The Washington Post

The Atlantic tweets an ad

The cover of The Atlantic's December 2011 issue. (The Atlantic)

Despite the freegan news consumption that’s become the online norm, news organizations — at least most news organizations — didn’t get into the game purely for the betterment of the public at large. They did it for a profit, too.

The Atlantic’s tweet is a reminder that the bottom line is what pays for bylines.

The tweet, a pitch for the Kobo e-reader, was paired with a link to a 2009 story that was coincidentally written by our own Liz Flock . While they deleted the original tweet — it was supposed to link to a gift guide — they’ve since reposted it.

The sponsored message didn’t generate blowback, but it did raise some eyebrows and even faint praise — Twitter user @Ali_Gharib spoke about it with the hashtag #newfrontiers.

That optimistic sentiment was voiced by Atlantic spokesperson Natalie Raabe, who, unsurprisingly explained that it was about the bottom line. “We’re an ad-supported publication, so we regularly package our content — whether it’s in the magazine, online, in newsletters, on mobile devices — with advertising,” Raabe told us. “Twitter is a new medium and sponsored tweets are a common practice in our industry. While this is a new program for us, we’re comfortable experimenting with new platforms and ideas.”

Tweets for pay are nothing new. For a fee, Twitter lets companies and political campaigns promote their tweets atop search results for specific terms.

What’s different about the Atlantic’s tweet is that it was sent from its account, nestled between its regularly scheduled programming. It’s something that papers including The Hartford Courant and The Times-Picayune have already tried.

How much can tweets like these raise for news organizations? According to the Poynter Institute, a non-profit journalism school, The Austin Statesman experimented with the model and advertisers were given two tweets per day for $300 — a pittance compared to the sum generated by Twitter luminary Kim Kardashian. The reality star reportedly commands $10,000 per sponsored tweet, regular revenue that any business or news organization would be happy to have.

Will followers be willing to put up with a few “words from our sponsor” in exchange for free content and a personal news feed? Just ask the purveyors of pop-up ads.


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