Native advertising has become an increasingly important revenue component for many online journalism publications. Because Web consumers engage in advertising avoidance strategies when using the Web, advertisers have gradually come to rely increasingly on paid advertising that resembles in format, appearance, and content non-advertising content on websites. On news websites, native advertising forms include sponsored content, sponsored homepage links, and sponsored article-referral links. The spread of native advertising news content has led to concern that news consumers fail to recognize it as advertising, and questions about whether it is unethical or deceptive. Contemporary native advertising is not the first content delivered alongside news that blurs the boundaries between editorial and paid promotional content. Print advertorials, which took root in newspapers and magazines in the mid-20th century, are a direct analogue, but host-read ads on radio and television programs, text-based search engine result advertising, and newspaper special advertising sections can all be seen as advertising content designed to feel like non-paid content. However, because contemporary native advertising takes so many different forms, and because practices of disclosure to the user are so varied, there has been a rise in public concern and academic inquiry into the prevalence and effects of native advertising. Native advertising on online news sites has generated a number of ethical concerns from practitioners, media critics, and consumers. On the production side, scholars and practitioners worry that the creation of content on behalf of, or in partnership with, advertisers may erode norms of editorial independence that have governed media organizations’ practices for over half a century. Others are concerned that as consumers become accustomed to seeing articles produced with advertiser input, the credibility of news organizations and trust in their non-advertising content will decrease. Perhaps most prominent have been concerns that native advertising deliberately disables consumers’ ability to recognize advertising elements on a website, rendering advertiser and publisher liable for deceiving consumers. Research on native advertising has focused primarily on understanding how consumers detect and perceive native advertising, with additional streams focused on descriptive analyses of native advertising content and practitioner perspectives. Empirical studies show that many consumers do not recognize native advertising, and that there are substantial differences in how the content is received and trusted between those who recognize it and those who do not. Scholars have also identified characteristics of content, disclosure practices, and individual characteristics that influence the likelihood of advertising recognition.
News is produced primarily to inform readers and viewers. However, audiences are charged only a fraction of the high production costs or not asked to pay at all. The reason is subsidy by advertising revenue. Since the beginning of professional journalism, news has been bundled with advertisements. This way, media companies can sell the attention of audiences attracted by journalistic content to advertising companies, which in return seek to attract consumers to their products and brands. Beyond distributing both simultaneously, advertising and journalism can intermingle, which causes ethical concerns. From a normative point of view, news and advertisements should be separated clearly in regard to the production process and the content itself. The separation of “church and state” or the “Chinese Wall” between the newsroom and the business side within a media company are commonly used metaphors used to express the ideal of separation. This principle aims to protect journalistic autonomy from economic influences such as advertising considerations. Nevertheless, advertising interests may influence journalism in different forms and to various degrees. They are regularly discussed as influence on journalistic selection of topics as well as writing style, and as the source of attempts to blend advertising and editorial content. Scholarly concerns are increasingly consumer oriented and less critical journalism, biased reporting on advertisers’ brands or products, and the potential deception of audiences, for example, when hybrid forms of advertising such as native ads camouflage their commercial nature. The relationship between journalism and advertising has been treated as an orphan compared to the relationship to public relations or politics. However, the media organizations’ struggles for sustainable business models in the 21st century fuel discussions in media economics and journalism studies about whether advertising is a blessing or curse to journalism. In a nutshell, the relationship between advertising and journalism is as long-standing as it is ambivalent (see “Evolution of the Relationship”). On the one hand, advertising revenue largely lays the financial foundation for prospering professional journalism (see “Funding Journalism”). On the other hand, this financial dependency causes potential threats to journalistic autonomy (see “Influencing Journalism”).