Decline in opportunity for the traditional journalist, and businesses and organizations seeking new methods to engage with their audiences, Brand Journalism has expanded in popularity and presence in the media landscape today. However, Brand Journalism is strife with controversy, placing journalists on two sides of dividing lines. One side is the traditional journalist who believes that Brand Journalism diminishes the integrity of journalism, and is misleading to the consumer. The other is brand journalists who sees Brand Journalism as a necessity to sustain operations and fund their traditional journalistic projects. As the advent of new technologies continue to change the ways in which the consumers engages with and consumes media, the stage is set for this controversy to continue for the foreseeable future.
Brand Journalism, often referred to as Content Marketing, has been around in varied formats for centuries. A video presentation by the Content Marketing Institute provides some history of content marketing. As early as 1895, John Deere produced a customer magazine called The Furrow. In 1904 Jell-o produced the Jell-o Recipe Book to engage with its customers. And as recent as 2010, 88% of all business were using some form content marketing to foster a relationship with their consumer base. 2010 marks the beginning of the Content Marketing Institute, which recognized that throughout hundreds of years, one thing was consistent, “Brands have been telling stories for centuries”.
Companies like LEWIS Communications recognize that many of the traditional media sectors are declining, and are having difficulty sustaining their operations. This is a common situation in media organizations around the globe. The consumer today wants their information when and where they want that information. “The attraction of waiting for the evening news update…isn’t the same as it once was”. What LEWIS Communications sees, is the benefit of social media, citizen journalists, and the shifting media landscape to offer variety of content that has the ability to achieve equal integrity to that of traditional news media format. This however requires time and commitment by corporations to foster this level of integrity in the media they produce, and engaging with their consumer audience.
Traditionally, businesses told their stories through print media, or broadcast formats. However, the advent of modern technology has diminished the sustainability of print advertising, especially for organizations like newspapers. Ever growing, we find native advertising taking lead as the preferred format for businesses to advertise, and communicate about their products. In the HBO video “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Native Advertising“, John Oliver notes that entire “new media” organizations, like BuzzFeed, depend solely on revenues generated through this type of marketing. This differs from newspaper organizations, which are slow to adapt to the emerging methods by which audiences consume information.
However, newspapers are indeed beginning to adapt to the new media landscape. The decline noted by LEWIS Communications, and the way in which news organizations are responding to the shifting media landscape, is explored in depth by Duy Linh Tu’s “Video Now” series. Newspapers are streamlining their operations, and creating video production teams (some like the Seattle Times that are only two members, and others like the Washington Post that comprise a dozen or more). These organizations are seeking methods to sustain their print operations. Having the ability to curate stories for their web platforms as a method of marketing revenue, is slowly proving to be an effective method of sustaining their own ability to create true editorial video content; content that falls true to the traditional methods of reporting and ethical standards of journalism. To remain competitive, print media is turning to video as a means of conveying stories that build and sustain their audiences. Sometimes, this involves telling the stories of brands that are engaging and of interest to the younger generations that demand a continuous stream of fun, entertaining interaction with the media they chose to engage with.
What has emerged is a world, where journalism is split between traditional journalism (predominately news, reporting, and gathering of facts and information), and brand journalism (corporations telling stories to engage with their markets). The lines of journalism are becoming blurred. And this blurred line is where the controversy between the traditional journalist and the brand journalist begins. Many traditional journalists do not feel that corporations can report new and informative stories that are credible. They believe that there is a lack of integrity within the work, and that ethical standards are blurred. However, journalists that have dabbled in both traditional journalism, and brand journalism, establish that brand journalists are experts in the knowledge they present
In the article “Inside Forbes: The Birth of Brand Journalism and Why It’s Good for the News Business“ Lewis DVorkin explains that “the mission of journalism is to inform, and that requires observation, selection and interpretation, with all the biases that entails” This is where the passion and interests of the traditional journalist reside. However, to sustain this form of traditional journalism, news organizations need to adapt to the needs of their marketing partners to provide new ways to communicate with their audience. This is where marketing initiatives, like BrandVoice come onto the scene. BrandVoice seeks to achieve a balance between these demographics by helping “make a wide array of credible information easily accessible…to build a sustainable model for advertising – supported journalism that will benefit all participants – editors and reporters included”.
