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September 14, 2004

NEWS or ADVERTISEMENT?

Are typical "Health and Fitness Feature" sections in many newspapers genuine opinion and hard news pieces or are they merely advertising sections?

Take a look at the fine print. Much of the time you'll find the words, special advertising section, or something to that effect qualifying the entire "feature" as being a continuous ad section or what is known as an advertorial. These advertorials are cleverly written. They look like real opinion or information pieces written by a dedicated fitness or health journalist, but in fact most articles are nothing more than an ad that reads like an article. You'll be hard pressed to find any detailed health and fitness tips in these articles; just a few lightly written minor generic tips.

dictionary.com lists an advertorial as, "An advertisement promoting the interests or opinions of a corporate sponsor, often presented in such a way as to resemble an editorial", and, "an advertisement that is written and presented in the style of an editorial or journalistic report."

Fitness centers will place ads that are presented as an unbiased consumer review of their facility, but in fact the only information provided is a few cliché lines about feel-good exercise followed by pricing and location information, and "how affordable this great facility is". Nutrition "columns" are written in a decidedly bias slant towards the products of only one company, while mentioning only the pro's and not the con's of the products, often with no real side-by-side comparison of competing products. These are ads, and shouldn't necessarily be taken as news.

Advertising your product is a good thing; the entire Rhino Fitness web site is in fact marketing for Rhino Fitness. I do have reservations though, with the practice of making ads look like the work of independent journalists writing stories for a newspaper. In fact, these pullout sections must now clearly state that they are in fact advertising, albeit in small print.

Why go through the trouble to camouflage the delivery? Write an ad as an ad. Be accountable. It is worrisome that these special advertising sections may be taken as real journalism reporting on the who's-who and the what's-what of health and fitness.

Hard news is typically found in the first pages of the newspaper where details of wars, car accidents, election results, scientific discoveries, and so on are reported on. Opinion pieces are a journalist's opinion inspired by the day's hard news. The health and fitness "special advertising feature" is found deeper in the paper, and is separate from the standard hard news and opinion sections of the newspaper.

It is my opinion that these advertorials are fake journalism. This dilutes the already sparsely available quality info available on health and fitness. It can be difficult to rely on the accounts of advertisements for balanced reporting.

A word to the wise; be careful what you read, there is a difference between journalists reporting their opinions and hard news and an ad made to look like the same. The whole concept seems, well, devious.

Cultivating even more confusion, even when a fitness article is not an ad, it is often a review of some fad exercise scheme that depicts a journalist put through their paces at a local gym or "boot camp". The journalist haplessly reports how out of shape they are and how so-and-so super trainer "made them hurt" during their first and subsequent workouts. In fact, exercise is not supposed to hurt at all during the beginning phases, with any pain or discomfort being a sign of going too hard. But we're so conditioned to associate "quality" exercise with pain and sacrifice that to hear of easy exercise causes us to question the validity of the exercise.

Hence, most columns that depict a person's journey through getting in shape denote pain, suffering, and the immense effort it took to muster up the courage to do "just a few more miles", or "a few more repetitions" when really they are fatigued and in pain. -Just a note- one of the top reasons people new to exercise quit is because the routine was too difficult to follow, having discomfort being present in so much of the routine that it outweighed the possible benefits of improved fitness.

I've never met anyone who got fit in six weeks, and I never will because it can't happen, no matter what advertorials or hammy "I survived boot camp" articles claim. It's true of course that with regular exercise a person will increase fitness over a six week period, but it won't be a transition from couch potato to Mr. or Mrs. Six Pack. Sustainable gains take time. Healthy living is about the rest of our lives, not just the next six weeks.

Much of what we read on fitness is either espousing ritualistic pain, a get fit quick gimmick, or is advertising made to look like news. To be fair, the good stuff is out there too, but is often overlooked because of a compulsive attraction to diet and exercise regimens that promise huge huge improvements in a short time. Careful what you read, if it sounds too good to be true...

- Cris LaBossiere


2004 Cris LaBossiere Rhino Fitness www.rhinofitness.ca

 

 

 
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