Editorial Walls: The Good, the Bad, and the Virtual

A post last week in which I wrote approvingly of editorial walls provoked some discussion of the merits of the term. That discussion might have been sufficient for me if it hadn’t been for a coincidental tweet over the weekend from Josh Gordon. Without comment, he linked to an old blog post from the Specialized Information Publishers Association titled “The Wall between Editorial & Marketing: You Have To Be Kidding!“. The gist of the post was to bemoan the continuing inability of editorial and marketing people to work together effectively. That’s not a function of editorial walls I had in mind.

Since it appears that the editorial wall concept can be subject to multiple interpretations, a brief summary of what makes for good, bad, and—in the case of content marketing—virtual editorial walls might be useful.

The Good: Few if any would argue against the idea that there should be clearly delineated separation between editorial content and advertising content. The editorial wall is simply the rule that promises the reader that, to change the metaphor, there will be a bright line between the two.

The Bad: What the editorial wall should not do is imply that editors must never talk with advertisers or must limit their collaboration with marketing or sales staff. Unfortunately, the true function of the wall is often confused with this false one, by those on both sides of it.

The Virtual: In content marketing, you could argue, the editorial wall cannot exist. By definition, such content is, however indirectly, a form of advertising. But, also by definition, content marketers need to recreate some kind of distinction between their straightforward advertising and promotions and their journalistic content. A real editorial wall may not be possible, but perhaps a virtual one is.

In the end, the term editorial wall is just a catchphrase that does not do justice to the subject it denotes. As conveyors of information, we have an obligation to do so ethically—whichever side of the wall we stand on. If the metaphor does not help us meet this obligation, then by all means let’s find another.