Journalism used to be a very specialized job. Accomplished ones writing for top notch newspapers and magazines were celebrities in their own right. Of course many of them can still be found across traditional media but they no longer enjoy the monopoly they once had. The digital revolution has democratized news and brought forth an era of new journalism. Regular bloggers and people like us (the customers) have become tastemakers influencing public opinion. In this world of overwhelming branded and user generated content, is content marketing the new journalism? I’ll try to weigh in on this topic in the article today. It’s important not just for journalists or bloggers, but also for brands trying to discover ways to convince customers to choose them over competition. So listen up, and be ready for journalism 2.0!
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What has changed in the new journalism paradigm?
Internet has made online publishing possible. It is cheaper and easier asked than running a physical printing press. Naturally, many small publishers came up online and some of them even became powerful media houses. Some individuals who started out as regular bloggers developed such huge followings that they started their own websites and a new form of content journalism was born. We all surely know the story of Huffington Post, how it started and where it is now!
Breaking news has become a phenomena that reaches social before it hits mainstream media. Look at the Arab spring news on Twitter. More recently the Facebook Live videos that shared incidents of police shootings in the US and were readily picked up by mainstream media. The on ground reporters were no longer journalists but regular people going LIVE on their social streams.
The rise of the independent, unedited voice
Apart from the sheer increase in competition and avenues, these new and independent voices added another voice and a new dimension in the industry by questioning the ideological stances, ethics and morals of newspapers. Traditionally, newspapers have often had obligations and allegiance to certain ideologies heavily controlled by editors on what is being published and what lay ignored. But they could no longer exercise such control as anyone be could now publish anything on the internet. They also never shied away from criticizing traditional media and respected journalists, often very harshly. This would have been hard to imagine earlier and such criticism would have been categorically controlled by the media fraternity. The situation has been made more difficult by social networks. Now everybody had an opinion. Even those who are not writers and would never have started a blog are now ready with 140 characters, with politically charged hashtags influencing other people’s opinions.
Quality and revenues have been impacted
While in one way this new style of news is democratic, it often lacks quality by not going through the fact-checking process common in traditional media. And due to this unsaid competition, traditional media is also seen picking up unverified news from new outlets, often causing confusion and panic by focusing on speed of going LIVE leaving behind quality.
Revenues of traditional media houses have shrunk heavily. Many of them closed down or had to look for other opportunities including digital channels to jump back. According to PWC’s reporting, online advertising is expected to overtake TV advertising in size in 2019. Here’s a great graphic which indicates how traditional media will continue to be overshadowed by online media.
Hello brand journalism: Content Marketing is the brand new revenue channel
Content marketing has gradually come up as a lucrative option for traditional and new media agencies as a source of revenue for the journalists and as a method of creating more cutting edge, professional content for the brands.
Basically now many journalists and media houses are assuming the roles of content marketers and gradually moving towards what we know as “brand journalism.” Since the journalists are already trained writers and familiar will the entire publishing industry, they are sometimes better placed for such roles compared to amateur bloggers. This new trend makes an effort to utilize the expertise of documenting facts and storytelling by the journalists to create strong brand awareness by telling memorable brand stories. Brand journalism differs slightly form usual content marketing in a way. It focuses on building an aura around the brand using typical journalistic expertise.
Examples of Brand Journalism (yes, it is Content Marketing)
Look at HSBC’s global connections or the American Express open forum. These media partnerships with third party media houses (e.g. Forbes, Mashable etc.) provide valuable information to their target audiences via original content, guest writers and also latch on to the brand of the third party media house. Many other big brands such as Red Bull, Microsoft etc. have also tried this for of brand journalism. While some brands just expect to be reported in a professional manner, some others go a step further. For instance, Red Bull sponsors various adventure activities and also gets journalists to create memorable stories about them. So, in a way they are not only spreading news but also creating new conversations.
Where are the ethics in brand journalism (aka branded content marketing)?
Content Marketing through brand journalism has opened up several new avenues for journalism and only time can tell how far it goes and where the lines are blurred. The one thing many talk about is really the question on ethics and integrity. Here’s what our CEO, Upasna has to say about this topic:
Brand journalism or branded content is a great way to publish immersive stories about your brands with the help of expert journalists and media houses. It’s a big win for the brand. But sometimes I do see examples where the design or just the writing seems to dwarf the sponsored nature of the content. This means, the reader may not understand whether or not that content is sponsored. Imagine if my list of the best travel destinations in Asia is sponsored by a group of hotels and I list them out at the very top, doesn’t it lose authenticity? Would it have been on the top of my list if I did not have that particular sponsorship? Traditional media has also had biases and allegiances, but in a world of transparent media, we need to tell our readers what is sponsored and what is not, clearly. And by defined intent. That’s what will make the content authentic. It’s important to talk about ethics and be true to our experiences. Brand content which is just a packaged and spammy PR pitch will not work!
What do you think about this new journalism? Can content marketing save journalism? Do you have any experiences with it? Don’t forget to share it with us in the comments or on social media!
P.S. For those of you in Ann Arbor, Michigan, do not forget to check out our blogging workshop on July 14!
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