At many publications, the barrier between editorial and advertising is now about as substantial as the Berlin Wall. After all, we’re in the grip of the age of branded content, whose primary goal is to blur that line even further.

(This isn’t exactly new; for years magazines and newspapers have happily run ads that looked like editorial content, often barely identified as “advertising” with tiny type. It’s just gotten worse.)

As a copywriter, I’m happy that branded content is keeping some writers off the streets. But as a voracious consumer of journalism, I’m a little cranky.

It can’t be an easy time for media companies (at least those with ethics), and nowhere has that been made clearer than in Episode 17 of Gilmet Media’s StartUp podcast.

Gimlet’s highly listenable podcast chronicles the struggle of a young podcast network company to produce branded content for clients — without crossing any ethical lines.

No lines were crossed (but no branded podcasts were produced)

At one point in the podcast, Gimlet’s advertising person outlines the propsal they’d created for Zillo, and I could only wince.

They’d happily produce six 20-30 minute podcasts. But they wouldn’t brand it with Gimlet’s name, nor distribute it via their media channels.

For a six-figure fee.

I honestly laughed out loud.

They seem like nice people. And they produce quality work.

But if we’ve learned anything about the online world, it’s that content isn’t worth much in the online’s Wild West.

Some publications have succeeded in keeping The Wall intact. Sorta.

As for Gimlet, their podcast proposal fell through (I’d suggest it exploded on impact). As of the end of their podcast, no “branded” podcasts had been contracted.

(By the way, if you haven’t been listening to Gimlet’s StartUp podcast, you’re missing something special. And yes, this is the same Gimlet I snarked in this post.)

Keep writing, Tom Chandler.