As Media Dissects The Atlantic/Scientology Mess, College Prostitution Website Ad Makes “News”

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Yesterday Gawker and other sites highlighted an ad published on the website of The Atlantic that appeared to be a regular blog post, save for the graphic indicating it was sponsored content. As Erik Wemple at The Washington Post reports, today The Atlantic says:

“We screwed up.” That’s what The Atlantic said after it posted an online advertorial from the Church of Scientology, provoking a Twitter backlash and eventually leading the publication to take the feature offline.

…The Atlantic official expressed no regret at having taken down the Scientology feature. At the same time, the official cautioned against reading too much into the move: “We’re not passing judgment in the moment on the Church of Scientology and their advertising initiative,” said the official. “I just think we’re actually trying to be really honest about the situation and recognize we’re in a little bit of uncharted waters with this ad format. Combine this ad format with an advertiser like this, and it puts you further in uncharted waters.”

Against that backdrop, consider a story making the rounds today. It’s a “study” by a website dedicated to hooking up young females (sugar babies) with older males (sugar daddies) where the young women ask for $3,000 to $10,000 a month from sugar daddies. What the sugar daddies get in return isn’t actually detailed, but the inference is that the young women will be “spending time” with their sugar daddies.

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The New York Post reports:

More New York City co-eds are turning to a new source of income — sugar daddies — to cope with the rising cost of their college tuition, surprising statistics released yesterday reveal.

And the majority is enrolled at New York University, according to the sugar-daddy dating site SeekingArrangement.com.

Nearly 300 NYU co-eds joined the site’s service last year seeking a “mutually beneficial” arrangement with rich older men — a 154 percent jump over 2011.

CBS in St. Louis:

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOX) – The University of Missouri – St. Louis is ranked as number 33 on a list of college campuses where female students are getting help from so-called Sugar Daddies to pay their tuition.

The website SeekingArrangement.com, which bills itself as the “world’s largest Sugar Daddy website,” says 72 UMSL coeds in 2012 were part of a trend of cash-strapped students trading a relationship with an older man for tuition money.

Spokesman LeRoy Velasquez says the ranking is based on members who signed up with the school’s unique .edu email address.

In case you were wondering, Velasquez says what the website offers is not prostitution.

“While these woman are joining the website to help pay their tuition, they don’t just simply exchange sex for money, its much more complicated.”

The Atlanta Journal Constitution actually shared the PR e-mail they got from the site on their education blog, in addition to running a piece in the paper. The stories go on and on, with stories in The Miami Herald, USAToday, New York Daily News, etc. The pitch is tailored to the individual market, but there’s always mention of SeekingArrangement.com.

This is PR provided news, which in turns serves as an advertisement for SeekingArrangement.com, which is running what is arguably a prostitution service – have a look if you don’t believe me. Unlike the piece in The Atlantic there’s no disclaimer on these stories.

So which is worse?

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