During the past six months the hardworking staff has chronicled the pimping out of The Weekly Standard’s writers to Xanterra Parks and Resorts (“the largest National Parks concessionaire”) in a series of feature stories on national parks that erased the line between advertising and editorial.
We should mention here that Xanterra is owned by gazillionaire Philip Anschutz, who also happens to own The Weekly Standard.
Note the banner at the top: CELEBRATING 100 YEARS OF THE NATIONAL PARKS SERVICE: A SPECIAL SECTION SPONSORED BY XANTERRA AND PRODUCED BY THE WEEKLY STANDARD.
At the end of each feature there was a Xanterra ad similar to this one.
(To be sure graf goes here)
To be sure, this is hardly the most egregious breach of the advertising/editorial firewall (see Time, Inc. and Condé Nast for true horror stories), but it’s still marketing. And from the start the headscratching staff has wondered why the Standard would draft its own writers rather than set up a separate brand marketing shop along the lines of the New York Times’s T Brand Studio.
So we sent this letter to editor William Kristol:
Dear Mr. Kristol,
As a charter subscriber to The Weekly Standard, I have long admired many of the magazine’s writers (Joseph Epstein, Andrew Ferguson, Matt Labash, and Geoffrey Norman, among others) and much of its content (especially the arts and culture coverage).
Indeed, that’s why I find the Standard’s recent dalliance with Xanterra Parks & Resorts so troubling.
It’s not just the auctioning off of editorial pages to Xanterra’s branded content. It’s more the involvement of your writers – Joseph Bottum, Geoffrey Norman – in the enterprise.
The fact that industrial billionaire Philip Anschutz owns both The Weekly Standard and Xanterra Parks & Resorts only exacerbates the problem.
I am a media analyst in Boston and have written about this issue several times on my website Campaign Outsider (see here: http://goo.gl/gcK5rH)
Granted, branded content/native advertising is the wave of the present for publishers both online and off, but could you explain why you are using Weekly Standard writers to produce it when others are at least establishing separate divisions to create ads in sheep’s clothing?
Not surprising, never heard back from Kristol or any of his Kristolettes.
Now comes the latest issue of the Standard, which contains this essay by Mr. Norman.
In Praise of Park Rangers
It was delightful, as odysseys go, and I wouldn’t mind doing it again . . . and again.
The six national parks that I visited and wrote up for this magazine (hard job but someone has to do it) were all magnificent in their own unique ways. Two—the Grand Canyon and Crater Lake—were about holes in the ground. One—Death Valley—was about millions of acres of desert that seemed, on first look, to be essentially and primordially barren, but turned out to be alive and enchanting. The remaining three—Glacier, Rocky Mountain, and Zion—were about high country, each unique.
But all of these parks had this in common: the excellence, professionalism, and good nature of the rangers who staffed them.
That’s sweet. And because Mr. Norman was tasked with doing sunny side-up stories about the National Parks, all his profiles had this in common: They ignored any real news that might have destroyed the mood.
Such as this, from yesterday’s New York Times:
Tensions Soar as Drifters Call National Parks Home
Large Homeless Population on Public Lands Is Causing Headaches for Forest Officers
NEDERLAND, Colo. — Gerald Babbitt lives in these woods, in a pop-up trailer on cinder blocks that he bought for $250. His toilet is a bucket, and when he and his wife need to refill their water jugs, they drive their creaky green Jeep a mile down the mountain and into town. Most people are kind, but the other day someone called them “homeless vagrant beggars,” Mr. Babbitt said.
“Yes, we’re homeless,” he said, sitting in the shade of his camper here in the Arapaho National Forest. “No, we’re not vagrants. No, we’re not beggars. We just barely are making it. What you see is by the grace of God.”
To millions of adventurers and campers, America’s national forests are a boundless backyard for hiking trips, rafting, hunting and mountain biking. But for thousands of homeless people and hard-up wanderers, they have become a retreat of last resort.
Of course, since they’re not retreating to Xanterra resorts, they presumably don’t register with The Weekly Standard either.