It's long been the practice of the British press to pay for content in ways that most North American media won't. That form of chequebook journalism has made its way into the mainstream at times, but usually not directly.
Lately the British media have led the way in paying for keywords to display adjacent advertisements when search results are yielded. Those adjacencies help boost traffic by attracting audiences to specific coverage.
But it doesn't always work to their image's advantage.
The Guardian newspaper is reviewing its inventory after some public blowback on purchasing the keywords Madeleine McCann (the British girl who disappeared in Portugal last year) from Google. Even competitive journalism has limits on confronting taste and decency and the rivals have decried the Guardian for linking to the ongoing tragedy.
An editor from the rival Telegraph noted the issue in his blog, noted the Guardian's earlier criticism of the Telegraph's purchase of keywords, and the Guardian went into a bit of damage control.
The marketing arms of the newsrooms are often the ones making the purchase, so as to relieve the editorial departments of direct responsibility.
But it's an interesting ethical issue for our business: Should media buy keywords from search engines to propel traffic? If so, should there be a boundary on the types of coverage for keyword purchases?