The Southern California-based Church of Scientology got some social media attention Monday with what looked like an article on the Atlantic’s website about the church, with a headline declaring “David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year.” That is, unless you saw the small “SPONSOR CONTENT” banner at the top and the explanation of what that means if you roll over, which notes that sponsored content is created by the Atlantic’s promotions department — in partnership with advertisers.
It also notes that the editorial team isn’t involved in creating those articles. That editorial team apparently fired back, with Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg posting about a new anti-Scientology book written by a friend of his. The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal also tweeted about the new book, and both were retweeted on the Atlantic’s official Twitter account.
There's no time like the present to tout my friend Larry Wright's great new investigation of the Church of Scientology: theatlantic.com/national/archi…— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) January 15, 2013
The comments were also being moderated, with approved comments initially being universally in favor of Scientology, before slightly more skeptical tweets started making an appearance. Most of those positive comments also received numerous downvotes, including one with 7 upvotes and 111 downvotes, while the few comments that were approved on the other side received numerous upvotes, including one with 294 at press time.
You know it’s a big deal because there was immediately a Twitter parody account, @TheAtlanticAds.
Simmer down everyone, the Church of Scientology ran out of space on their website and we're just helping out.— Atlantic Sponsored (@TheAtlanticAds) January 15, 2013
Reaction to the article wasn’t kind, particularly from other journalists.
Haven’t seen this much fail in the Atlantic since Titanic.— Jake Beckman (@jakebeckman) January 15, 2013
Why yes Atlantic Monthly, I would like a free personality test. theatlantic.com/sponsored/scie…— Mike Konczal (@rortybomb) January 15, 2013
Disturbing day for journalism: CNET sells out for CBS; Observer kills a column for the offended; Atlantic runs Scientology advertorial— Jeff Jarvis (@jeffjarvis) January 15, 2013
Still, not everyone thinks its that big a deal.
Am confused. Scientology bought a clearly marked advertorial on the Atlantic site. So what? Good for them.— Ben White (@morningmoneyben) January 15, 2013
No word yet on how much the Atlantic was paid for the sponsored content, but the worlds of advertising and journalism will probably continue colliding for the foreseeable future.
Check out the ad/article below: