In journalism there is supposed to be a “Chinese wall” separating “church and state” — the news and business sides of a news outlet (though which is church and which is state probably depends on your point of view), but in reality, this wall has always been a bit porous. Odds are your local newspaper has real estate and automotive sections actually created by the business side, for example. Your local television newscast is also likely to feature video news releases (produced by drug companies, for example) have been appearing in the middle of local television newscasts and introduced explicitly as news stories by a local news anchor reading from a script supplied with the release. Look through back issues of Columbia Journalism Review for the Darts & Laurels column you’ll see plenty of examples of disturbing influence of advertisers over supposedly independent news content.
John Oliver’s piece on this is as usual funny and informative, and he makes an important point: If we ignore most ads (which we’ve largely learned to do even if we don’t employ ad-blocking software in our web browsers), this becomes a huge incentive for advertisers and ad-sponsored media to move toward stealth (or “native”) advertising. After all, somebody has to pay for the content, and if we don’t subscribe or donate, ads are pretty much it.