When it comes to crypto and NFT news, it’s hard to discern what’s fact and what's fiction. A primo example comes from a new article that appears on the website of the storied magazine Rolling Stone — except that, according to extremely fine print, it was actually paid for.
Larry Dvoskin, an NFT entrepreneur and former Grammy-nominated musician, wrote the article as part of the "Rolling Stone Culture Council" — a controversial way for the aging magazine to make money by letting people with money cough up a $1,500 annual fee, as well as $500 upfront, to publish official-looking articles that are actually pay-to-publish fluff.
The program earned near-universal scorn when it launched last year.
"Just put Rolling Stone out of its misery already," cracked Washington Post columnist Sonny Bunch.
"So sad," quipped academic Jeff Jarvis. "Rolling Stone becomes Forbes."
Much of the criticism focused on the way the program blurs traditional lines between sponsored content and real journalism, hiding the disclosure that the article is "fee-based" until you hover your mouse cursor over a small disclaimer. A vague line at the top of the story also says that the piece does "not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers."
That might be because the content is often, well, embarrassing. Dvoskin’s article, for instance, is titled "How to Be a Successful NFT Entrepreneur Based on My Experience" and boasts about his experience in the NFT industry while bloviating about the future of the crypto world.
He also buzzes about how NFTs represent "a quantum shift in our culture" while offering advice for how folks can make money off of the trend.
All told, it's a cautionary tale about sponsored brandbuilding masquerading as objective journalism or analysis — and what happens when that troubling trend intersects with the hype-filled world of crypto.
It also calls into mind more egregious examples of sponsored content gone awry such as when The Atlantic published a piece from the Church of Scientology in 2013 — although that piece, to be fair, was much more clearly marked as sponsored content.
To see a piece uncritically discussing NFTs under the magazine’s storied banner is jarring and a truly dark artifact of late-stage capitalism. It’s also something that we’ll no doubt see more of as financially-struggling media companies attempt to find additional revenue streams.
For now, we can only hope that the labeling and disclaimers forefronting the articles in the “Culture Council” are enough to make sure that people discern them from actual journalistic endeavors. Still, it’s a bad look and an unfortunate harbinger of things to come.
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