Media Watch: When a News Story Is An Advertisement

We are alerting clients and area businesses of a strange offer being made by a print media company in our markets. The offer seems to be designed to take advantage of the current COVID-19 crisis.

On Sunday, April 5th, we were made aware of a “$1 million dollar community grant” being offered to local businesses to “subsidize” marketing efforts for businesses trying to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions. The Victoria Advocate and other related entities published an advertisement, disguised as a news article, promoting the so-called “grant” in their Sunday edition.

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On April 21st, nearly three weeks later, in another “news piece”, the newspaper claimed that “funds are going fast” and that $85,000 had been awarded. It’s a peculiar claim given that only 8.5% of the “grant” has been awarded. Unfortunately, this seems to be nothing more than a reduced pricing strategy for low demand marketing services. The so-called “grant” offers “matching funds” for advertising only in platforms owned and operated by M. Roberts Media. This amounts to a 50% off sale for services and access to an audience that is in perpetual decline. That decline has accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Victoria Advocate and related newspapers announced earlier this month that they would no longer print a Monday edition. We would not be surprised to see more days of publication discontinued by the years’ end.

Strangely, at the same time that this group is offering this “grant”, they are begging for donations and subscriptions through a “Support Local Journalism” campaign. You read that correctly. This privately held, for-profit business is asking the public for donations in order to stay afloat. The donation page rightly states that “your support is not eligible for a tax deduction.”

As always, the creed caveat emptor, or buyer beware, should be employed. We encourage local business owners to effectively market their business during these tough times. However, we also understand the need for pragmatism and just encourage you to be skeptical of all such offers.