Journalism versus “Brand Journalism”

In October 2014, Columbia Journalism Review published a story under the title, “Should journalism worry about content marketing?” (Link here.)

The article opened with an anecdote about a publication, The Daily Growl, that generates 10 posts daily and is the content arm of Nestlé Purina PetCare’s content marketing department. Where this news feed differentiates from, say, that of the Atlantic, lies in the fact that what is published is in the interests of Nestlé Purina PetCare’s content marketing. Journalists justifiably worry if the distinctions are clear to audiences. Audiences are widely portrayed as being fallible and even gullible consumers as apt to share a cute pet video that bears some implicit branding strategy as a cute pet video that just shows the way that, say, husky dogs in Japan mimic a baby learning to crawl.

This subject lies close to my concerns at a journalist who has been a digital publisher and entrepreneur for more than six years, and now is the principal of this new business, Content Hive. Many of us of a certain age well remember those disagreements with publishers, when we were editors in a traditional newsroom, that something had to be marked “special advertising section” if it consisted of fully paid content. Today, I read in the CJR piece linked above, even editors at venerable Time Inc. report to the business side. In the late 1980s and 1990s, when I worked for fashion industry publications, it was considered quite shocking when our publication failed to replace its departing editor in chief in order that the section editors would report to the advertising side VPs.

Times have changed. This blog will be dedicated to airing what is the thinking about ethics in being a journalist who conducts content marketing? What are the best practices for companies or nonprofits, festivals or fairs that wish to create content but not necessarily whitewash debate? What should you know ahead of time if you are treading a content marketing path with investments of resources and creative capital that you intend to have correlate to outcomes for your product or service?

First, you must be prepared to present your point of view in an authentic and forthright way. There is an absolute benefit in being very clear about who you are and what it is that your experience now, today, is leading you to share with your audience.

Fundamentally, content marketing and its relative for many independent publications — native advertising — are here to stay. The main thing to always keep in mind is that the hallmark of authentic storytelling is representing , not misrepresenting, who you are.

It is also true that as journalists of more traditional stripes are forced to go out and raise nonprofit funds for complex stories they wish to tell, the invisible but influential hands of who pays for that reporting are implicated in many news stories that you may hear. What the best possible outcome is, for a journalist, is to instantly move beyond questions of undue influence because the storytelling is so good, thorough, direct and complex. The plangency of any story benefits from the transparency of its teller.

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