MTV's Stephen Totilo exchanged some emails with ex-GameSpot review Jeff Gerstmann. And while Gerstmann didn't go on record saying anything all that juicy, he did have something telling to say about the separation of advertising and reviews:
you asked if it's realistic for readers to expect a church and state separation between editorial and sales. Realistic or not, I think readers should demand that from a publication. Some people probably think that's a little old-fashioned or hopelessly idealistic, given the changing nature of advertising these days, but there you go.
Notice the diction here because I believe it to be quite important: "realistic or not" and "some people might think it's...hopelessly idealistic" didn't need to be used here to answer Totilo's question. Instead of responding "yes" or "no," Gerstmann is responding to an unverified problem. In other words, Totilo is asking "do you think it's realistic for gamers to expect a church and state separation [that may exist now or in the future] " while Gerstmann is answering something along the lines of "how can we fix this already present craptastic overlap between editorial content and advertising?" If you buy into my reading, then Gerstmann is admitting that a problem exists by responding to it. The rest of the message:
...somewhere in that complex mess of relationships is the right amount of disclosure. Gaming publications should tell their readers what to expect. If you're running a publication and you're comfortable running infomercials and advertorials, they should be clearly marked as such.
My head is a mess when we talk about the potential of journalistic integrity, especially when the basis of that said journalism is a subjective review to begin with. Essentially we're searching for unbiased bias.
This whole thing is a mess.