In traditional journalism, I remember the days when I obsessively practiced a 30 second pitch – sometimes for hours– before calling the ONE person in the world who could make or break my client’s story.
If I didn’t capture the interest of that one Associated Press or New York Times editor, the story would be dead in the water with traditional journalism. That one gatekeeper controlled whether millions or just a measly few would see the news we had to present – be it breaking medical news or a new product intro.
The Walls Came Tumbling Down
Today, thanks to the Internet, the rules have changed and the flood gates have opened to a different way of sharing information that’s available to EVERYone, without requiring a stamp of approval from a dinosaur media monarchy. Brand journalism, or sponsored content, gives companies and individuals the opportunity to share news and establish themselves as industry thought leaders in a direct, honest, impactful relationship with consumers. Who better to report on industry news or give consumer tips than experts who actually work in the industry?
Is Sponsored Content Quasi Journalism?
Some (mostly die hard traditional journalism and media pros) have argued that brand journalism is dangerous, that it takes the objective oversight out of the news stream. Hmmm… Any PR pro who’s worked in the industry long enough knows that a company who buys full page ads in a publication is much more likely to have a positive reception when pitching news to editors than those who don’t advertise. Ads don’t guarantee coverage, but truth is, there is a very thin veneer separating advertising and editorial in traditional media – that’s always been the case. It’s especially true today when media sales have taken a dramatic dive and sales reps and editors are desperately bargaining to keep their outlets – and their jobs – above water. So I don’t buy that traditional media has a deeper, unadulterated grasp on the quest for truth than any other blogger out there – sponsored or not. And by the way, New York Times is a brand and so is CNN and Wall Street Journal. They’re all selling ads and subscriptions to validate their ad rates.
Keeping it Real
Brand journalists make no pretense about their mutually beneficial relationships with readers. At its best, brand journalism is a transparent platform that invites consumers to participate in the discussion and make their own decisions about the validity of information being presented. But there is one major caveat that mustn’t be ignored: If you’re going to ‘act’ like a journalist, leave the sales pitch at the door. “These people are not easily fooled, they hate crappy content, and they tune out traditional advertising,” says Kyle Monson, former tech journalist and editor at PC Magazine, in his article, “Dispelling the Darkness with Brand Journalism.” “It’s tough to reach them, but brands can do so by being real, addressing their information needs, and maintaining relevance in a real-time world.”
We all have an opinion or an agenda because we’re human, and our opinions influence the evidence we present. But the critical balance of opinion and fact will always be the barometer that separates good content from trash.
For more information on brand journalism and case studies, check out these articles:
What do you think?
Can a sponsored journalist present information in a way that doesn’t compromise journalistic integrity? Are consumers being duped or are they being given the freedom to choose from a wider variety of industry leader opinions?