In the LEWIS Communications White Paper: The New Rules of Content, reference is made of debate between editor, Mark Glaser of MediaShift, and Derek Sasson of Outbrain. Sasson is noted as debating that brand journalism “’exists to provide audiences with value beyond advertisement, aiming to provoke dialogue or prompt sharing with others’”. Glaser counters this statement with the argument that brand journalism “cannot provide the objectivity of professional media”. And this becomes the essence of debate between traditional journalists, and brand journalists. However, Jason DeMers explains in the article “The Top 7 Content Marketing Trends Dominating 2014″, that in the year 2014, 93% of business to business marketers include content marketing as part of their marketing strategies. This exemplifies how quickly brand marketing has taken over much of the media landscape in the seven years following the establishment of the Content Marketing Institute. Brand Journalism appears to be entrenched in the media landscape today, and being embraced more than ever.
Organizations like MediaStorm are making efforts to lead a “paradigm shift in digital storytelling”. As an organization, they are working to help prepare a generation of journalists that will embrace and effectively craft digital stories. They create stories that get noticed, and receive awards. It is through crafting quality stories that they help build credibility through their editorial journalism, and help to fulfill the needs of businesses and corporations. The needs of a business are the ability to engage and inspire viewers, and this becomes the mission of MediaStorm.
However, ideology and methods of journalism, brand journalism, and the points at which they intersect are continuing towards another shift. In July of 2013, Judy Gombita posted the article “Goodbye brand journalism and content marketing…hello diy corporate media” referencing Radio Producer, Ira Basen, who is seeking to shift the ideas of brand journalism, to that of corporate media. The idea is labeling corporate media exactly as it is, PR for the organization. And there are journalists who are beginning to embrace this line of thinking. Journalist Tom Foremski, expresses that “Corporate Media spans the entire spectrum of publishing by a corporation.” The format and intent of the content may be journalistic in nature, and employ many journalists that were once senior journalists, to produce the media. However, it is PR for the corporation, and needs to be addressed as such. It will be up to the corporations to shift the way they produce journalism. The result may be production of quality journalism that allows peaceful collaboration and sustainability of all forms of journalism, including the newly envisioned “corporate media”. It will be a matter of time, continued technological advancements, and continued debate, which will help further define and blend the lines of traditional journalism, brand journalism, or the new idea of corporate media.
Content Marketing Institute (2014). History of Content Marketing. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OHgMMpGLzk&feature=youtu.b
DeMers, J. (2014). The top 7 content marketing trends dominating 2014. Forbes.com. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jaysondemers/2014/08/19/the-top-7-content-marketing-trends-dominating-2014/.
DVorkin, L. (2013). Inside Forbes: The birth of brand journalism and why it’s good for the new business. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/lewisdvorkin/2012/10/03/inside-forbes-the-birth-of-brand-journalism-and-why-its-good-for-the-new-business/.
Gombita, J. (2013). Goodbye brand journalism and content marketing…hello diy corporate media. PRConversions.com. Retrieved from http://www.prconversations.com/index.php/2013/07/goodbye-brand-journalism-and-content-marketing-hello-diy-corporate-media/.
LEWIS PR (2013). The new rules of content: The role of brand journalism in pr [White paper]. LEWIS Communications. Retrieved from http://publish.lewispr.com/whitepapers/brandjourno/brand-journalism_EN.pdf.
MediaStorm (2015). We create cinematic narratives. MediaStorm, LLC. Retrieved from mediastorm.com.
Oliver, J. (2014). Last week tonight with John Oliver; Native advertising (HBO). [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_F5GxCwizc.
Tu, D. (2014). Video Now: The form, cost, and effect of video journalism. [Video files]. The Tow Foundation. Retrieved from http://videonow.towcenter.org/index.html.