New York Times looks at sponsored stories, expanding ads — and that may be a good thing

Less than a month after New York Times(s nyt) editor-in-chief Jill Abramson dismissed so-called native advertising as a  buzz word for the “conference set,” her publication appears to be close to embracing the idea. According to a Bloomberg report, the Times has been consulting with BuzzFeed CEO and native ad apostle Jonah Peretti as as it explores the introduction of new types of sponsored stories onto the Times’ homepage and mobile sites. (We’ve suggested the idea for a while).

Media types debate the definition of “native advertising” but the basic idea is to create ad copy that resembles the editorial content around it. A quintessential example is a story like BuzzFeed’s “18 of your favorite toys from the 1990’s” which was created as part of a marketing campaign for toy maker, Furby; the idea is that people will not just read such fare but like it enough to share it too.

The idea of trusted publications like the New York Times dabbling in sponsored stories inevitably sets of a wave of hand-wringing among media watchers, who are quick to cite cautionary tales like the Atlantic’s recent sponsored story debacle involving the Church of Scientology.

So far, though, the Grey Lady’s forays into native advertising feel fairly benign; this week, for instance, the Times’ ‘things to do’ app is promoting New York’s bike-sharing program in tandem with the program’s sponsor, CitiBank. And purists may also wish to note that the Times newspaper has long printed “stories” from advertisers, including unsavory ones like the government of Kazakstan — the underlying principle appears to be that, as long as the ads are clearly marked as such, the practice is acceptable.

News publications, however, must still tread more delicately than other types of media. As an Atlantic executive explained this spring:

“It goes back to the difference between entertainment and journalism … There’s a higher bar for a brand like the Atlantic.”

Update: Peretti took to Twitter on Thursday morning to clarify:

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