not what is relevant or important to the industry, and who have the deepest pockets.

As noted by Laura Shin, host of the popular podcast Unchained, it also demonstrates a huge level of contempt for any of the readers of these web sites:

I think it’s awful. These publications are mainly profiting from its readers, who are losing money. This is similar to the schema of the pump-and-dump. On this publication they will earn more than the usual sponsorship material. Their readers will think: “Wow, that looks like an interesting coin”, but if they buy it, not realizing that the post they read sponsorship, you will be left with nothing when its price falls.

Tire experienced a blockchain-journalist, said that he had repeatedly seen the phenomenon in my career and still occasionally gets messages from companies that want to pay her for an article (often, these offers come through LinkedIn). She noted the role of PR in this:

I am convinced that PR should stop this practice or to inform your client that if you believe that you can’t generate a genuine demand for your product, perhaps you need to work on that.

With this view agrees and David Waxman, CEO Wachsman PR, the company that specializiruetsya on the blockchain:

When press releases or full-blown articles are published on third party websites and does not have a clear designation “sponsorship material”, this is unethical reporting. PR professionals who are working on stories on behalf of these companies, it is difficult to understand the decline of journalistic ethics. It is essential that such professionals are informed of the real value maintaining strong relationships with journalists and informing about all the intricacies of a company, project or technology.

From this investigation, Breaker had no idea what the problem would be so blatant. Paying for advertising is one thing, but to pay for sponsored secret material — is quite another.

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