Via Gawker, a private equity firm that is massively invested in for-profit colleges has purchased a controlling stake in Inside Higher Ed, a publication that covers colleges and universities. That’s about as direct a conflict of interest as you can get.
1. Inside Higher Ed should not be trusted as a source of legitimate news about for-profit colleges and universities any longer, and perhaps not trusted as a legitimate source of news, period. Treat anything published by it about for-profit colleges like PR or advertising, because that’s essentially what it’ll be.
2. I’m willing to bet that this is going to happen a lot more often. The continuing financial troubles of journalism as an industry has to have industry licking its chops. We’re already seeing more and more fusion between for-profit entities and magazines, paper or digital — “advertorials,” “native content,” and various other weaselly terms I refuse to write without scare quotes. I have always found it profoundly insulting when people claim that the purpose of these ventures is not to fool readers into thinking that the copy they’re reading is like any other story; if so, why wouldn’t they then make them entirely visually different? If there’s no intent to confuse, then make them as visually and obviously distinct as possible. Well, now we’re going a step further. Rather than trying to get these publications to run your advertising in a way designed to confuse advertising for editorial, or to use your PR flacks to pressure them to give you favorable coverage, why not cut out the middle man and buy them outright? And as this happens more and more, people will be more and more inclined to simply call this standard operating procedure. Hey, everyone else is doing it! Why not us?